So, you want to go into business for yourself. You want to be your own boss, call your own shots, and set your own schedule. What kind of considerations should you take into account before going into business for yourself? There are at least a hundred but here let’s focus on just three: making sure your inner house is in order, your business idea is sound, and your commitment is long-term. Without any of these three your chances for success will be greatly diminished.
Spring Cleaning Your Inner House
Being in business for yourself may seem like a great idea because it offers many aspects that may be attractive to the high sensation seeking highly sensitive person like opportunity for new and novel experiences, a sense of personal control that allows you to potentially stay ahead of boredom, and a certain bucking the system of wage slavery and corporate malfeasance that you find compelling. In order to have a reasonable shot at success we must first ensure that we have done the personal, inner work on ourselves that sets up the conditions we will need to be successful on a sustainable basis.
By inner work I mean we need to be aware of the factors in our lives that limit us like Adverse Childhood Events (ACEs). ACEs occur in childhood and may deeply impact brain development in ways that cause us to overreact to ordinary stimuli, experience less connectivity in important parts of the brain regulating emotional control, and deal with the world on a perpetual fight or flight stance. ACEs need not have been severe or long-lasting to have had a profound effect on us as highly sensitive people. Highly sensitive people may have been significantly affected by domestic violence in the household, personal experiences of neglect, abuse, or trauma, or similar events in the school experience. The more ACEs we have the worse our anxiety, depression, and fear may be at taking risks, feeling confident we can master new tasks, or tolerating ambiguity which abounds in small business.
To heal from ACEs, and other events that have scarred us in life, it is important to first acknowledge that they occurred and that we may have been powerless during those times. It is also important to learn to practice self-care in a way that places emphasis on our needs. Too often self-care is sacrificed to satisfy the harsh demands of a society that neither feels nor values those who do. Learning and appreciating that we are whole people with particular needs that need to be met before we can perform at our best isn’t whining, it’s winning! If you cannot or will not take care of yourself (mind, body, and spirit) you will crash and burn under the weight of starting and running a small business. Get your inner house in order first before tackling the demanding world of small business. By ensuring that you have sufficiently addressed your inner issues you decrease your own anxiety and stress thereby enabling you to be a more effective entrepreneur.
Tips for spring cleaning your inner house:
- Reconcile any issues you may have that may be contributing to limiting your ability to function well in the world. This may require a great deal of reading, research, even booking sessions with a good therapist but will pay off in the long run.
- Set personal boundaries and learn to stick to them. If you let people run all over you now, what will be different when you’re in business for yourself? Know how and when you allow people to unreasonably cross boundaries and work on being more firm. This means learning to say no and not feel guilty about it. You’re a highly sensitive person, not a pincushion.
- Know your strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps you are fabulous on the telephone dealing with customers (and, yes, many highly sensitive people make awesome performers) but don’t do as well in face-to-face situations. You can choose to either work on your face-to-face skills (and, yes, they can be learned by even the most reclusive hermit if the desire is there) or find ways to get around it (choosing a business with less face-to-face for instance or hiring people who are good in those situations).
- Know and appreciate that inner work is never finished. There are always bits and pieces that crop up from time to time and will remind us (sometimes unpleasantly) of past ACEs. In these times it is important to acknowledge how far we’ve come, how capable we have been in dealing with obstacles, and how we are doing our best at any given moment. Never give up on yourself even if you are down for the count at times. Tomorrow is always a new day.
- Develop a self-care practice that you take as seriously as your spiritual life. Our bodies are very simply biological organisms capable of providing a finite amount of clear decision-making time on a daily basis. We need to know how our bodies work, when our peak times are (and they may be completely off-cycle with the world), and work with that instead of against it. Get enough sleep, eat a well-balanced diet, get enough exercise and sunshine, and keep your emotional well-being in tune by developing one or more practices that calm the mind and keep you in tune with your body. We enjoy good health as we age because we work at it, not because it’s a right.
