Some time ago, I presented to a room full of self-employed people at a conference, on finding joy in business. I asked people to raise their hand if they were business owners. Just a few hands went up. Surprised, I asked people to raise their hand if they regularly sent invoices with their ABN on them. Now, nearly everyone raised their hand.

Recently, I read a blog about someone’s “six figure launch” that also, confusingly, mentioned how they “weren’t greedy” in what they spent their profits on. Yesterday, a female entrepreneur posted on Facebook about how female entrepreneurs need to earn more money so they can support humanitarian causes (presumably ones that the person agrees with).

While the premise of business is simple: solve a problem for people willing to pay for it; leverage your time and investment to make a profit – we bring ourselves to business.

And we, being human, are complicated.

This is not a female problem. Nor is it an entrepreneur problem. It is our emotions, bias, unconscious beliefs and all the grand emotions that make us human. If we want to succeed, we need to treat this as seriously as we treat our profit and loss statement.

$10.9 billion per year lost in Australia

Australian businesses are losing $10.9 billion per year in untreated mental health conditions, according to a 2017 joint report by beyondblue and TNS Social Research. Conversely, 84 per cent of people say that helping to make a positive difference in the world is more important than professional recognition.

Finding meaning out of our work is important – more important than happiness, according to survey findings from the Energy Project, of more than 12,000 employees across a broad range of companies and industries. People who derive meaning from their work are more than three times as likely to stay with their organisations, report 1.7 times higher job satisfaction, and are 1.4 times more engaged at work.

Statistics for the self-employed sector are woefully inadequate and, despite the fact that sole traders make up the majority of Australian businesses, airtime is dominated by tech startups and international monoliths.

The meanings we bring to work

We all derive meanings from our work, giving us a mix of identity, usefulness, relevancy, and purpose. When self-employed, the stakes are higher – we have no boss to blame, no team to hide behind. The buck stops with us. We can feel incredibly exposed, with a huge sense of responsibility and the accompanying anxiety this may usher in.

We need to prioritise our mental wellbeing, emotional intelligence and resilience if we’re to survive, let alone thrive in business.

Values-based business clarity

As the owner, you drive your business. As a human, your values drive you. Your decisions, thoughts, beliefs and actions are guided by your conscious and unconscious values. As business owners, we are fortunate to use our values (even if they are values of lying in rather than starting early) to guide our business.

Values don’t always need to be labored over. Values can be as simple as the kind of people you choose to surround yourself with, the feelings you hope to inspire in your clients, or the gut response you have to opportunities and ideas.

A foundational value for a business owner is the ambition to do more of what they do for more people. This requires hustle.

Own the hustle

Hustle is important to business – there’s no shame in it. It’s not a sign that you’re pushy or not good enough to fill your business through raving fans and word-of-mouth referrals alone.

Hustle is essential to sales which is essential to business. You do sales like you do you – naturally.

And while it may be easy for us to back ourselves when we’re feeling confident, it’s a different thing to keep on keeping on, despite staff leaving and setting up competing businesses, despite being short-changed or let down by suppliers, despite cancellations, no shows, tyre kickers and energy vampires.

How do we build our grit, persistence and emotional resilience? But taking our hearts seriously.

Sorting through the propaganda and misinformation

Seeking information, support and advice as a small business owner is confusing at best, disastrous at worst. Propaganda and misinformation abound. From dishonesty and unethical marketing techniques that promote false scarcity, use emotional triggers, and capitalise on our worst traits, to new age mumbo jumbo that confuse femininity, masculinity, abundance and an all-knowing business advisor called ‘the universe’, it’s no wonder we feel overwhelmed, confused and generally over it.

This is not an excuse to opt out.

We need you – with your critical thinking, your tired optimism, your hopeful cynicism. We need your values, your integrity. We need your hopes and dreams to inspire your clients’ hopes and dreams. We need you to opt in – not just for the feel good stuff, but to the hustle and the grit and the willingness to inspire others by your willingness to keep going.

The toll of emotional work

When you’re working one-to-one with clients, perhaps in the health industry, you’re paying an emotional toll, making resilience even more important. If you care deeply about your work, you’re paying an emotional toll. If you have high expectations and integrity for yourself and your work, you’re paying an emotional toll. Resilience is an inside job. It’s yours and yours alone to explore.

But here’s what we do know: it is about our response to what happens rather than what happens; the stories you tell yourself and others are important; confidence is an action as well as a feeling; and deriving meaning from your work is more important than happiness.

What you can do

  • Question your assumptions. Explore your beliefs. Examine your experiences without running from uncomfortable or painful feelings. Engage a therapist if you want to – good ones can be life changing.
  • Prioritise your own business as equally as you prioritise client work. I suggest scheduling a CEO day once a week or once a month, to focus solely on business development and creativity.
  • Take charge of your own terms and conditions (this goes far beyond client contracts). Examine how your business model relates to your lifestyle. Be brave in editing your business so that it’s giving you what you need and, in turn, you’re able to give more to your work.
  • Be a storyteller – for yourself, your clients, your colleagues and community. Your ability to tell a story is a fundamental skill that impacts your hustle, your heart, and your health.
  • Your courage and willingness to feel uncomfortable is important – not just for seeking new business opportunities, but for modeling this to other people.
  • Keep searching for meaning from your work. Your meaning isn’t one fixed story but a nuanced mishmash of large and small things. Don’t forget to slow down, take stock, reflect and feel grateful for your progress – because a sense of progression is also meaning.

Do you want more from your business? Time for transformation – time for the Hustle & Heart program.

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