Finding freedom in your business isn’t a simple matter of adopting a positive mindset or following the right template to success. It’s about creating space for you as a business owner to lead a business and a life you love. And it takes time, planning, strategic action, and intentional personal growth to achieve that level of business.
Busting the Myth of the Freedom Lifestyle
There are so many people out there perpetuating this idea of instant entrepreneurial freedom disguised as a jet-setting, “freedom lifestyle” of luxury and ease – and I’m calling bs.
Not because I think that isn’t their definition of freedom, or that it shouldn’t be their definition of freedom, but because I think it’s all a farce. They’re perpetuating this myth that as a business owner it is not only your right to have overnight success and abundant wealth, but that it’s easy.
No business owner ever had a brilliant idea, snapped their fingers, and suddenly found themselves living on a yacht, dripping with money, hair flowing majestically on the wind as they sailed off into the sunset.
If anything, starting out in business feels kind of like tying roughly cut logs together and going white water rafting on them. For all the excitement of the Startup phase, it’s hardly glamorous, and it doesn’t exactly leave you with a lot of free time.
What is Business Freedom, really?
Freedom is self-defined in the same way that success is self-defined. There is no universal label that says “this is what success looks like for everyone, no matter what”. I have a definition of what success is for me and you have a definition of what success is for you in your life. While our definitions hold true for ourselves, they don’t necessarily apply to everyone else. Finding freedom in your business works the same way. What that freedom looks and feels like for me, may not be what freedom would look and feel like for you because we hold different values. Or we hold similar values, but we prioritize them differently.
Identifying your core values is an integral part of defining what finding freedom in your business looks like for you.
As a business owner, your core values offer a tuning mechanism to create meaningful alignment within your work, your company, and your life. For example, freedom is my highest value, and it has been my highest value for most of my life. My definition of freedom is the ability to work where I want, when I want, to spend time with whoever I want, whenever I want, and to express myself without reservation, to be who I am, whoever that is, in the moment.
However you choose to define freedom is real and valid for you. The thing to remember is that no matter what the material expression of your freedom looks like, the material things are not the core of what creates freedom.
There may be tangible things that represent an expression of your freedom, but freedom and the expression of that freedom are two separate things.
One of the ways that I bring my definition of freedom to life is by going on van adventures every summer for a month to six weeks with my husband and our two dogs. My husband and I bought and converted a sprinter van specifically for this purpose because we love to travel together and it makes traveling with our dogs way more accessible. And it gives us the freedom to hit the road and go where we want to go, whenever we want. The van is a tangible expression of the freedom we desire.
For us it’s an escape, a vacation, but there are many people who make the choice to opt out of the typical, “accepted” norms of North American living and live in a van so that they can enjoy the freedom to travel as part of their daily life. They work remotely, which means they can work anywhere, unfettered and disconnected, as long as they have an internet connection. While our expression of freedom may look similar, the definition is not the same.
For all our differences, there are other commonalities, too. While you may not need a lot of money to maintain a nomadic lifestyle, you still need to pay for the essentials, like insurance, gas, food, and internet. You may not be paying rent or a mortgage, but you still need money to live. This definition of freedom may not carry the cost of a jet setter lifestyle, it definitely still has a price tag.
No matter what your personal definition of freedom may be, the expression of freedom definitely includes having money to pay for it.
Finding Freedom in Your Business
Finding freedom in your business isn’t a story of overnight success, and it isn’t something that you’re going to find when you’re grinding through the start up phase of your business. It’s really only possible once you’ve reached a certain stage of business.
So often, we see other entrepreneurs “making it,” but we don’t see the journey that unfolded before they got there. Molly Mahoney is now really well known as an expert in live video social media marketing. She’s known for being at the top of her field and producing phenomenal results for her clients. But when I first met Molly, years ago, she was a vocal coach and while she was great at her work, not a lot of people knew who she was. If you met Molly now, it might look like she created her course, launched it, and became an overnight sensation. Coming from the performance industry, she would be the first to tell you there is no such thing. The stories we’re told, the images we see on social media, this very idea of overnight success skips the prologue, we miss the hero’s journey entirely, and instead we’re presented with the climax of the story as if it is the first page.
Just because we don’t see the work, determination, and heartache that went into building that success and achieving that level of freedom, doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. There is always groundwork to be laid, first steps to be taken, and hard-won lessons to be learned along the way.
