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Hey, Small Business Owners: What Motivates You?

5-minute read

Knowing what motivates you is essential for sailing your small business through tougher times.
Emily Thompson

Emily Thompson

12 June 2019

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When’s the last time you felt stuck on a project? No matter how much you love your job, it’s normal to have periods of apathy.

Just the other day, I was working on a complicated project. As a result, I found myself needing that “kick in the pants” and extra motivation. Fortunately, I knew just what to do, thanks to lots of time - and practice - identifying what motivates me to work hard when I don't have a lot left to give.

So now I want to turn the question to you: What motivates you? What keeps you going as a small business owner?

I'll share my own story, but hopefully what motivates me may resonate with you as well!

What Motivates You? Here's What Works for Me

I get back to my mission.

Why did you start your small business? Did you feel passionate about solving a problem? Did you believe you could offer a service better? Did you want to make a difference?

I started my freelance writing business 10 years ago because I believed I could deliver great writing for businesses in need. I wanted to communicate clearly about products and services so consumers were informed and businesses could grow. I also liked the flexible hours associated with freelance writing. And, to be frank, I felt I could better support my family by working at home and being more available.

That’s my why. Whenever I need motivation, I think about the business owners who rely on me to communicate about their products and services. And, I remember how much my family needs me and appreciates the work I do.

To create a company mission, ask yourself:

  • Why does my company exist?
  • Who am I serving?
  • What value does my company bring?

Then, write it down. You can even frame your mission statement and display it on the walls of your office. Just looking at your company’s mission statement can keep you motivated.

I get organized.

Disorganization stops me in my tracks. I need to know exactly what projects I have on my plate, when they’re due, and for whom. There's something motivating about looking at an organized desk or project board and knowing exactly what I need to do for that day.

To organize my work, I use Trello, a project management tool that operates using the Kanban methodology. Popularized in the software industry, the Kanban Method originated in the late 1940s when Toyota improved its manufacturing practices. The Toyota team decided to distribute work based on consumer demand, much like a supermarket stocks its shelves with only the amount of food needed by consumers — and no more.

Similarly, my Kanban board shows which customers are in the pipeline, who has received proposals, the projects that are in progress, and what I’ve completed. This way, I can carefully plan out my workload by stage. I’m careful not to put too much in one Kanban stage.

I also assign firm deadlines to all of my projects, and I make every effort to meet them. Not only is this important for my clients, but it helps me too. I rarely end up with an overwhelming amount of work or insurmountable deadlines.

Finally, multi-tasking is a big no-no for me. I’ve learned I cannot juggle childcare and work. I can’t roast a chicken in the oven and make a deadline (spoiler alert: the chicken will burn, and yes, this has happened before). I keep my home and work life separate, and my mind 100% focused on assignments.

Need a little extra help getting organized? Download our free business plan template and discover the power of knowing exactly where your business is headed.

Free Business Plan Template

Want some help staying organized? Download our FREE business plan template here!

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I work in short sprints.

I’m a better sprinter than a marathon runner. The same goes for my work. I can do more when I write for a half hour and then take a 10-minute break. Then repeat. The breaks help clear my mind and restore creativity. Usually, I come back to my desk motivated with new ideas and ways to solve problems.

During my breaks, I get outside for fresh air, make quick phone calls, and look at pictures of my son. If I’m really tired, I’ll take a quick nap. Shutting my eyes for 10-minutes improves my attitude and offers a boost of energy.

I connect with customers.

If your answer to "What motivates you?" is your clients, then you and I have a lot in common!

My customers are my greatest source of motivation. Their feedback — whether positive or constructive — pushes me to deliver the best work I can. Nothing feels better than receiving an email from a happy client. And, nothing motivates me more than a customer who is challenging me to try new approaches.

Try digging into your customers’ feedback. Send them a survey or talk to them in-person. You might want to ask:

  • Is my business/product meeting your expectations?
  • How likely is it you will do business with us again?
  • How would you rate our customer service?
  • How can we improve this company?
  • What did you like most about working with us?