Sound business idea
One we have effectively addressed spring cleaning our inner houses we need a good business idea. There are hundreds (perhaps thousands) of business ideas. Anywhere there is a human need there is a business idea waiting to be filled. Even where a need does not exist currently but will there is a need waiting to be filled (though we may need to obviously do some education). Of the hundreds of business ideas you will note that some come with more inherent control than others. Purchasing a franchise for instance may be a low risk way to get into a proven business winner but you will also cede a great deal of control to the franchisor and will likely be required to work in the business a set number of days. Not for you? Perhaps you’d be better off inventing a new business or adapting an existing idea. We do not need to reinvent the wheel just to be in business.
Some great businesses are simply variations on a theme. I once worked for a printing company whose business strategy involved not going after the big clients. Rather, they chose to go after all the “leftovers” the big printing companies didn’t want to deal with (not enough profit, difficult customer, etc.). They are a perfectly successful and thriving business yet started as a franchise that grew too big to constrained by the franchisor rules. They rebranded, relaunched and today do very well.
There’s much talk in HSP circles about “finding your bliss,” “working from the heart,” or other feel-good catchphrases but I’d like to throw cold water on most of that by informing you that business is tough and few people care that you love what you’re doing. Your potential customers come to you because you can fill their need (or at least they perceive that you can). If you also like/love what you happen to be doing for a business that’s a bonus. Life doesn’t have to be perfect and you shouldn’t expect that being in business will be easy or necessarily pleasant all of the time. It shouldn’t be defeating otherwise why not just work for someone else and forget the hassle? Be realistic about self-employment and don’t let your intuition take you from A-Z without understanding there’s a whole world of complexity from B-Y.
What makes a sound business idea? A sound idea is one you can quantify as holding potential. That means you have data showing there are potential customers or you have experience working with these potential customers in a previous capacity. Some ideas are time-tested and will always hold good potential, ie., the trades (car mechanic, HVAC repair, construction remodeling, cleaning, etc.), healthcare-related concepts (because people will always be sick at some point, perhaps you can prevent this in your idea), or require a service you can provide (notary public, pest control, home inspector, or home organizer). The point here is you do not need a million-dollar idea because you don’t need to make a million dollars. You just need to make enough for yourself and your family. Perfectly viable ideas exist that you can build up into very good businesses that will allow you to escape from wage slavery, no control over your waking hours, and the madness that can be the modern workplace.
Your business idea should:
- Be doable given your financial means. Ideally you will start a business with no money borrowed from any source. If that isn’t feasible you will have done your homework and have taken a well-calculated risk on your ability to pay back your loans.
- Be realistic given your skills, experience, and geographic area. You may have always been told that you can “do anything you want if you just try.” I’m here to tell you that you won’t be becoming a lawyer without years and years of education and training beyond school. If your dream doesn’t fit your skills, experience, and capabilities you don’t have a good idea. Within that reality we must be realistic and admit that growth is an inevitable part of starting a business. You may not know everything at this moment (even in the first few years) but you will learn. You will make mistakes but you will learn and, in time, you will be a seasoned businessperson who has hopefully taken on a challenging idea (but not completely out of your realm of possibility). The best business idea is one that works for you given your unique characteristics as a person.
Where you live may also play a crucial role in choosing a business idea. Will your business cater to local people, will it be internet-based, or otherwise not bound by your location? If it is a local business you will need to know your market, where the gaps are, and how you will fill them. If your business is non-local you still have to know your potential customers because your marketing efforts will have to key into their needs and convince them that your business is worth a try. Internet-based businesses suffer from many issues but one of the chief issues is the fierce amount of competition. Think you have a great idea? Check the internet and make sure there aren’t already a million others doing it better.
- Be something you do not absolutely hate. You may not love but if it works well enough you’ll find ways to either improve on it or find fulfillment outside of work. No one ever said work is the end-all and be-all of life. If it comes down to working in your own business as a way of not having to work somewhere else you find more unpleasant you have a winning situation. Be realistic though, you do not need to love what you do. It helps if you like it but love is optional and perhaps unrealistic in many areas of the world. Acknowledging that this blog is read by HSPs all over the world I am sure many are shaking their heads in agreement. Loving what you do is a luxury of countries with high qualities of life where people do not necessarily live hand to mouth.
