You did all of the leg work and research before starting your business. (Or more likely, you did all of the things you could think of to do because how could you really have known how much more you should have done?) You put in long hours in the beginning with planning and networking and you took every breadcrumb that fell onto your plate, often earning less than you thought you should, as you figured out what you were doing and what you were worth. Maybe it's been a few months - or maybe it's been a few years - and you're starting to think (or been thinking all along?), Was this a mistake?! What was I thinking?
Only you can determine if your business is truly successful because success looks different for everyone. If your goal was to achieve small milestones, and you did, then you are doing great! But if you eat ramen every meal in the dark because the lights got shut off, you might be in trouble. You also need to take into consideration whether this is a part-time gig and will always be that way, or if you are trying to grow it into a replacement for your day job. Or maybe this is your day job. No matter what your situation, these seven signs will help you figure out if you are still on the right path or if maybe you should head in a different direction.
1. You are still excited.
If you wake up every morning, excited about going to work, and Mondays are your favorite day of the week, you're probably still on the right path. If, on the other hand, you dread most of the tasks you have to do and put them off indefinitely, you need to take a hard look at why.
Granted, not all things about running a business are fun. And while some things are necessary, they are not why you got into your line of work. For example, if you love food and you started a vegan catering company, you probably still get excited preparing the meals and experimenting with recipes. But maybe sales isn't your thing so you hired someone to help you with that part. When I started my business, I hated the accounting bit. So I hired a bookkeeper to help me out. Not a deal breaker. The meat and potatoes of my business, so to speak, was still super tasty and I dive in with my fork ready whenever I can.
What if this was your dream, though, and the flame went out somewhere along the way? Can it be rekindled with small adjustments to your business plan? Or was the dream always meant to be a hobby you did to release stress and now it has become the source of your stress? If the fear of looking at this possibility is keeping you stuck, or if the fear of finding a new dream is keeping you trapped in a nightmare, it might be time to get out.
2. You're always learning something new about your field and you can't wait to share that knowledge.
When I got started in wellness consulting, I knew what I knew and I thought that would be enough. I knew more than a lot of the people around me so I was seen as an expert in my field. But I had barely scratched the surface of what I could know and who I could help. Everyday was an adventure in learning. I consumed as much information as I could as often as I could. I read books, followed podcasts, took courses, experimented, and researched. And then as soon as I picked up a new skill, whether I had mastered it or not, I shared it. I shared with my clients, and sometimes I gave it away for free on this blog. Why? Because #1.
The more you learn, the more your expertise grows, and the more people you can help. Conversely, the more you learn, the more of a niche you can fill. Perhaps you've discovered as a personal trainer that you have a knack for helping women in their forties fall in love with competitive weight lifting. Before you know it, all the local moms are passing your number around. (Which, speaking of, can I get your number too?)
3. You are willing to change direction.
The more you learn and grow, the more adaptable you become. Perhaps you envisioned your business growing from Point A to Point B, but when a client asked you for something at Point C that wasn't in your wheelhouse, you decided to give it a try anyway and discovered you loved Point C. You loved Point C so much that you got certified in Point C, and in the process, learned that Point D was very much complimentary to Point C and you could help even more people at Point D. So here you are, barely a year into your business, and your business covers Points A-D. You specialize in Point C, but people hire you for your experience in all areas. Everyday is an adventure!
The more adaptable your business is - and the more flexible YOU are - the better you can withstand bigger and scarier changes, such as the current Covid-19 pandemic we are all learning to navigate through. On the other hand, there is a fine line between pursuing a parallel line and jumping onto a new map entirely. If you suffer from shiny object syndrome*, you might be avoiding hard tasks in favor of new tasks. Self-awareness is key here.
*Shiny Object Syndrome - the affliction of distraction. Switching gears mid-task when something temporarily more exciting comes along.
4. You constantly have new ideas.
As you are learning and finding your true direction, you are uncovering opportunities under every rock. Maybe you join committees and volunteer opportunities, and through these projects, you get one brilliant idea after another for your business. You keep a running list of all the things you could do or might do someday, in order to keep things fresh. You are able to discern the difference between shiny objects (distractions) and lightbulb moments in your business. Your ideas help your clients and they help your business. Congratulations! You have passion, my friend, and so you are definitely in the right field.
5. Your income increases.
It's important to remember that this will look different for everyone. You don't have to make a million dollars to be successful, and if you make less than $1,000, it doesn't mean you are a failure. This is why it is necessary to have definable and written goals. If your goal was to start a network marketing company, get your products for free, and earn an extra $50 per month, and you do that, you are a success. It doesn't matter if your sponsor earns $100,000/month. It's never helpful to compare your success against anyone else's, even if they are in the same field. However, if you use your sponsor's success as inspiration and decide to go for an extra $1,000/month yourself, you do you boo!
6. Your business expenses increase.
This is my favorite sign, if I'm being perfectly honest. There are actually two ways that this is meaningful.
a. You are paying more providers for their services.
For example, when you started your business, perhaps you paid your internet bill and your phone bill as business expenses, and of course, taxes. Now, you pay an accountant, lawyer, website designer, freelance graphic designer, and printer for your promotional materials. Furthermore, you've joined your local chamber of commerce, you make donations to the nonprofit board you volunteer for, and you pay for training workshops and to attend trade shows. Your business is out there! You are making moves! Hopefully, your income exceeds your expenses, or is very close to doing so, but this is all great news. Try to be grateful for it, rather than look at it as a burden. An unsuccessful business does not hire someone to help them with their Facebook advertising, unless they are independently wealthy (which is why we don't compare ourselves to anyone else...too many factors!)
b. You are being solicited by more businesses.
I remember when I got a call from a very affluent university sports team, asking my business to sponsor the team. I was so flattered. The cheapest sponsorship was about twice my annual marketing budget, but someone had referred my business to this salesperson as a growing company in the area.
I am frequently solicited by nonprofits and local organizations for sponsorships (which I believe in for cause-related marketing, and do as often as I can), and now I even get spammy emails from other companies on Instagram or Linked In trying to sell my company a service or product. I am a legitimate business after all.
7. People you know are always trying to get free advice from you in your area of expertise.
Listen, we all do this. (At least I do this!) You have a friend who just became a nurse practitioner and you call them about every belly pain or strange mark on your skin to get their free advice on it, before deciding whether to shell out hundreds of dollars at your doctor. Or maybe it's the family lawyer. You rarely stop to consider if he is more Cousin Vinny or Atticus Finch. You just know that he has the knowledge to answer this legal question so you can win an argument on Facebook.
Now here you are, running your PR business for real clients, and along comes your former co-worker, asking you out for coffee, saying they want to catch up and hear all about your new business. Yay! Then they ask you for all the advice about how to market their new business and you feel too awkward to ask for your usual $100 hourly consulting fee because you really thought you were just having coffee. (The worst is when they take your ideas and then hire someone else to implement them because they don't want to mix business with your "friendship". I think we've all had this happen at least once. It's so lovely.)
But here's the great news! Word is out! You run a bonafide business and you're good at it, so good in fact that people think of you when they need advice for their business. And if your friends and family are thinking of you, chances are, so are other people. People who are willing to pay you for your advice. Voila! Success!