Discover more from The Ask Newsletter — by Ellen Donnelly
How to decide what to work on so you can actually enjoy your business
Choosing and then running the business for your unique skillset and finding alignment in the process.
Back in your inbox with more advice for your entrepreneurial career path.
Today we’ll continue to get granular on the question of whether you are creating the right business for you. This is a problem I’ve doubled down on: supporting entrepreneurial people to build the right business for their unique talent and find conviction in their idea in the process.
This is the focus of my 1-1 coaching programme as well as content like this, with recent posts including how to decide which type of entrepreneurial path you should pursue, and aligning on your ‘founder-product’ fit.
It’s my mission to see more people doing work they love and along the way create abundance and freedom in the process.
Whilst being a business owner can create freedom, it can also create restrictions. You can build a business that ties you to your desk 24/7 and resent what you’ve built; all in the name of money, ego, or simply by accident. Let’s create our lives intentionally, with design, by choosing work that we want to do, not just feel we should.
I’ve structured the answer to this post into three stages of the same journey. Each will be more or less relevant to you depending on where you are at in your business building journey.
Those stages are:
Choose the right business for you, to begin with
Run your business in the way that suits you, specifically
Saying no to the wrong opportunities and find your focus
Let’s get into it.
Choosing the right business to begin with
Seems obvious, but what your business does hugely dictates what it is that you end up doing on a day to day basis.
Elon Musk talks to engineers, investors, and the press and solves hard problems. Grace Beverly spends a lot of time on social media, in front of the camera, to grow her 1m+ following and market her clothing and fitness brands, whilst my friend Lucy who runs a personalised spends a lot of time at the post office, designing materials and packaging.
So whilst it’s important to care about the problem you are solving, or the passion you have for the industry, its arguably much more important to understand how the day-day of the business fits in with your strengths and talent.
I love interior design. But after watching enough home improvement shows, it clicked that to be great at interior design, you need to understand the shape of the home you are designing, its structure and be familiar with a wide range of materials and craftsmanship. I’m more of a ‘words’ than ‘things’ kind of person, so I’d rule myself out of being particularly successful there. I struggle with basic practical tasks and processes that for others would come more naturally.
So whilst you could run a really wide range of businesses, knowing whether or not they align well to you is a very different thing. Create a business (or join one) where you will on a daily basis be able to do things that you enjoy and that come naturally to you. This requires your understanding of what happens behind the scenes of a business as well as understanding your strengths, talent and abilities clearly.
Image credit: behance.net/paweljonca
This part is so important I’ve included it as a bonus resource for new 1-1 clients on my signature coaching programme: I’ll interview you for an hour on your professional experiences, to draw themes and conclusions about your talent. As an ex-headhunter and Head of Talent, understanding other peoples skillset and career stories is one of my top strengths. See how I’ve woven this strength into my own business offering? This is clarity and alignment you want to create.
Pick the right channels, products and services.
Once you’ve decided on the business to build, you’ll need to, well, build it. Businesses have products and or services and platforms to distribute them to customers through.
Choosing what to build and how to share it with the world is not a straight forward process as it comes with so many options. The result is a decision about where you do or don’t devote your time, energy and attention.
I helped a recent client see that building a content-first business to build an audience and then sell them a service was one way of getting sales, but not the only way. Sometimes we get so caught up in our narrative we forget alternatives exist.
For a long time it felt as though my business was my Instagram page. I felt that unless I was active on Instagram, I wasn’t working on my business.
Then I realised that almost none of my clients had come from Instagram, and that I was beginning to resent the amount of time it was sucking up. I realised I had a real choice and this wasn’t a prescribed task, as CEO, I get to decide whether I push my Instagram or ignore the platform completely.
I’ve decided to limit the use, in case you were wondering.
Decisions like this of course need to be strategic: where are your audience hanging out and where should you meet them? But decisions can and should also come from knowing yourself.
If you are a highly visual creative person, you will likely do better on a platform like Instagram to market your business. If you’re a wordsmith person Twitter might be a better place for you. Brilliantly eloquent? Clubhouse or podcasting.
You get the picture. But I’ll go one step further here perhaps controversially: have you noticed most of the really popular people on Instagram are also very attractive? Sure their content will be strong too, but the aesthetic nature of the platform has created the right home for them.
I enjoyed this post by Catherine Watkins who talks about creating a business model you love. She’s a sales coach and realised the high ticket 1-1 coaching whilst lucrative, was not as enjoyable for her as building a digital product. Whilst a more solitary, technical venture, this served her personality type well.
What kind of operations, marketing channels and business models would suit you?
Find focus and aligned opportunities
Image credit: behance.net/paweljonca
So you know what you want to work on (step one), and how you want to build it (step two), now step three is about focus and saying yes or no to opportunities.
Even if you’ve completed step one and two in detail, it still leaves a fairly wide berth of things you could possibly do with your business and the outcomes can remain fuzzy.
You could finish the process and still be at a 10,000 feet view.
Let me explain.
When I started building The Ask, I thought I had my niche nailed. I thought that coaching people in their professional lives was enough of niche, but the reality, is that the more you get to know a topic the more layers of complexity you’ll find and the more people you’ll come across operating in the same space as you.
Its precisely because we gravitate toward people similar to us that it can sometimes feel as though we are doing the same thing as them too. This gets compounded in the online world where echo chambers get created and people re-share work that you are already engaging with. Suddenly you can believe you’re not unique, that you’re too late to the party, or that you have nothing new to add to the conversation. It can feel noisy, crowded and confusing. You feel generic and disposable. What a demotivating place to be!
But you see, even if my skillsets of coaching and writing are generic, and my mission in helping more people to do work they love is not a mission entirely unique to me, there are still so many ways I can execute on these aspects.
I could write a column in a newspaper, I could coach people being made redundant, I could build a recruiting outsourcing business, or be a journalist for the future of work with a coaching side hustle.
Opportunities are a plenty in entrepreneurship which is the absolute thrill of it all — you are in charge and you can create your destiny. For many this is like being a kid in a candy shop, and the choice can be overwhelming.
But the key is to stay in your lane somewhat, and get really good at one or two things.
You have to learn to say no to anything that doesn’t align to these, and stick with it. This requires adopting an abundant mindset that there really is enough opportunity to go around and you don’t have to say yes to anything and everything.
This can feel hard when you’re starting out and staring at an empty diary or even emptier bank account.
The magical thing about turning down misaligned opportunities is it means you can send them to someone for whom they are perfect, and generally find that right around the corner your perfect opportunity ready and waiting.
“The world is testing how sure you are”, said my coach Claire last week when I got a chance to work with the exec team of a fast growth startup, to which I ultimately said no. Not because this wasn’t a great, potentially lucrative gig, but because it doesn’t align to my focus in helping founders build the right business for them.
I’ve since introduced them to the perfect coach, and freed up some 1-1 slots for April/May. Let’s have a complimentary consultation if you feel coaching can help you create the confidence and clarity you seek in your entrepreneurial career path.
So I hope you’ve learned that you get to decide what you work on each day when you’re large and in charge! That can be both the best and worst thing about entrepreneurship all at once. In future posts I’ll talk about delegation and shedding your task list to get it back to just the bits you love, and how and why we might fall out of love with our businesses.
Thanks for reading as always and please do share with anyone you know to be creating a new business or pivoting an existing one, we’re creating a community here on this topic and they do not want to miss out.
Ready to work with me one-one in coaching?
Until next time ✌️
Ellen Donnelly, Founder + Chief Coach, The Ask.