It's no joke, many small businesses end at a young age. Their owners, burnt out, broke, or simply preoccupied, give them up for good.
It can be a long, winding, rough path to get a business going. I've heard the same stories you have about the overnight sensations. But, for the vast majority of small business owners, it can take a lot of elbow grease and a lot of time before there seems to be any solidity.
When someone does move the sewing machine back into their home office, dusts off the resume, and heads back out into the job market, sometimes my heart aches for the missed opportunity and broken dreams.
What determines where a business owner ends up?
A Baseline Assumption Before We Begin.
There are obvious questions: Are you providing a quality product or service? Do people need, use, and pay for things similar to what you're offering? I'm going to start with the assumption that these are already established.
The real issue I'm looking at is that business comes, but not easily. You've been working really hard at it, and you're exhausted and wondering if you should give up.
What Does It Really Take To Raise A Business?
It doesn't take an MBA from Harvard, or anywhere else. It doesn't take spiritual enlightenment (although a grounded spiritual practice helps tremendously). And, it certainly doesn't take a once-in-a-era miracle.
The usual things we hear about -- determination, confidence, courage, know-how, sure, they all help. But there are some surprising spiritual qualities that seem to truly separate the "A" players from the rest.
Five of them, in fact.
The Top Five Qualities
Everyone I've seen who's gone from struggling to successful in business has been able to access these qualities, perhaps imperfectly and inconsistently, but they've got 'em, and they cultivated them. And it pays off.
It's okay to take off that armor, Lancelot. It's too heavy and hot, anyway. Vulnerability is when you are open to letting things in. Want more money? You need to be vulnerable. Need help from others? Vulnerability. Learning about your blind spots, or something new about marketing ... yup, vulnerability.
It's the ability to say "I don't know." It's the willingness to risk falling in love, and opening your heart. It's when you say: "I can't do it on my own. Can you help me?"
On this entire list, I rate vulnerability as the single most important success indicator for small business owners. Without it, you're alone in the world, and can't receive what you need. And, it's hard to access the other four qualities without it.
Here's how I define creativity: the ability to see how unlike things go together. Kinda like Sufism and Business, right? Creativity isn't the power to create something out of nothing -- it's the insight to see what odd, strange, unlike things can be combined to be useful.
This helps in creating unique offers. This helps in finding a place to fit your home office when there isn't a spare bedroom. This helps in spotting opportunities and niches.
It's actually a poetic quality -- and successful business owners cultivate this ability to fit odd pieces together in (sometimes) useful ways.
3. Trust. (or Faith.)
The stereotype is working seven days a week, late into the night, getting it all done. Yet, you can't work ten to twelve hours every day and be truly productive. Things start to break down. In your exhaustion you miss opportunities, fall blind to miracles. You need spaciousness.
And to get that spaciousness, you have to have trust. Without the deep trust in your heart that you are going to be okay, you can't wrestle your to-do list to the ground and leave things, sometimes important things, undone, so you can access your creativity and aliveness.
You are in charge. It's important, with vulnerability, to get advice, to learn, to let other sources of wisdom and experience guide you. But, when it comes down to it, you set the course.
Your business is a precious being, a vehicle for hopes, dreams, and transformational work in the world. It can provide a living for you, and perhaps others, and can help many people with some problem that's creating struggle for them.
Finding inside yourself the willingness to act, sometimes with less care and more boldness. To take actions and make decisions, even if they are at times messy and imperfect. To be the captain of your ship. Without Sovereignty, you don't have a business, you have a job.
Wait for it ... wait for it ... Actually, the quality of Patience isn't about waiting for your ship to come in. Patience is described by Sufi author and scholar Neil Douglas Klotz, in his book The Sufi Book of Life, as a pathway:
"This pathway can also help us work with projects or relationships where progress is likely to be slow, over a long period of time. The heat of patience and discomfort may, like a cooking compost pile, produce amazing future effects, ones we couldn't dream of..."
You aren't going to make (six figures, a million, insert your lofty goal here) by New Year's. Or by next New Year's. But maybe three or five New Year's hence, you just might. If you have Patience.
Can You Order These Qualities on Amazon?
Uh ... no. You can't. (Although you can get Mr. Klotz's book there.) That's the troubling thing with these kinds of intangibles, you can't buy them, you can't create them, you can't quantify them.
So, how do you get them? Let's do the quick one-two-three.
Keys to Cultivating the Top Five Qualities.
• Start with Vulnerability.
As I said above, the keystone quality is Vulnerability. Although all the qualities tend to help develop each other, that initial willingness to open up and let things in is the first step.
There are many ways to cultivate that vulnerability in yourself and the most effective I've found personally is some kind of spiritual practice, because it connects me to a larger Reality. And when I'm connected, I get that I don't have to protect myself so much.
Whether it's devotional prayer, silent meditation, study of sacred texts, yoga or other movement, connecting to Source is a wonderful way to soften your heart, without flopping over and collapsing into powerlessness.
• Identify the quality you're needing in the moment.
Rather than trying to get them all at once, all the time, notice what you're trying to do, and see if you can use the vulnerability of "I don't know" to ask your heart which quality is really needed in the moment.
Your heart may surprise you -- you may have thought you needed Sovereignty to force something through, when in fact you needed Patience, or Trust. Identifying which Quality allows you to proceed with focus and intention
• Bring that softness of heart to the Quality in question.
We tend to have assumptions about what 'creativity' or 'sovereignty' really is. And those assumptions come up most strongly when we are needing them and wishing we had them.
By bringing Vulnerability to your approach of Patience, for example, you can ask in your heart: "Please help me experience Patience in this situation. I'm curious what it looks like here?" Again, allow the vulnerability and a willingness to be surprised.
These Qualities are intangibles and hard to grasp mentally, especially when you've got a long a to-do list and you feel stuck. And yet, by giving them some attention and space, rather than trying to to push through anyway, you'll find that you begin to cultivate them, and your business will start to shine with success, too.
And you? What's your relationship to these Qualities in your business? Especially vulnerability?