What Business Freedom Isn’t…
When you own a business, no matter how much you can step back from daily operations, you will never be completely removed from them. Having freedom does not mean that you stop working, it means that you become the face of your business, the glue that holds your company together, the visionary behind the big picture.
As the leader of your business, you create the culture and atmosphere that motivates and inspires your team – that’s your job. That’s the work you need to do.
While that doesn’t mean that you need to work forty plus hours a week, it does mean that you need to set a schedule, so that your team knows they can rely on you to be present, and you can do the work of leading your business.
Maybe you’re only working twenty hours a week, but during those working hours you’re really focused on your zone of genius and the things that only you can do as the leader of your business.
The Phases of Business
Level One: Startup
The first phase, or level of business, is Startup; you have an idea, or you decide to start your business and you go for it. The main drive of the Startup phase is to be able to get to a point where you have a clear product or service that you’re selling, you’re consistently making money, and your business is actually viable.
In this first stage of business, there are so many things that have to be put into place, and in that space is a ton of work because you have to figure out:
⇨ What are you really offering?
⇨ What problem are you solving?
⇨ Do people actually have that problem?
⇨ Are they buying your solution because it’s really solving their problem?
The Startup level is a cycle. You’re basically just throwing spaghetti at the wall, seeing what sticks, trying again to see what sticks on a consistent basis, and then using that data to hone in on the things that are working.
As you work through answering these questions, you also need to create the processes, clarify the operations, and construct the infrastructure needed to deliver results for your clients so you can get to a point where people are consistently buying your offer and you have a viable business.
Consistent buy in doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re making a sale every day, it means that you have sales data to show that people are actively buying your product or services.
Level Two: Viability
When you reach Viability, you’ve established a foundation of what works, but there are so many pieces to making it happen, and you’re likely juggling them all. By this stage, you may have hired some people to help you manage all the moving parts, but you’re still trying to control every aspect of your business.
For most business owners, this point of Viability feels constricting, like you’re at the edges of capacity, both in your business in terms of delivering results for your clients, and in your personal capacity as a business owner.
This happens to every business owner because the Startup level requires so much of your time, energy, and focus. You have to drive every step forward. You spend so much time dedicated to building your business that you become attached. In your mind, you are your business, and your business is you.
When you’re attached to your business like this, there is no possibility for you to be anything else. Finding freedom in your business can only happen when you create space between who you are and what your business is.
Growing through Viability requires you to step back from owning and controlling all the pieces to delegating responsibility, directing the action, and holding space for your business. Rather than being attached to your business, you need to expand your perspective so that you can lead your business instead of being your business.
Because real freedom as a business owner means getting yourself out of daily operations enough that you can also live your life.
This is the impasse between Viability and the next level of business, Growth.
This is where a lot of my clients are when they come to me for strategic support. They’ve become the bottleneck in their business, they need to unlock greater capacity, but they don’t know how.
Owning your own business is really a journey of personal growth disguised as entrepreneurial adventure, and this stage of business is uncomfortable. Yet, a lot of people stay there because it’s frightening to let go of control and take the next step.
In some ways it’s like Olympic level snowboarders who are out there doing crazy tricks and making it look effortless. But no matter how comfortable they become with a trick, when they want to learn a new one, to take their skills to the next level, they have to be willing to fall, to risk getting hurt, to risk failure.
Standing on the edge of growth can be a frightening and overwhelming experience. For every Olympic snowboarder, there are heaps of people who got to the edge of that level of possibility, and choose not to take the risk. The same thing happens to many business owners who reach the bottleneck between Viability and Growth – they just are not willing to take that leap, so they stay there.
It can be jarring to realize that, consciously or unconsciously, you’ve made the decision to stay in the discomfort because you’re not willing to face the fear of the unknown and let go of control. When you as the business owner become the bottleneck in your business, controlling every single piece of your business is often one of the biggest issues holding you back from Growth.
Breaking through that bottleneck is the key to unlocking freedom in your business. But you have to put in the work to get there. You have to decide that the goal of freedom, the growth that awaits on the other side, is worth facing the fear and discomfort, and you have to make the choice to leap.
You have to decide that even though you’re more comfortable being in full control of every single piece of your business, you are not only willing, but committed to letting go of what you thought was the only way of doing business.
Because it’s only on the other side of letting go that freedom is possible.