The quest to a sustainable business

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.