“So how is your business going?”
If you’ve started a small business or are working on a startup, you’ve heard this question. In most cases, it’s just harmless small talk at a holiday dinner table. Sometimes, people really care and want to know. That’s a good thing.
But the question can be an awkward one to answer. Why? Because we all know that most tie success to financial performance. And, any answer short of “absolutely going gangbusters” feels inadequate. And that can make a business person or entrepreneur feel inadequate. That’s not good. And, it’s unnecessary to feel this way.
What Is Business Success?
The reality is that we’re not all on the same page with regard to what success is. For those who haven’t operated a business, success usually means profit. This means that over holiday dinner conversation, it would be more appropriate if they got to the point and said, “so, is business profitable?”
Or, they could really get to the point and ask, “so is business financially profitable?”
And, that isn’t much fun for holiday conversation.
It’s About Business Metrics
The way I see it, there are four categories for determining “how business is going.” All of which are tied to the goals and metrics of the business.
If your business is profitable, great! You have an easy answer. The next question they will ask of course is if you are growing. That’s a whole other blog post.
Maybe it isn’t time for your business to be profitable yet. This is a strange concept to many, but the reality is that most small business owners overestimate how quickly they will see profit or even revenue.
In this case, your success is defined by the milestones in your business plan that you are meeting. Maybe it is a development schedule. Maybe it is a specific number of new customers.
Regardless, your best answer is “we’re hitting the numbers we want to hit.”
This is definitely a soft metric, but it is still a measure. Maybe you have good reason to be passionate about what you’re doing even though the numbers still aren’t there. You may have a good anecdote about a recent customer experience or a new industry insight.
If you’re in a non-profit, intrinsic success is often the sole motivator anyway. Detailing a recent encounter or new perspective is a great response to the dreaded “how’s business going” question.
And, it’s likely to make better conversation.
Or . . . Not That Well at All
Hopefully, this isn’t the case. If the venture isn’t profitable, milestones are being missed for no good reason, and you’re not getting anything at all from it personally, it may be a difficult conversation that needs to be had.
But, hey, look at it this way: It can be a good opportunity to have a conversation about future career opportunities.
So, for this holiday season, consider this exercise a dry run. Have your answer ready, say grace, and pass the ham.