The beauty — and challenge — of being the owner

Our story is about people who start their own microbusinesses without investment, without employees, and often without any idea of what they’re doing. They almost never have a formal business plan, and they often don’t have a plan at all besides “Try this out and see what happens.”– The $100 Startup

Does this sound like you?

I see myself in these words. When I started Unfettered Ink, I was very clear on what I didn’t want to do. That’s an easy place to start for a service-based business. Choose some problems with your industry and try to come up with solutions.

Of course, I also started with forward-thinking ideas, which I scribbled into notebook after notebook. Even with these pages of notes, my business started as an experiment.

I told myself, “If this doesn’t work out, I can always get another job.”

Now, I’m nearly a year in. There’s no going back. My micro business may still be an experiment, but it’s one I’m not giving up.

I personally love the flexibility of figuring things out as I go, but it brings some interesting challenges.

Maybe you’re struggling with some of these?

How do you create a brand to support an experimental, evolving business model?

How do you define your target market when you’re just starting up?

How can you possibly know which projects to prioritize — and which to leave on the cutting floor?

It’s a conundrum.

It’s also absolutely necessary to get a handle on these questions as quickly as possible.

Sure, these questions are difficult, but are you ready to live with the alternative? Are you willing to surrender control of your business?

If so, why take on the stress of self-employment? Why not get a job, where someone else will answer these questions for you?

Taking charge is a challenge, absolutely. It’s also what defines you as an owner.

Act like an owner. A god. An empress. Give yourself a secret label that makes you feel powerful, if you have to.

Do whatever it takes, because you cannot be an owner and outsource these answers to someone else.

Sure, you can ask for help and input. I do that all the time. I also provide help to my friends and clients. As a trained communicator, I’m particularly good at defining target markets and building plans that reach their influencers. It’s what I do.

But I can only suggest. Ultimately, you call the shots.

This is your experiment. Be the owner. Answer the tough questions.

I’m tempted to close this post here, but I’d be a jerk if I didn’t offer any solutions.

So let’s talk about how we can go about answering the tough questions.

1. Let go of the idea that there’s only one right answer — and that you need to figure it out today.

That’s not how it works. Like I said, if you identify with Chris’s words above, your business is an experiment. With an experiment, you put forward a hypothesis and analyze the results.

Here’s a good place to start: _____ needs _____ solved. I do that by _____.

The most important thing you can do is to articulate your hypothesis.

2. The idea that your personal and business lives are separate is an illusion. What guides you personally is often at the core of your business. Start there.

The biggest myth about our lives is that we can compartmentalize our days without bringing about severe repercussions.

Here’s an extreme example. Should you be get paid to give lethal injections to death row prisoners if you morally oppose the death penalty?

Obviously not. Compromising your morality in such a direct way for money is a horrible way to live, and it serves no one.

But we often make all sorts of smaller compromises in our careers. When I worked in public affairs, I didn’t get to choose my clients — and I was occasionally assigned to campaigns I personally opposed. As a result, I was unhappy, dissatisfied with my path, and I lost the motivation to pursue all sorts of things I once enjoyed.

Today, things are completely different. I have a talent for connecting people, for networking, for communicating. I am a strategy junkie. Instead of compromising my beliefs for a paycheck, I put those talents into service for people I passionately want to see succeed.

Dig deep. Who do you want to serve with your talents? How can you do that, in a way that feels good for both of you?

More big questions, I know. But aren’t they more interesting? The answers are within you.

3. Tune everyone out for a spell.

I’ve written about this before. When you take in too many inputs, without giving yourself the gift of silent contemplation, you lose track of your goals, your plans, your experiment.

How can you figure out who you’d like to serve and how you can do so when you’re constantly looking to other people for the answers?

You can’t.

Every few months, take a week or two and stop reading blogs. No courses. No new business books. Journal or draw or mind map instead. Use whatever medium is most natural.

Give yourself the space to answer your own questions.

4. Give yourself permission to change your mind.

For me, this is another one of the benefits of self-employment. You decide.

If you try something out, and it isn’t working — do something different. Even (especially!) if you’re only doing it, because someone else advised you to.

Just because something is profitable, doesn’t mean you need to pursue it.

Are you working on something that seems smart but feels icky? Drop it.

If you’re not enjoying your business, you can change it.

That’s the beauty of being the owner.