Lately I have been having the most interesting conversations with freelancers, small business owners and entrepreneurs. I asked them all the same question: "What are you currently doing to create a sustainable business?". And by sustainable I mean the ability to exist constantly and grow while doing so.
While I wasn't even thinking about sharing any of these insights at first, I found them so insightful I couldn't just keep them for myself. I hope you find these gems, tips and specific steps helpful in transforming your own business into a sustainable one. Even if you’re currently very successful in your work, make sure to keep reading!
My definition of a sustainable business
In my eyes a sustainable business is one where companies are able to exist constantly regardless of (inevitable) changes in- or outside of their own power. Constantly tweaking your current offer and updating your business model to accommodate changes. Just to clear it up, this is completely different from a green company where all business decisions are made to have minimal to no negative impact, or a positive impact on the environment, society, community or economy. In this case all processes within the company are set up to meet the criteria to be environmentally friendly. However, a green company can be one way to create a sustainable business - I hope I’m not confusing you thus far.
The reason I started asking entrepreneurs the question above is because I know that (too) many entrepreneurs, small business owners and freelancers are so caught up in the day to day work, that they completely forget to invest and therefor neglect the foundation of their company. This assumption was definitely validated, but I have to admit that many entrepreneurs also surprised me with their own way of creating and maintaining a sustainable business.
One way of creating a sustainable business is by having a strategy. Easily put, a strategy can be seen as a masterplan where you start off with an end goal. Then you define and execute specific guidelines, goals and actions to help you reach that goal or business objective. Having a strategy helps you stay on track, map out specific tasks, measure your progress and guides you in reaching your goal.
Shaping the future
Creating a sustainable business doesn’t have to be rocket science, but will be different for every company or entrepreneur. As I always say: just like clothing, a strategy is not a one-size-fits-all concept. The same counts for creating a business that has the ability to exists constantly. Fundamental elements to having a sustainable business that accommodates changes are:
Flexibility: Being able to respond to or act quickly on changes, all while doing it effectively;
Innovation: The ability to introduce new ideas, try them out and keep/eliminate them based on the outcomes;
Research: Having an idea of what goes on in your own, similar and completely different industries.
Tip: Whenever you’re having a hard time with any of these elements, you can always ask for help from people in- or outside your own industry. These conversations can stimulate you, provide you with new insights and allow you to see your breaking points before you do. I’ve experienced first hand how empowering asking for help is. Doing so, leads to the best conversations, provide you with countless new growth options and opportunities.
Insights from other entrepreneurs
As I said earlier, creating a sustainable business is not a one-size-fits-all-concept. Thus I wanted to share how entrepreneurs in different sectors are creating a sustainable business for themselves:
Having more than one revenue stream and sources of income to spread risks. One way is to sell products online;
Moving away from freelance-work and transforming it into a consultancy business in order to create more valuable work and results;
Next to client work and advising people, start teaching. This way you can share your knowledge with groups of people. This allows you to grow your network and get new leads and business after these gigs;
Expanding the company and hire employees/freelancers to keep selling your own service, instead of declining work when you're swamped by it;
Aligning your business and work with your strategy and goals. Go over this weekly to see what has been achieved, what works and doesn't;
Going out of your comfort zone to grow your client base and working in different industries you're used to. Exploit new industries and learn while doing;
Outsource your new business outreach and work with recruiters instead. This way you have the certainty of clients coming in without having to spend any time on doing new business work;
Sharing your work regularly on social media and making sure you're always in the foreground. This way prospects see you as the expert in your field of work and they will instantly think of you when needing your services.
Often you only think about improving your business when things aren’t going well. Anytime business slows down and you’re not capable to act fast, it’s often too late. Even the most successful companies and business owners need to continuously work on having a clear vision of their company’s position and strategy. If you don’t, this can be the downfall of your lucrative business in a matter of seconds.
There are some misconceptions I keep on hearing: As a freelancer or a solo-preneur you do not need to innovate your products or services. If you have been in business for over 20, 30 or 40 years and have been successful while doing so, you obviously do not need help or insights from others. Please don't be one of those people, even you can benefit from talking to an innovator.
Make sense of it all
Consider these questions and steps to guide you through creating a more sustainable business.
1. Define your objectives
The first step in making a change is to assess what sustainability means to you, your company, industry, clients (and team). What are problems these groups are experiencing and which one should be prioritised?
Getting these insights and setting SMART goals will help you establish your objectives.
2. Establish your mission statement
Now that you have your objectives in place, you need to decide on your company’s mission. This part is very important in transforming your current business to a sustainable one. Your mission statement captures your business’ purpose and values. It tells people what you do and why you do it. An easy way to create a good mission statement is by using the five w’s to define your company: who, what, when, where and why.
3. Build a strategy
You have clear objectives and a mission statement. It’s time to readjust and re-align your current company with a sustainable business strategy. When doing this you need to be sure that your company remains profitable on the long run. For example: don’t make big investments if it’s not clear how you will earn it back or how the investment will be used. Being profitable should be your main priority, if you’re going out of business because of these changes -you will be further from the end goal. When re-adjusting your strategy make sure you look at your industry and possible chances you’re not utilising. Consider answering these questions:
What are you currently offering and is this currently still solving your current customers' needs and problems?
What products/services can you start offering to compliment your current offer?
Are there customer segments you’re currently not reaching, who could benefit from your offer?
Are there processes you could optimise, automate or outsource?
Can you start offering your products/services on different channels?
Can you digitalise your offer and company? How?
Are there costs you could/ should cut which add up on the long run?
4. Goals and results
Everything always looks better on paper, but in reality it’s not merely as interesting or achievable. Create a living document where you constantly update it and keep track of the changes and results. Your solid mission statement, strategy and SMART goals make it easier to measure the progress of your objectives, and guide you in reaching them. Schedule fixed dates and times over the next six months and take the time to analyse these changes and react accordingly depending on the outcome.
These four steps will help you set a purpose and move into action in no time, allowing you to turn your business into a sustainable one.
Do you need help in turning your business into a sustainable one, implement innovations or create a strategy? Explore The Idea Factory