Written by: Vivian Chan, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
If you’re an introvert thinking you’ll never break free from a full-time job to start your own sustainable business that lasts – think again! I learned this the hardest way during a pandemic no less, and I’m beyond thrilled to tell this tale from the other side.
“You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created.” – Albert Einstein
While this isn’t a piece about the power of introverts or my rags to riches background (though that’s a great story for another time), this is my best attempt to condense the five most robust learnings I’ve mastered along the way from being a chronically dissatisfied, burnt out and mismanaged IT Manager at a big public institution to a full-time business coach making 87x more money doing what I absolutely love to support female-driven business owners ready to work smarter, not harder!
Mind you, this transition was far from a walk in the park – more like massive fear of walking away from a steady paycheck. Classic story, right? A combination of pandemic-fueled uncertainty and my own historical self-doubts could have easily kept me back for several more unhappy years at a job that simply didn’t serve my bigger vision. I was faced with all the classic red flags of a poorly mismanaged work environment – a wholly self-unaware supervisor who lacked basic delegation skills and poor communication at every turn. This began to eat at me, until finally one day, an event I’ll never forget broke the camel’s back. I finally mustered everything in me to quit my job and take the long overdue leap to start my own business, Sette.
If you are struggling in a full-time job where you spend more time daydreaming about that side hustle (hello, Great Resignation) or a different path than the one you’re on, I invite you to reimagine the possible altogether. If you’ve already leapt to the other side and feel stuck in the broken loop of “will I actually make it?” it’s time to turn this around. I tell my clients time and time again – it all starts with stepping outside your comfort zone. Let’s explore exactly how to do this wherever you find yourself on the entrepreneurial path, and bust some misunderstood myths along the way!
The core principles of a sustainable business
When we hear the word “sustainability,” our minds often associate it immediately with climate change. So how do we apply this to business? The capacity for a business to run by itself, grow at scale and give you back time is an absolutely attainable reality if it’s set up with the right kind of strength-based leadership, operations and team. The kind of business that fulfills you and makes you the kind of money you actually want is NOT a far cry from reality. It simply boils down to working smarter, not harder.
This is the core of The Sustainable Business Growth Catalyst, my signature framework to fuel growth, support sustainability and introduce balance, which I’ve distilled down further below!
Consider these 5 ways to build a sustainable business
1. Have strong systems in place
All too often I’ll hear my client say, “What I do is special and too complex to be systematized.” Sound familiar? In truth, complexity can always be systematized and automated without sacrificing personal touch. This doesn’t mean you have to invest in fancy software especially in the early days of starting up – small tweaks can have a big impact for solopreneurs and bigger businesses alike. In fact, it will cost you more money to run a team and operate a business without the right systems. You’ll end up paying your employees more money while they’re feeling confused and frustrated, wasting time with unnecessary back and forth communication about what needs to get done, and spending more resources redoing the work.
How to create systems to give you back time:
Assess your current processes: Identify what’s working and what’s not. A question like “if I were to replace myself and hand over this process to someone else, could they do the work?” can help you get clear about whether your systems are effective. If you answered “no,” then follow up by asking how you can improve the process and make it scalable.
Identify repetitive tasks: Once you figure out which tasks can be potentially automated, start with the basic, smaller ones that you can systematize to free up your time and mental bandwidth. Over time, you can move on to bigger tasks that require more effort and steps.
Manage the rest: For processes that can’t be automated or require a level of human touch can be outsourced or handled by a team (more on that below).
2. Hire a well-rounded team
So many businesses and solopreneurs opt to hire well-rounded people (aka unicorns) versus team members with tailored strengths. The most sustainable ones that come out on top are those that build a well-rounded team – NOT an individual. What’s important here is to capitalize on collective strengths and prevent the group from becoming one-sided. Unicorns end up over-resourced and this ultimately impacts performance on the whole. As I told a recent client, who came to me for team restructuring support, “Don’t put the wrong people in the wrong seat.”
How to hire a well-rounded team to buy back time:
Build a well-rounded team: The proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,” is core here. The secret to building great teams is choosing members based on 1-2 unique strengths (versus 3-4) so that everyone can do a lot of what they do well.
Hire slow: Avoid rushing to fill a position or look to hire for immediate help at all costs. What you stand to lose by doing this is breezing through the important process of defining clear roles and responsibilities for your incoming candidates. Take your time to write an accurate job posting, do a proper screening and interview of the candidates, and onboard the new hire thoughtfully.
Evaluate underperformance with care: If you notice signs that you want to fire someone on your team, pause and ask yourself if you’ve given yourself and the underperforming team member a fair chance and time to course correct. Don’t prolong this. The best time to have the conversation is when you notice early signs of them falling short. Be sure to ask them if they fully understand what’s expected of them and get more clarity on whether they need additional training!
