Q: I'm a carpenter and I've been an entrepreneur for 12 years now. I feel like I'm still struggling to make ends meet and to feel fulfilled. I find the idea of working for someone else depressing, but I don't know how to feel excited about my business when it's at the mercy of low demand and low market prices. How do you keep going and stay inspired to run your own business?
Congratulations! You have taken your business a lot further than the majority of people who embark on the entrepreneurial life. The harsh reality is that most small businesses fail, and it takes a lot of work, vision and the right kind of spirit to push through into longevity. So you have certainly proven yourself to possess the right qualities to be an entrepreneur just by staying in the game for so long.
What I do hear in between the lines is that, while you might have the right ingredients to push through and keep your business going, you might lack some clear focus about where exactly you want your business to be. It sounds a little bit like you're letting your business run you, rather than the other way around. Certainly there are different fields where it's harder to rise above being a service provider, and areas where the economic climate creates challenges, and it sounds like your chosen field might be one where it's a little bit more difficult to stand out. I'd still argue there are always ways to differentiate yourself and your business by having a unique core product, and by making efforts to think differently about the way you market your business and/or the way you provide your services.
Here are some ways I personally try to keep those entrepreneurial fires burning:
1. Reassess your focus
I try to reassess my focus often, and not be afraid of readjusting my course when I feel the pull to do so. There is certainly value in consistency, but if you are in business to achieve a certain lifestyle (rather than building a business with the view of growing or selling it), I think it's vital to listen to yourself and where your energy is pulling you towards. The biggest successes tend to happen when you are doing something you feel passionate about.
2. Come up with new products or ways of providing a service
You don't need to change the whole concept every time you start feeling dispirited, but even just rethinking the kind of product or service you provide can give you a fresh kick of inspiration and rejuvenate your business.
Having a skill set of a carpenter seems like such an exciting opportunity to me. I don't know how you are utilising those skills at the moment, but it sounds like it is more as a service provider rather than an artisan. One way to ignite that fire could be to try to leverage both sides of your craft and add an artisan element to what you do. Perhaps you could join forces with an up-and-coming designer to come up with a completely new concept for an every day item, and start marketing that through social media? To begin with, you could do something like this slowly on the side in order to test the market without having to change the core of your business, which is keeping you afloat at the moment. Even if it wouldn't result in a successful product, I bet it would give your creativity a boost and make you appreciate the things you love about your craft. You might also want to check out the 7 days of new ideas course, which could help you come up with ways to stay inspired and innovate new ways to approach you business.
3. Remember to take time out
It's easy to work around the clock, and without holidays, when you are feeling the pressure of keeping your business afloat. But sometimes the best thing to do is to take some time out in order to clear your head and allow space for new ideas. So take a few days and just sit and watch the ocean, or read books not related to your field or travel to a different culture if you have the means to do so. You'll find that having some time off from your routine and everyday thoughts will give you a different perspective, and can jolt something in you that could be vital for the future of your business.
4. Don't fear failure
I think there are many things you can do before there would be a reason to give up on your business, but what I do want to put out there is this: if you do come to a point where, despite everything you've tried, you are not making enough of an income and your business is not providing you with any joy, there is no shame in deciding to walk away and try something else. There are so many ways you can navigate the entrepreneurial life, but if you can honestly say that no aspect of your business, or the possibilities of what your business could be, excites you, that's the time to fundamentally change things. It's not called failure, it's called having one short life and not wasting it doing something that doesn't nourish you in any way.