I protect my business.

When I first started my business, I didn't carry business insurance - and I didn't realize how dangerous that was until an unhappy client threatened to sue me.

Here's the deal: Leaving your business unprotected from lawsuit-happy customers and accidents can significantly undermine your motivation. After all, it's tough to work through rough times when you know your business is vulnerable to an accident or some bad luck.

For me, getting business insurance was that puzzle piece that made me feel more secure and grounded. I got a policy that covered any legal costs if a customer took me to court, so I wouldn't have to worry about my business's financial future if the worst should happen.

That's why I encourage you to get business insurance, if you don't already have a policy. It's not just a best practice for owning a business; it's game-changing for peace of mind and staying motivated.

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I expand my mind.

My industry, marketing, is constantly changing. I have to stay on top of the latest practices, which change day-by-day. To keep up and stay motivated, I listen to podcasts, attend events, and read industry blog articles. The bonus is — I find learning incredibly motivating. I want to offer my clients the latest, greatest marketing techniques.

This week, learn something new and get a motivation boost by:

  • Listening to at least 1 industry podcast.
  • Subscribing to 3 or more blogs that relate to your work.
  • Investigating an industry conference or networking event.

Learning new techniques and practices is exciting — you’ll love knowing more and doing more.

I rely on my office space.

Sure, I may work out my home, but I’ve put a lot of effort into making it comfortable and motivating. When I look up from my computer, I see photos of my family, a big white board with motivational quotes, and a framed picture of a surfer — my favorite non-work related activity.

I’m surrounded with the messages, “work hard, play hard,” and “keep your eye on the prize.” Trite, I know… but they motivate me. They help me press on when I’m feeling stuck and need a nudge.

To inspire motivation in your workspace:

  • Add color. Did you know red gets people excited while blue helps your mind rest?
  • Include indoor plants. Not only do plants improve air quality, but they can boost your mood too.
  • Design a quiet lounge area. If you have the room, give yourself a quiet space to step away and regroup.
  • Deck out the walls. I find art motivational and inspiring. Add a few framed pictures to spruce up your space to see if that keeps you motivated.

I reward myself.

“If you finish this writing assignment today, you can leave early for a mani/pedi.”

Looking at my nails, I haven’t rewarded myself in a while. But, when I do, it works! What’s your guilty pleasure? Is it savoring a piece of dark chocolate? Bing watching Game of Thrones? Taking a longer lunch with friends?

Reward yourself for completing a task. Now, don’t go crazy, but a little prize isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes we need something special to look forward to at the end of a long day.

And, let’s face it, you work hard. You deserve it.

So What Motivates You?

As a small business owner, it's easy to just assume that your business provides you with the motivation you need to power through the day.

But your business only plays a small part in motivating you. It's the things behind the business that can give you the drive you need to make it through the toughest times.

So think about what motivates you in your own life. Maybe it's being able to provide a certain lifestyle for your family. Maybe it's the thought of being able to pass down a business through the generations.

Or maybe it's just the feeling that comes with knowing you're making your own way in the world, beholden to no one.

Whatever the motivation, find different ways to keep it front and center throughout your day-to-day life. Because when things get temporarily rough - as it does with most small business owners - what motivates you can push you through the toughest days.

Emily Thompson

Written by

Emily Thompson

I earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin at Madison (go Bucky). After realizing my first job might involve carrying a police scanner at 2 am in pursuit of “newsworthy” crimes, I decided I was better suited for freelance blogging and marketing writing. Since 2010, I’ve owned my freelance writing business, EST Creative. When I’m not penning, doodling ideas, or chatting with clients, you’ll find me hiking with my husband, baby boy, and 2 mischievous mutts.

Emily writes on a number of topics such as entrepreneurship, small business networking, and budgeting.

This content is for general, informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax, accounting, or financial advice. Please obtain expert advice from industry specific professionals who may better understand your business’s needs. Read our full disclaimer

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