On Business Success

In today’s startup/entrepreneurial world everyone is focused on “making it big” or achieving great success. This success is usually defined as “the next Google”. A company that is operating at a vast scale, with equally vast numbers in all kinds of metrics.

I often find that as a business owner, considerable judgement is placed in the amount of employees you have. It’s one of the first things that somebody inevitably asks, and if you state a low number, you can almost hear the interest vanish and doubt rising.

Why is this the case I wonder? Business success could be measured in many ways, but you are financially stable and are able to live a good life through your business, why is that not seen an excellent business? Too many startups and entrepreneurs fail to do this—ever.

In my case, I am perfectly for my business to remain small and agile, doing excellent work for really cool clients around the world and earning a great living doing so.

Scale is a necessity for many business models, but many overlook that small is also a viable business model, and that scaling to everyone isn’t a must for a highly successful business—even to earn a good deal of money.

So drop the thought that a huge scale is necessary and start looking for the high-earning niches that could earn you a lot of money if you want.

Over the past few years I have noticed that I’ve been doing less and less personal projects. Coincidentally, I have also felt that my skill level has not increased at the same level as before. These two I believe go hand in hand, and not doing many personal projects is definitely due to perceived busy-ness or stress.

Personal projects are excellent for many reasons. To me the most important of them is that you get to connect with your inner passion for the field. In web development as in most fields, a personal project is also the place where you can try out the cutting-edge workflows and technologies, which you can then use for clients.

By doing more personal projects, not only do you get to have some fun, but you learn new things. As we know, learning new things and trying new things is the best if not only way to be a great developer/consultant/[insert job title here]. Especially as a consultant, it is my duty to try out different things and then advise and use the ones who I have found to work.

It comes as no great surprise that Google has become famous for their 20% time projects, where employees could use 20% of their time to build something cool. Not only am I convinced that this is great for their skill-set, it is also bound to result in some great new products that could potentially be good for business too.

As I started out saying, I’ve been doing less and less of these because of perceived “busy-ness”. Filling my schedule to full with client projects eventually means pushing yourself to the limit where work is almost not fun anymore. I do believe that scaling back and spending a little more time on personal projects and furthering your skills makes you a better professional.

To sum up. Doing projects outside of client work, or “work” in general has many added benefits. Not only does it add to your passion for the field but it helps you further your skills and become better at what you do. Scale back a little and get cracking on something fun!

Like many others, I have plenty of ideas. Every week, or even every day, there is a new idea of something smart, fun or interesting that I ought to do. Either this is for my business, for myself or as a new venture.

Had I taken action on all of these passionately in one go, I would never have gotten anything done. It’s a shame though not to have a decently organized system in place to capture the ideas. When you get one, you should have some way of capturing it so that you can refer to it later. Personally I do this with an Evernote notebook, but any way you feel comfortable with works.

The crucial aspect is to revisit these on a regular basis. Browse through your ideas and perhaps refine them slightly, maybe disregard some completely, or go ahead and action on them.

What you are after is the routine to always be storing your ideas. We all have brilliant moments, but when failing to write down our thoughts and ideas, we might loose them forever.

Ever since I was little, I’ve been curious, wanting to learn new things. My grandmother, a retired primary school teacher has always said she knows a little about a lot, something that has always impressed me and driven me to try and become the same—knowledgeable about a lot.

Reading is a big part of learning. By reading you not only have the benefit of learning new things, you also force yourself to think about the topics you read about. This allows you to come up with new conclusions and ideas. As such, reading helps you develop your own philosophies, something I truly believe you do best by taking in as much knowledge as possible.

My Reading Routine
While I used to enjoy reading when I was little, there were several years when I did hardly any reading. In an effort to combat this, I’ve started planning in more time in my days to read.

In the morning I will typically do a check of my news feeds. This is a mix of industry news and articles, both short-form and long-form. Some I won’t have time to read, but will instead save for later. Others I set up to share on social media because they are good. The importance is that this sets me up for the day, knowing what’s going on in the world and the industry today.

In the evenings I will typically try and read more long-form articles or books. Typically these have both the effect of being relaxing, and the effect of being inspiring and thought-provoking. Much of my own written work has come to life after sitting and reading interesting thoughts by others.

Weekends see magazines and other interesting long-form work that I wouldn’t have time for in the weeks. A by now long standing routine is the Saturday morning coffee and the latest edition of The Economist, one of my favorite magazines for plenty of reasons.

I read because I love learning. I also read because it helps me explore my own thoughts by gaining new perspectives and forcing me to think. To me, reading is a cornerstone of being able to write. If I don’t read I can’t write. Unless I read and have my mind provoked and inspired, it is just much harder to get anything written and published.

As if that weren’t enough, I read to get inspired. You can feel the energy, motivation and inspiration coming back to you pretty quickly when you are reading something interesting.

Whether we want to admit it or not, we are all to varying degrees slaves under our email. Personally I can note this in two ways. First, if I’m waiting somewhere typically I pick up my iPhone and check my inbox. Secondly, the email inbox is typically one of the last things I check at night before going to bed.

The latter thing is particularly bad as there’s frequently an email that upsets or unnerves you that you should definitely not read when you are trying to relax before getting a good night’s sleep. Though, in a grand sense, we should all commit to checking email much less often.

I’ve always been an advocate of reducing the ways someone can demand my time, without me allowing it. I’m notoriously bad at answering my phone just because it decides to ring—preferring instead to return a call later when it suits me. It’s the same with email, only easier.

My Email Checking Routine
What I am doing is challenging myself to check email on a restricted schedule. Email is by definition not urgent. The times I have decided are: Once in the early morning (~6:30am), catching any late evening email; once after the first block of work (~9:30am), catching the morning email that most other send; once at lunch; once mid-afternoon; once before I leave the office and finally once in the mid-evening.

I chose several more times than is necessary for most, I do this because there are many others in my field who might consider email a little more urgent than I now do. I might however not reply to email in this “in-between” checks, but just check and make sure there’s nothing in there that I need to know.

And? Is it working?
The million dollar question. To a point. Some days it is harder than others (particularly when you want to procrastinate), while some days it is easier. Overall, it is a good thing to become less of a slave to email and taking better control over your day in that way.