3. Be self-aware
This one is near and dear to my heart for personal reasons. Remember my previous manager whose mismanagement took a toll on the entire department? All it takes is for one unaware leader to tip the scales towards a negative working relationship and work culture. So many leaders believe they already know themselves (including likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses), and that they don’t see the need to learn anymore. Little do they know that self-awareness has everything to do with HOW you lead, communicate and delegate. When a leader becomes more self-aware, confident, and aligned with their natural abilities – the entire business and team thrive!
How to practice self-awareness to gain back time:
Understand your strengths: Take different assessments to become familiar with your unique traits and behaviors, the lens you use to look at the world, and roadblocks that typically keep you stuck. The more you can understand yourself, the quicker you’ll spot opportunities for your business and gain the clarity to lead your team with intention.
Train your brain to use those strengths: Once you’ve taken those assessments, you’ll need to practice playing to your strengths. Another way to crack this is to pay attention to your day-to-day experiences and notice what makes you feel good because chances are you’re doing something naturally well. As you trace those positive experiences, your brain will begin to recognize those behaviors associated with your talents.
Remember the downside of NOT practicing self-awareness: Start to notice the ripple effects of unaware leaders. Perhaps you’ll notice that they’re unable to tap into their full potential, develop their strengths, or notice how their blind spots affect others’ wellbeing. People in these shoes tend to make mistakes over and over again, and experience a mismatch between how they see themselves and how others perceive them. Businesses with high turnover would stand to benefit from evaluating their leader’s self-awareness.
4. Know what success means to you
All too often, my clients tell me they want to do what successful people do without truly understanding if that’s what they really want themselves! Think building an agency, selling courses and retreats, and so on. What they’re missing is the ability to get clear on their goals and work backward from what’s most important. In reality, if leaders chase the wrong goals, they’ll also bring their whole team down the wrong path too. Talk about inefficiencies!
How knowing what success means to you gives you back time:
Figure out your desired outcome: Why do you ultimately want to run your own business? What are the deeper values, motivations and passions behind giving up a steady paycheck and security of a full-time job? For me, one of my big desires was to start a business that I could take with me anywhere in the world and spend more time visiting my family in Malaysia.
Ask the important question: You’ll never know what success can mean to you unless you go right to the heart of the question, “If money weren’t an issue and no one judged, what topic would you want to share on stage at a summit?” In other words, what lights you up so much that you’d want to share it with the world?
Don’t compare yourself to others: The more you chase other people’s goals, the less you’ll aim for what you truly want. You left your safety net for a reason – now’s the time to fully own what success and happiness look like for you, and make it happen!
5. Learn to let go and not get attached to the outcome
Finally, there’s the all-too-common thought, “If I don’t do the work myself, I’m not adding to my business’s success.” False! If your team is doing well, then clearly so are you. Make delegation and management your best friends to help your business thrive. Remember, the whole point of building a sustainable business is to free up your precious resources (time, space and energy) for things that matter most to you in life.
How learning to let go can buy you back time:
Separate your self-worth from success: This one’s particularly hard! We’re conditioned to associate our value in life with the career and accomplishments we achieve. Our upbringing, culture and environment contribute to this unhealthy reinforcement. We’re not trying to build a house on a rocky foundation!
Reframe your self-worth: There’s no better way to come back to yourself than to know who you are apart from what you do. My self-worth, values, strengths, experiences and skills won’t simply disappear when I don’t accomplish something. They are still a part of me no matter what. Instead of thinking, “I must do things to feel worthy,” I shift to “I value empowering others to do their best at work.” How far we can go together is a much greater measure of success than how far I can go alone. I’m incredibly proud of my team’s collective achievements!
Remember the downside of NOT learning to get-go: What’s lost if you don’t practice finding your value outside of work? You’ll always be chasing your tail, trying to fill your plate. When you liberate yourself from needing to be defined by what you do, you’ll open up a wider window of purpose and passion.
Key takeaways for building a sustainable business
Your inner sustainability as a leader will ultimately reflect the outer sustainability of the business you build to run and scale in a balanced fashion. This informs the heart of my Sustainable Business Growth Catalyst, which has helped hundreds of female-driven businesses achieve financial growth, support sustainability and cultivate more balance.
To close, remember to consider these 5 ways to build a sustainable business to buy back time in your life!
Have your systems in place
Hire a well-rounded team
Know what success means to you
Learn to let go of the outcome
If you want all those things AND MORE for you and your business, then booking a free discovery call with me can be that powerful first step toward sustainable business growth.
Let’s discover how we can unlock the potential within you and your business together!
Vivian Chan, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Vivian Chan is a leadership and team-building expert who teaches successful but overwhelmed leaders how to grow a sustainable business. With her strategic insight and signature framework of The Sustainable Business Growth Catalyst, she empowers clients to take time off without the fear of their business falling apart. As a Gallup-trained BP10 coach, she’s helped thousands of students discover, develop, and direct their business-building talents. With her guidance, her clients learn how to become better leaders and how to unlock their unique potential by learning to identify their greatest strengths and the right time to call on them. She’s also a Certified Affiliate Manager.