When Your Successful Business Stops Being Enough For You

I think it’s interesting how much of a craft there is to building a service business. When you’re a maker, you’re familiar with the concept of craft. You spend a lot of time working on things by yourself. For a customer eventually, of course, but for you primarily. A service provider, though, solves problems for their clients. They are perpetually client focussed, and so a lot of them have difficulty disengaging from that context in order to work on their own business. Makers, in my experience, find this process much easier.

The process? Learning the role and skillset of a businessperson.

You can build any old business. But it will be successful mainly to the degree that you are a good businessperson.

What you sell matters. But how you sell it, and the shape of the business that supports it, matters even more.


Some parts of the craft of business is personal: you learn how much bullshit you’re willing to put up with clients, you develop a few “personal rules” that make your business less of a headache to run. You figure things out and get the streamlined. And because you have a feel for the right kinds of questions to ask, you don’t go down so many dead-ends. You get the hang of marketing, more importantly, of connecting with people who might become your customers.

In short, as a businessperson, you know what you’re doing. Which is pretty cool, when you think about it, because you probably didn’t start out by thinking “I want to get really good at this business stuff.” No. It was a means to an end.

That’s a pretty warm fuzzy feeling, though. It’s complex. Pride, self-sufficiency, and assurance, all mixed up together. You might not know everything, but you know enough. And so if you concentrate on that accomplishment, you’re going to feel a sense of confidence, and that’s good.

But for everything yang, there is a yin. And I see this mostly with service providers, although the odd maker goes this way, too.

As a result of your ability to connect with the people you want to work with, you’re going to realize one day that you have a tribe. A whole group of people who are paying attention to what you’re saying because they think it has value.

If you have a value-driven micro-business, you almost can’t help it. People vibe with you because of your values. And when you share values with a group of people– well, stir gently, and you’ve got an instant tribe.

What Having A Tribe Does to A Values-Driven Micro-Business

When you started your business, unless you had a really strong filter in place, you didn’t have raving fans. You had clients. Good clients, nice people, but they were just people that you worked with. Because of your personal integrity, you felt you had a responsibility to them, so you were as good a service provider as you could be. You didn’t lie, you didn’t steer people wrong, if you made a mistake you made sure to own up to it. Insofar as you could, you attempted to do no harm.

And then one day you woke up, and these weren’t just people. They’re YOUR people. You start to feel a bit proprietary towards them. You want to make sure they’re taken care of. So you start to think about how you could help them a little bit more. You start to have hopes and dreams that aren’t just your own; you begin to think about your people achieving their hopes and dreams.

Do you smell the wind change? Do you feel the shift coming?

Suddenly, the work you’re doing is not enough.

This is a realization that a lot of people are a long time coming to because it often makes them feel like they were wrong– that they chose and then built the wrong business.

But it wasn’t the wrong business. You’re just evolving.

Maslow’s hierarchy strikes again: once you have professional and personal autonomy, decent pay and nice clients, you begin to look further afield, to things like impact, legacy, and influence. Your vision scales up because you, personally, are ready to take on bigger things. You might not feel ready, but your mind and heart will always find a challenge that will be suitable to your needs.

This does come with consequences, though.

Your current business model may not support the challenge you seek. You might have to change direction, rebrand, or even start over in a new industry. You might have some low times when you’re not as engaged with your work, when you’d almost like to chuck it all– but you need the pay check. And this might remind you, rather unhappily, of your last job. And you might be terrified that you’ve put yourself in a dead end.

This is especially hard when you reflect on the feeling of confidence and assurance that you have running your current business–especially if you identify strongly with the particular service you offer. You’re good at this, dammit! And you’re successful. And appreciated. And happy. Why did you have to go and ruin everything by wanting more?

Rest assured, though, that you weren’t wrong all this time. You were right, but then you grew out of your old roles and you need new ones that will excite and challenge you. When you were a kid you were excited to transition from picture books to chapter books, weren’t you? The same thing is happening here.

Scary though it is, you’re ready for this.

What new shift are you ready for?


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