Defining your values as a business owner and/or leader is the necessary step to targeting the right customers, creating the right team, and making more money. It is important to get clear on what values you want to share with the world and how to incorporate them into the everyday running of the business in order to make more money, have a greater impact, and lead a happier life.
An important note on terms: (1) when I say stakeholders, I am including yourself, your shareholders/investors, your team, your collaborators, and your community*. When you are thinking about what your values are, you need to examine your gut emotions around each of these groups of people.
Whether you know it or not, your values are coming through in how you run your business. I’ve discovered many times over the past 5 years that often what you think your values are are not the values that are coming through in how you operate your business or lead your team. This is the main reason it is really important to stop and make a note of what values you want to be coming across to your stakeholders and compare them to what is actually coming across. For example, if your value is providing the best service but you are constantly advertising your competitive prices, that value may not be clear to one of your stakeholders (your clients). If your value is work-life balance but your team never feels like they can take a vacation, that value is not being made clear to them (even if you have generous vacation policies - if your team doesn’t feel like there is time for them to use those vacation days, they are not getting the message that you value work-life balance).
Over the past few years, I have helped a number of small business owners and entrepreneurs get clear on what values they are sharing with their stakeholders by looking at their financials. It’s amazing what you can learn about how you run your business or lead your team when you pay attention to where you spend your money. Are you buying the latest and most ergonomic equipment and furniture? That could show you value the health of your employees, team members, and associates. Are you constantly buying lunch for your team or sponsoring happy hour? That could imply that you want them to feel happy and have fun when they work (or think of work) or that you value camaraderie.
Values never work alone though and if you have a team that is always worried about money or complaining that they want a raise, spending money on office perks could imply that you don’t value their work as much as you do their good spirits. For this reason, the financials are only one part of a complex picture.
Examining your marketing, HR policies, and social-giving-impact can also give great insight into which values you are sharing with your world. A great example of this is the following: If you spend almost all of your marketing budget to get new clients, that could tell your current clients that making them happy is less important than having a steady stream of new clients. If this is not true - if you believe that retaining old clients is just as important as getting new clients, you can reexamine your marketing to include both targeted markets.
The next step is to get clear on what values you want to be portraying. And, although you might be able to stop right now and say “I want my team to feel supported, I want to feel successful, and I want my community to feel connected to us,” the reality could be different when you take the time to go through the process of really getting clear on what values you want each of your stakeholders to experience. I have created a signature consulting session/workshop that helps you do just that! Available to individuals, leadership teams, and groups of small business owners/community leaders, this workshop takes you through a step by step process to get clear on your values and learn how to incorporate them into everything you do with your business.
And that’s what comes next. It’s not enough to just decide what values you want to portray - you have to intentionally consider these values when you make business decisions. This goes against the old business coach perspective of increase sales and lower expenses to increase profits. This requires you to look at the success of your business in terms of how your stakeholders feel about your business. You might take on 25% more new clients this year and not hire any more staff. Your bottom line will definitely increase. But will your team feel abundant or will they feel overwhelmed? Will your clients feel like they are getting what they pay for or will they wonder if you have time to actually understand their needs? (Plug in whatever values you come up with here.)
This also comes up when you are looking at your budgeting and finances. There are many things that you might decide to spend business funds on, because they help clearly portray your values, that are not a business expense from the perspective of the IRS. Running your business in this way expands the scope of how we define success. However, and I want to make this very clear. Operating your business this way does not mean that you will make less money. Over time, when you are using your values to guide your business, you will attract more of the right clients, be able to charge higher prices, and have more stability with your team. The runway might be longer, but you will have a more successful business as well as a greater impact on your clients and community - not to mention more happiness in your own life!
Once you are clear on what values you want each of your stakeholders to experience, the next step is to start to move your business practices towards them. As it becomes feasible, start to gradually change those areas of your business that might be off to be more in alignment. Remember, you don’t have to change everything at once! Just start to move towards becoming the best version of your business that you can.
And, of course, when new decisions come up, revisit your values and think about which choice helps you become the business you want to be.
This is a great place to mention that it can be tricky when competing values are in play. Every decision we make as business owners will not serve every value we have laid out for our business. I try to follow the philosophy of serving the most stakeholders. Here are a couple of examples to help you think through this:
My desire to feel freedom in my business could be in direct conflict with my desire for my team to feel they have clarity in their work or for my clients to feel that they are confident that I’m handling things. In this case, I may decide to limit my freedom enough that my team and clients feel connected to me and are happy with our relationship. This will still serve my goals of freedom long term as I know that training someone new, albeit a team member, client or collaborator, takes way more energy and time then keeping someone I already work with satisfied.
In contrast, my desire to keep my team feeling abundant may conflict with my desire to feel abundant in my own life. If I pay them more than is feasible and that leaves me struggling to cover the overhead of my business or to pay my own bills, I could end up resenting them or even severing the relationship so I can start over with different rates. In this case, my own desire for abundance in my life and business might win over wanting to give that to my team.
The key to this practice - like most other mindful practices is to be clear on what you are trying to accomplish and to make decisions that lead you towards that goal.
Click Consulting to learn how to work through this exercise with me one-on-one, in a group, as part of a workshop, or click Speaking to have me present this to your audience in more detail.
*The community one can be tricky. That’s a word that you have to define for yourself. For me, it means both my local community (St. Augustine) and the world as a community. I want my business to inspire people and to help them feel connected in new ways. And I want everyone who comes in contact with my business to be glad we exist. This can govern everything from what networking events I attend to where my business physically operates to how much plastic we use.