Earning a living doing what you love requires you to have a clear understanding of what truly matters to you. Understanding your values is key to designing a business or career that will satisfy those values.
So, what matters to you? What do you stand for? Where are you willing to compromise and where are your lines in the sand?
If you had to choose between earning more money, doing more satisfying work or working with people who treat you with respect, which would you pick? How well do the decisions you’re making about your business and your life reflect your core values? What needs to change to bring them into greater alignment?
If answering these questions isn’t easy (and for most of us, it isn’t), completing a Values Analysis can help.
The first time I used this tool back in 1992, it led me to make a series of decisions that completely changed my business trajectory. At that time, I was working crazy long hours building a business that wasn’t taking me where I wanted to go and didn’t pay well to boot.
This exercise helped me recognize how far I’d strayed from what really mattered to me and build a plan to get myself and my company back on track. I have used it several times since then to help me make decisions about new skills I was thinking of investing in, new markets I was considering expanding into and new business models I was exploring.
Now, this exercise is not magic. It takes real work, gut-wrenching honesty and some good old-fashioned creative problem solving to build a business you really love but this exercise is a great first step.
Like many businesses responding to change, my partner and I are thinking about diversifying our studio’s offerings. Before we jump whole hog into anything, though, we’re doing a bunch of informational interviews.
Done well, informational interviews can be an enormous source of invaluable, real world information. The trick lies in finding the right people and asking the right questions.
To find the right people, we’re using our network. We’re asking everyone we know who they know that might be able to help us. We’re then trying to find out as much as we can about the people we’re calling before we pick up the phone. A little background research goes a long way towards figuring out what questions to ask.
Some of our leads will be great people to get general technical and technological information from. Others will be better to run ideas for prospects, markets and opportunities by. The rest we’ll look to for information about how we should expect this decision to impact our lives. How will this decision affect the number of hours we work? How much we travel? How we spend our time? The roles we play in our business? What will each of us need to learn? What new team-members will we need? What is working with clients in this environment really like? What do we need to watch out for? What do we need to do differently?
One thing we’ve learned from the interviews we’ve done so far is that if we don’t get off the phone saying “WOW! we just learned something amazing that we couldn’t have gotten any other way,” then we’re not asking the right questions. Another is to ask each person we talk to who else they know who might be willing to talk to us.
Gearing ourselves up to make these calls isn’t easy but the pay-off has been so worthwhile. I honestly can’t think of another way that we could have learned so much so fast.
When I was younger, I used to go around asking everyone I met to tell me the best piece of business advice they’d ever received. I collected a lot of good quotes and tips but this one stopped me cold.
You see, up until that point, it had never occurred to me that earning a living costs you something. And I’m not talking about the “gotta spend money to make money” kinds of costs. I’m talking about what you pay from your life – your time, your energy, your heart, your soul and all too often, your dignity and self-respect.
A friend of mine recently took a step that reminded me of how important this concept is. She decided to walk away from a lucrative writing client because she realized that their ‘edit-by-committee’ approach was robbing her of her voice and, more importantly, her confidence.
I know from my own experience that working with the wrong clients can be worse than not working at all. In these tough economic times, it’s hard to sacrifice short-term profits but we all need to pay attention to the long-term costs. Preserving our confidence translates directly into long-term growth as we cannot produce the kind of outstanding work necessary to move our careers and businesses forward without it.
In the world of big business, in survey after survey, employees consistently report that financial compensation levels have little bearing on their job performance, satisfaction or desire to stay with the company. This concept shouldn’t just hold true for employees. As business owners, we also need to recognize when projects or clients cost us more than they are worth.
Fear’s a big thing these days. Nearly everyone I know is running scared. In the past 24 hours alone, I’ve had three separate conversations with 3 unrelated people in completely different parts of the country about how scared they are. I’m scared, too.
Our world is changing and none of us know whether we have whatever it is that it takes to make it in the “new economy.”
The way I’ve always dealt with fear in the past is to just white knuckle it. To force myself to do whatever it is that I have to do despite the fear. One thing that helps sometimes is to look at the thing I’m afraid of and write out the answers to 2 questions:
- What’s the absolute worst thing that could happen if I screw this up?
- What’s the best thing that could happen if I do this right?
Depending on the situation, exploring what’s likely to happen if I don’t do it at all, can sometimes be enough of a motivator.
The other thing I do, is I try to cut myself some slack. To be a little kinder to myself. To acknowledge that doing something that scares me is much, much harder than doing something that’s technically more difficult but not frightening.
I’m reminded of this daily as I watch my 3 (and 3/4!) year old navigate the world. When you’re little, so many things are scary but all these grown-ups keep saying “Don’t be scared, you can do it” and you trust them, so you do. And you learn that you can.
So, when I say “feel the fear, do it anyway”, I’m not being glib and I’m not downplaying how debilitating the fear can be. I’ve just come to realize that this is the only choice we’ve got.