Having a sense of direction

It is no good starting in business if you don’t have a plan and ambition, or you are doing so for the wrong reasons. It is no good going for a job working for someone else if you don’t really know what you want to do.

I well remember, when I first started my business, meeting someone who had started his to undermine and destroy the guy whom he thought had destroyed his father’s business. Having left his father’s rival in the smoking ruins of his business he had no further purpose for continuing. That is no way to go about business or life.

A young person I know wants to leave home and get a job without knowing what she wants to do. She needs a plan, and just wanting to leave home is not a plan without something positive to build her independence in the way of a career.

If you want to start a business or get a job, just think what you would enjoy doing, and work out how you can achieve it. Running away without direction will have you ending up where you do not want to be.

Why we need to be realistic about our business ambitions

Not quite Green Gables

“We pay a price for everything we get or take in this world; and although ambitions are well worth having, they are not to be cheaply won, but exact their dues of work and self-denial, anxiety and discouragement.”

LUCY MAUD MONTGOMERY, Anne of Green Gables

Or, as we might say, there is no such thing as a free lunch.


Lucy Maud’s comment really sounds like a bit of a downer, but it is always realistic to expect that our best-laid plans might not work out every time. However well we plan we are bound to have set backs now and again. They will be discouraging, but we can learn and adapt.

Many of us have a little free time at the moment, just before the New Year. Perhaps we have already made plans for our business for the coming year, and of course it is foolish not to plan ahead. I think it is worth looking back and remembering what did not work out in the last twelve months, and what we might have done differently. Was there anything which worked quite well but could be improved?

I cannot give you all the answers because I don’t know your business. If you asked me in help you, it would be for me to encourage you to answer your own questions. Of course I could connect you with some very good people to provide you with services you may require.

Do make those plans. If you need help, ask someone you can trust. Don’t just let it ride. You know the cliché.


In my long business experience (does that make me sound old?) I have seen business owners ride rough-shod over their employees, exploiting them, not considering their feelings and disposing of them when they are no longer needed. One problem we have had in more recent years is where large businesses get permission to open stores such as “local” supermarkets in high streets and along the main drag. These stores damage small retailers badly and indeed can put them out of business. The large corporates do it because they can. Their overheads and stock costs are lower and they can employ part-time workers at low cost. You may have one of those businesses which is damaged or destroyed by this. If you do, you need to adapt, because there is no point in expecting compassion from big business.

However, one advantage we do have in running a small business is that we can be in tune with what our customers need. Perhaps compassion should not be our first thought, because we have to make a living. Just the same we can empathise.

I am not saying that compassion should not play a part in our lives. We should always try to help those in need, whether it be our employees who may be struggling, or our friends, or someone in the street, or those in lands far distant. Perhaps we can even do it without huge financial cost. Often it is our time which is valuable. Sometimes in helping others we help ourselves by boosting our creativity.

Grasping the nettle

The economy is really tough, whether you are reading this in Europe or in much of North America. We need more than usual to plan carefully for next year’s business. We need to have new projects and ideas. We need to be careful not to waste money on ploys that didn’t work last year. We need to remember to listen to our employees who are in this with us. We do need to consider those less fortunate than we, and to help them. We need to step outside our comfort zone. We need to be brave, don’t we?


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Our first businesses are generally based on our familiar environments. We tend to work in familiar areas. That is understandable, but we can corral ourselves into a particular mindset in which we can believe that we are only good at one discipline. That can be a mistake and potentially very limiting.

What else would we enjoy? What ambitions did we used to have? What do some of our friends do which we think would be satisfying and fun?

Our marketing friends tell us we should always keep testing our marketing campaigns. See what works and what doesn’t, but give each idea a fair run. Why not adopt that method with our new enterprises? Why not market and sell our new service or product and just see if we are successful and we have fun doing it?

Why not?

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Why we need to retain our business ambition

Kennedy Space Center.
Image via Wikipedia

We have all had ambitions. We grow up with them, and in order to move our lives and businesses forward we need to keep them.

Of course I don’t mean that we need to keep the same ambitions. As we grow older we tend to recognise our particular skills and deficiencies and adjust our ideas to take these into account.

I was fairly conventional when I was a child in wanting to be either an engine driver or an astronaut. Indeed I fully expected to be going to the moon well into my teens, and might have got there as a tourist years ago if the US space program had not lost its way then as it has once again. Richard Branson might help me out yet. Still, some are more focussed than I was. I remember that my best friend when I was nine or ten wanted to be chartered accountant. I don’t think he ever qualified as one, though I believe he is a successful financial journalist. Money must have interested him in one way or another all these years.

We need one or more ambitions throughout our working lives simply as motivation. Otherwise we will simply make the old mistake of doing the same thing; I will avoid the cliché. If we do not try to change, we will not get better and our businesses will not get better.

Of course it is not sensible to be unrealistic. I will never be an astronaut, more’s the pity, and I will never travel the galaxy in a star ship, unless of course I am abducted by aliens, and that would be a poor ambition. I do need a marketing plan and I do need to implement it and ask my network on a professional basis how I can grow my business further and go to the next level.

Ambition is no bad thing even when we get old. Maybe I will join the one-hundred-year-old parachute jumpers one day, but for now, let me have a successful growing business to pay for my eventual retirement and of course the parachute school in a few decades time.

© Jon Stow 2010

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