I’m a furniture designer who sells at a lot of the local markets, and recently I was accepted to sell at a major home goods store. I think if you were on the outside looking into my business, you would say that it’s successful. People love my products, and to be in a major store surely means that I’ve arrived in some way. The problem is that I don’t feel successful. I’m not even sure if I want to continue running my business.
During the recession of 2008, I really got swept up into the “do what you love” idea and started this company. But, I’m really not loving what I am presently doing. Yes, I love to create and design furniture that inspires people, but I really didn’t realize what I was getting myself into on the business side.
Do you have any advice on what I should do? I’m getting pretty close to walking away from all of it because I’m so burned out.
Burned Out On My Bliss
I’m not even going to start this column off by saying congratulations to you on your success so far because I think part of your problem is that you never took the time to understand what success means to you. So now you’re measuring yourself against someone else’s standards of what it means to be successful. And, because it’s not your definition, it lacks meaning and fulfillment.
One of the biggest mistakes I see business owners make when they dive in is that they never take the time to define what success means to them. We so often just assume that it must mean a lot of money, great product placement, a brownstone in Cobble Hill, and a write up in the New York Times. But the problem is that because we never take the time to define success for ourselves, we get swept into the mass ideal and never feel fulfilled by what we’ve achieved. Now, I’m not saying that some of these things might not be on your list, but I bet if you sat down and really thought about it, there are many other things that you want to achieve that have a more personal connection to you and your business.
Second, you bought into the false ideal of our “do what you love” generation. Believe me, I hear it all the time and spend a lot of time trying to help business owners who are flailing about because they started with this notion. But, doing what you love very often does not lead to building a successful business. What you should really be thinking about is doing what has purpose. There’s a big difference between what you love and what has purpose or meaning to you. Doing what has purpose is often terribly hard and full of challenges. You may love what has purpose, but without purpose, your pursuit is empty and void of meaning.
Finally, once you’ve taken the time to consider how you define success and what the purpose of your business is, you’ll likely need to re-organize it. You mentioned that it was the business side that really challenges you. A third mistake you made was confusing your talent at furniture design with the ability to run a furniture business. They are two completely different things that require completely different skill sets and mindsets. If you didn’t take the time in the beginning to really understand how business works, and acquire the skills necessary to succeed in business, you’ll always struggle. I highly recommend you read, The E-Myth. It’s a great start to understanding the transition you need to make from furniture designer to business owner. What’s most important for you to realize as that as your business grows, you’ll spend less and less time as the furniture designer and more time actually focused on running the business. You need to acquire a whole new set of skills and a big mindset shift if you are to make the transition from being a successful designer to someone who satisfyingly owns and operates a thriving and growing business.
I applaud all three of the mistakes you made and your honesty to admit that you feel burned out. I see too many business owners deny that they’re flailing and refuse to admit that their present course is not working. See all of these mistakes as a learning opportunity, take the necessary action to change, and within this year, you could completely transform your business and your life. Good luck!
Holly Howard runs Ask Holly How, a small business consulting company based out of Williamsburg, Brooklyn that works with a wide variety of businesses from restaurants to retail to art studios and pretty much everything in between. Her clients report increased income and profit, decreased expenses and a significantly better quality of life. Holly heads up the Small Business Book Club at McNally Jackson Books.
Want valuable insights into how to grow your business? Email Holly to set up a time to talk firstname.lastname@example.org or to ask a question for the next Ask Holly How. Join the wait list for her next business development program here.