Embrace your inner bonsai

seven hats bonsai

Driving back across the ANZAC Bridge last week I had a thought (I know, right?! Stop the traffic). Anyway, I wondered if I would ever be asked to talk to a group of people about business. Was that even a goal of mine? Probably not but even so, IF I was asked, what on earth would I talk about?

After a bit of mulling over, and inspired by a recent post on Mums With Hustle regarding celebrating the small wins, I decided that my hypothetical talk would be about fighting the desire to grow too big, too soon. Basically: If you want your business to be a bonsai make peace with that. After all, bonsai are beautiful and staying small is an art form. It takes discipline!

Those pesky targeted Facebook ads don't help.
Since starting Seven Hats the little data elves of Google and Facebook have been busy collecting my searches and my likes and suggesting information back to me that I may find of interest - mostly about ways to improve my business. Much of it is very interesting but it can also be overwhelming. If I'm in the wrong frame of mind at the time I can easily feel fooled into thinking that I'm somehow lacking in my skillset and knowledge and that I should be striving to be bigger than I am and generating larger profits than I am. Surely I should be making money while I sleep by this stage?!

We’re all familiar with hearing statistics such as 60% of start-ups fail in their first 3 years. Why is that? There are usually a few contributing factors but one that comes up again and again is the desire to grow too fast, too soon. 

Humans are naturally impatient. When we decide to put our minds to something, whether a healthy diet or a new hobby or starting a business, we want immediate, positive and BIG results. When we don’t see them we can become disheartened and either give-up or go too hard and burn-out, forgetting about our long-term strategy and losing any joy (and often a lot of money) in the process. 

Ask yourself why you started your own business in the first place.
If your main reason was 'to make a heap of money - fast' this is probably the wrong blog to be reading. 

However, if your reasons were anything like mine then you probably know where I'm coming from.
My own personal reasons were these:

  • to supplement my partner's income
  • to give myself a personal challenge
  • to keep myself ‘employable’  
  • to obtain some kind of work life balance
  • to be a positive role model for my children
  • to have flexibility
  • to have autonomy
  • to be part of a bigger community
  • to build networks
  • to help people
  • to share my knowledge and experience.

I need to remind myself of these... often. 

Stop with the guilts.
New business owners, especially 'mumprenuers', can put huge pressures on themselves. There’s so much they feel they need to do, or know and they assume they’re somehow failing if they’re not getting big hits on their websites, blogging daily or generating a heap of sales, even if they’ve only just started operating. There's a lot of internal pressure, especially for those who previously held senior positions and enjoyed a healthy salary before the kids came along. Instead of celebrating the fact that they’re doing an amazing job setting up a business on their own, raising children (often very young ones) and doing goodness knows what in their day, they are focussing on what they can't do (yet) rather than their incredible achievements to date. We celebrate our children's milestones, no matter how small, so celebrate even the tiniest wins in your business. Baby steps!

Bamboo versus bonsai.
Obviously there are people out there who can be more like bamboo. It may be through necessity if they're the main bread winner, or perhaps they naturally have a combination of the right circumstances, experience, skills and mindset to enable them to grow quickly and still remain flexible yet strong.  I salute the bamboo businesses, I really do, but my personal circumstances mean that my goal is to be a bonsai for now.  

So what does it mean to be a bonsai?
A bonsai is a beautiful and perfectly cultivated tree in miniature. Care has been given to shape them and nurture them and they are desirable because of their small size. Most importantly bonsai practice focuses on long-term cultivation.

As mentioned earlier in this post, remember WHY you started your business and make sure your business goals align to your values and your circumstances. Always keep that in mind with every business decision you make as it will help to keep your feet on the ground, gives you strong roots and ensures your business remains a thing of beauty.

You can still focus on getting the basics right.
Even the smallest trees need strong roots. From your business name, to your website, to your copy, to the way you answer emails and telephone calls, to your products or services. Your brand needs congruence and just because you're small it doesn't mean these things don't matter. Don’t try to be something you’re not as people will see through the disguise. You need to build trust with your clients and customers and remember, many of them love you because you’re a bonsai.

Take the time to cultivate solid processes from the start.
I almost made this error myself as things got busy much faster than I expected. I was doing all of my invoicing in the most labour intensive way and it was wasting precious hours. Fortunately I rectified this pretty early on and found another system which streamlined the process and enabled me to back-date what I’d already done before it became a huge, daunting task. 

Be wary of taking on too much.
I'm delighted whenever a new client wants to work with me. It’s exciting and flattering and shows that either 1) my existing clients are happy with my work and are recommending me or 2) my website/social media/limited marketing spend has been successful – all of which are brilliant considering I want to practice what I preach. The only issue is that, with my business model, it is just me, and the limited hours I have in the week. At this stage I’m restricted by my ‘pot’. If I take on too much work then I risk over-stretching myself and risk not delivering on my promises – which is against my values. It also starts to tip the scales of the work life balance I’m striving to achieve – which goes against my reasons for starting the business in the first place. If you're striving to be bonsai you need to be comfortable saying no, or at least ‘not at the moment’. Better still, build a network of similar bonsai businesses who you might be able to refer clients to if things are getting busy. Remember, bonsai practice focuses on long-term cultivation. Look after your existing clients. They are important. Don’t keep striving for new business if it’s not essential and not sustainable. 

Evolve and adapt... slowly.
Even a tiny bonsai can grow into a big tree if their environment changes, although it may take a while. It just needs to be removed from the restrictions of it's container and given the right conditions to grow. 
One common thread I took from a series of speakers at a City of Sydney event was "you just have to start somewhere and be prepared for your business plan (if you even have one) or model to change". In the five months I’ve been running Seven Hats I know this to be true. Although the business model is essentially still the same as when I first started the business I developed a flexible mindset and have adapted to the requirements of the market. Basically I see it as pruning my business, shaping it to what my clients need it to be and, just as importantly, what I need it to be.

Don’t get too caught up in the spin.
There are a lot of people who have very successful businesses but who are also VERY good at marketing, both themselves and their services. Really weigh up what you need to do or learn and what can wait for now. Remember, some of these businesses have been established for a number of years and who knows what trials and tribulations they've had along the way. All you see is a shiny ad telling you they can unlock the secret to your success and they quite possibly can, but you also need to weigh up if growth is what you really need right now. 

I’ve made peace with my little 'bonsai' business and when I’m ready to learn and move things to the next level I will. For now small, achievable goals are essential to my success and my sanity and to keep things balanced while I have such a young family. One day I hope to be generating an income while I sleep but that will all just have to wait for a little longer.

Like this post? Please share it with those who may need reminding to grow slow.

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