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I’m a big fat business failure – even though my business is booming



I’m a specialist in Queensland property market forecasting and  investment property flipping, so I was determined to grow my business and portfolio to great heights. And I have. It’s hard work but I’ve been building property portfolios for clients for over a decade now.  I love it.  It’s my calling.  But, I was stressed.  It wasn’t the work.  It isn’t the business itself, I can grow businesses in my sleep.  I realized, I had never stopped to answer one of the most important questions of small business ownership, and it was stressing me out.  “What makes this business a success?” How do I know because there are always market fluctuations, interest rate speculation, there are times when I don’t make as much rental return as I’d planned, there are times when the market shifts and it keeps me up at night.  But, those downturns are part of the property investment process.  

What success looked like to me

Success looked like working long, long hours and seeing financial returns. That was what my parents raised me to believe and how I ran my business.  I woke excited to put in the hours.  I love this job.  I love that I make real money and I am ready to work my ass off to do it.  So why don’t I feel successful?  I’m working hard.  Making money. 

It's shocking how such a simple question puts undue stress on business owners.  It stops us making the right business decisions and limits the longevity of the operation.  What do I actually want from this business, and how will I know when I am successful?  It’s shocking how few business owners can answer the questions, and I was guilty of it myself.

Am I Successful?

The issue is that there is no fixed answer.  Success in SMEs especially, where the entity is a sole trader or private company/trust, looks completely different to everyone.  So, I asked my network, at what point would you consider your business successful?  Yes, I got the standard answers about wealth and power but some of the answers surprised me.

“I want to live on my own terms, have control of my time.  The more my business grows, the less freedom I have to do what I want, so I think, despite making more and more money, my business is becoming less successful in terms of my goals” said a digital marking specialist.

“The funniest thing is, the most successful I ever felt was when I had to pay $100K in GST for the first time.  It was the worst.  Nobody likes paying taxes.  And Christina had already reduced my tax bill substantially, but when I clicked that “transfer now” button, I thought I’d feel angry or ripped off or sad, but I actually felt an enormous amount of pride” said a Media Buyer.

“I bought a boat.  I made enough money to buy myself my dream, and now I fish whenever the mood takes me.  When I made enough to support the family and pay the mortgage, it felt good but owning something I’ve always dream of owning, that’s a real success moment for me” said a commercial pest control specialist.

“The moment I started making more money than my parents ever made was pivotal for me.” Said a HR Consultant.

“Being able to give my kid life experiences I never had has been very important to me” said a Magazine publisher.

“Turning over my first million felt pretty good.  Making my first million felt even better” said a software developer.

“I put my kids through a good school, I have a nice house in a good postcode, I’ve worked my whole career with integrity and on my own terms.  I don’t think obscene wealth was ever on my list, it was more about not being forced to compromise.” Said a building and pest inspector in Brisbane.

“Planning for an amazing retirement and leaving my children and their children a substantial gift feels pretty good” said a retailer.

“Celebrating twenty years as an independent Sydney Plumber knowing so many of my competitors have sold out and become franchises.” Said Joe.

“I’m officially an ‘award winning plumber’.  Twenty plus years, a profitable, mid-sized business, international travel, a house in a nice post code… none of that felt quite as good as winning an award from the Master Plumbers Association for integrity and ingenuity.  I guess that finally kicked the imposter syndrome, like I’m not just a little north Brisbane plumber I am a respected member of my industry” said John.

“Seeing the family business through the last few years has been an achievement.  Our family have been Perth Painters for over 90 years.  These past few years have been among the toughest.  So I’m proud to be steering the ship for the next generation” said Stephen.

How answering the question has changed how I feel about my business

I took stock and realized that everything my friends felt, I felt too.  I get great satisfaction from growing portfolios and a thrill from negotiating a good deal.  I feel pride in being a female leader in a bloke’s industry and hope to make it my legacy.  I am making good money. My kids have everything they need, and probably more than they should have.

But, I wasn’t living my life on my terms.  I don’t have control of my time.  I’m hard pressed to find time for a mani-pedi let alone those bucket list trips that all my financial success could allow me to take.  That was, a pivotal realization for me.  

And it stopped that nagging feeling.  When you’re feeling like a “slacker” because you’ve taken a day off – even if it’s a Sunday.  That uncomfortable feeling when your spouse suggests a holiday and it sounds amazing but the idea of going, feels like cheating.  When you’ve put in a 10 hour day and feel guilty for not getting everything done.  Those are the things that make me feel unsuccessful.  Like I’m not “good enough” to take control of my time.

So, I set out to make that work.

I improved my systems and took on an additional staff member to do more project management and administration.  I stopped taking enquiries from “non-ideal” clients (I prefer to buy properties in Queensland where I know the laws and the markets like the back of my hand). I hired a specialist Queensland Ad Agency to manage my marketing.  I hired in more tradies, rather than trying to get so much of “market ready work” done myself.  I even set a daily alarm, where my phone reminds me it’s time to shut the lap top and set my phone to switch to silent.

When you don’t feel like working yourself into burnout is a marker of success, then refusing to do it doesn’t feel like failure.  

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