Lastly, a good business idea is one with potential for growth. Few things will end your business over time like stagnation. If you’re cutting edge today you will not be in five years. Entrepreneurs know that business concepts are constantly evolving to keep up with customer needs. To do that you need to be in it for the long-term.
Depending on your age when you enter your new small business you may not think about the long-term but realistically business changes, customers go elsewhere, and you bore of treading the same pathway every day. People quit businesses out of boredom and as much as desire to do something different as any other reason. Some people will undoubtedly find being in business will alleviate many of the problems that brought them to entrepreneurship and be very grateful for what they have been able to achieve while others will need to move on to other things. Regardless, once you have one business going it is relatively simple to set up another business and over time juggle several at once. I am doing this very thing right now managing drtracycooper.com (a career consulting business for HSPs), a “real” job as a Program Chair for a Master of Liberal Arts degree at Baker University, and my newest venture ProHealth Advocates, llc which is a patient advocacy consulting business I will run the business side of but not otherwise work in. I do expect to have to devote varying levels of time, effort, and energy to all three, plus continue to push for new angles and possibilities. It’s likely I’ll start other businesses as well. You should too.
You might think “this all sounds kind of rough and tumble for an HSP!” Not at all, you have it wrong! Highly sensitive people are emotional powerhouses who may use their emotional energy in creative ways to do whatever they like. As an HSP you certainly have the qualities that would make a decent entrepreneur: more elaborate processing of stimulation in the brain, sensitivity to subtle cues, high empathy (possibly compassion too), high creativity (not just the art kind), and a keen sense of curiosity. Put those to work for yourself and you can do quite well no matter where you are or what your situation. You are an innovator, so go innovate! Even if you don’t feel like you have a grasp on the above qualities you are likely deeply conscientious which can still take you far in many circles. However, you choose to look at Sensory Processing Sensitivity what you really have is a marginally rare personality trait shared by over one billion people. Don’t get too stuck on it and don’t let it define your life.
Long-term commitment to your new business/s means you are willing to:
- Face failure when it happens, laugh in its face and try again.
- Invest your life energies into something that matters to you and not be an observer.
- Work to overcome your fears and anxieties while also working to embrace your creative nature. Business is scary but so is wasting your life in a job you hate. You only live once and for a finite amount of time; make the most of it.
- Tolerate some ambiguity to allow for a space in which your business can grow. As a creative person, you know ambiguity is necessary to facilitate room to grow. Linear thinking will only take you to C from A and B.
- Develop friendships with other entrepreneurs HSP or otherwise. Nothing will sustain you more than knowing you’re not alone.
Starting a new business requires that we know ourselves, that we are not needlessly hauling harmful emotional baggage behind us, and that we develop sound business concepts that we can commit to for the long-term. As creative, sensitive individuals HSPs and HSS/HSPs may be in a unique position to innovate, create, and occupy a position in the world that is unique to us. Though your business need not be the next great idea it may be one in which you can thrive in the fullest possible sense of the word. To thrive means you have found a balance and work hard to maintain it in all facets of your life. Thriving implies engagement with challenging tasks and, as such, means you take on risk. Minimizing that risk through careful research and planning coupled with a flexible, creative approach to concept evolution will keep you in balance no matter what happens in the world.
If you are astute and refuse to allow yourself to be defined by a label you will transcend yourself and become a new possible self; one that may potentially exceed your dreams. Starting a business is a complex task, or series of tasks, but HSPs are used to complexity. We live and breathe complexity in our daily lives as we process the whirlwind of stimulation that modern life surrounds us with. It is through a desire to engage meaningfully with our capacities in a calm, rational way that we may find entrepreneurship offers us the greatest opportunities for growth and development. To be an entrepreneur means we assume all the risks but we also enjoy all the rewards and if life has led you to self-employment you should endeavor to do it with all the creativity, energy, and enthusiasm you can muster. You may just find that you’ve found your best path in life.
Tracy Cooper, PhD is the author of Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career, and Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person. Dr. Cooper also offers consulting to HSPs and HSS/HSPs on career transition and many other issues. His website is drtracycooper.com