How Do You Spell Success?

Usually when we want the definition of a word, we turn to the dictionary. The first two definitions at Dictionary.com say “success” is:

1. the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one’s goals.2. the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.

For many small business owners, defining enterprise is rather straightforward. You can sit down and write out tangible goals for the growth of your business based on sales volume, annual revenue or any standard measure you prefer. Once you’ve reached those markers, you may consider your business a success.

But on a personal level, we know “success” is far more than just a word. In fact, it’s a rather slippery concept whose meaning changes by person, and even within each person over passing days, weeks and years.

How closely is your definition of business success tied to your definition of success on a personal level? And how is the concept of success related to happiness? Will reaching “success” as you’ve defined it lead to your happiness?

This article isn’t intended to answer these questions—only you can answer them for yourself—but rather to inspire you to think about how you define success and happiness and also provide some food for thought as you move forward in your business and in life.

Traditional Notions of Success

Common notions of success in our culture are often tied to financial accomplishments and material possessions—a certain amount of money in the bank or invested, a big house in a particular neighborhood or even a vacation home in a place like the Hamptons. Perhaps your idea of success is a bit more modest and you simply want to be able to meet your monthly financial obligations or have a reliable car that will get you to where you want to go.

There is nothing wrong with having these goals, of course, but many people have discovered that money and power aren’t necessarily the keys to happiness. Arianna Huffington, author, businesswoman and co-founder of The Huffington Post, has said that in the long term, “money and power by themselves are like a two- legged stool— you can balance on them for a while, but eventually you’re going to topple over.”

In her book, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder, she recommends a broader definition of success to achieve better personal balance. Money and power can only take you so far, she suggests, before you find out that they won’t magically bring personal happiness along with them.

Defining Happiness

It’s important to define success for yourself. Huffington suggests that traditional notions of success rarely if ever translate into personal happiness. If happiness is your ultimate goal, then, it would be wise to take a step back and think hard about your aspirations and how you are working toward the goal of being happy.

What does happiness look like for you? Maybe it is, indeed, spending summer weekends in the Hamptons. Maybe you find happiness in the simple pleasures of daily life such as cooking from fresh ingredients or jogging in the open air. Maybe following your dream and passion to finally start a business will make you happy, no matter how much revenue you pull in.

Regardless of how you define success and happiness for yourself, the one constant is this: By pausing to think about these concepts, you are already giving yourself a step up in achieving your goals. Quite simply, if you don’t have your personal ideas of success and happiness clear in your head, you are making it that much harder to accomplish them.

As motivational speaker Zig Ziglar famously said, “A goal properly set is halfway reached.” So why not get halfway to your goal today?

The Importance of Celebrating Small Wins

We’ve all done it: We’ve written down lofty goals and ambitious dreams on our to-do lists, worked hard toward achieving them, and then felt totally let down when we were not able to complete them all. In fact, 92 percent of people who create New Year’s goalsnever actually accomplish them, according to the University of Scranton.

Why?

There can be as many reasons as there are people, yet that eight percent of people who do achieve their goals share some common traits and behaviors. One is the habit of celebrating interim steps, or “small wins,” on the way to achieving a goal.

To help us get closer to achieving our objectives, it’s important to celebrate all the meaningful small wins we experience along the way. If you’re an entrepreneur, learn to acknowledge and celebrate the small wins in your business as often as possible.

Research Supports Celebrating Small Wins

In their book, The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work, authors Teresa M. Amabile and Steven J. Kramer compiled diary entries from 238 employees at seven different companies. Of the 12,000 diary entries they analyzed, they found that small wins were almost as effective as major breakthroughs when it came to improving employees’ work lives and encouraging passion and creativity.

As Amabile said to Harvard Business School Working Knowledge, “Big breakthroughs at work are really rare. But small wins are something people can experience pretty regularly if the work is chunked down to manageable pieces.”

As a small business owner, you likely experience small wins on a pretty consistent basis. However, with all the things you’re responsible for, they can be easy to miss. Whether you’re a solopreneur or the owner of several retail locations, looking out for the small wins can enliven your work and that of any employees you may have.

Here are four habits you can implement with a minimum of time and effort that can make a huge difference in your—and your small business’s—success.

1. Write down your goals.

According to research from Dominican University, people who write down their goalsaccomplish considerably more than people who do not. If you have employees, share these goals with your team and document them. Make sure they’re stored in a location that’s accessible to all team members so they can refer to them easily.

Also, keep everyone in the loop if your strategy or goals change, so that your team is always on the same page, and you’re all working toward a common objective. This way, when you review your small business’s progress, you can ensure you’re congratulating your team on their successes working toward the goal, no matter how small the achievement.

2. Break your goals down into small steps.

As Amabile says, it is crucial to write down goals you can actually accomplish. Goals that are too big can be daunting, if they seem impossible to achieve. At the other extreme, easy goals or “do your best” goals do not provide sufficient motivation. The “just right” goal will be one that is specific enough and challenging—while not being overwhelming.

To help achieve these goals, you can write out every single step that it takes to get there. Each of these steps can then become a small win worth celebrating. You might also choose to have a weekly or monthly recognition of your employees who have small wins.

3. Be accountable.

In the Dominican University study, it was revealed that people who sent weekly progress reports to a friend achieved significantly more.

Many entrepreneurs start “accountability” groups and have weekly check-ins.

As a small business owner, you’re likely too busy to keep track of all the small wins going on in your business. Instead, consider breaking down your teams into small groups (or assign specific individuals, if necessary) that will hold each other accountable. They will be responsible for checking in with one another and encouraging team members to keep pushing forward no matter what.

4. Make mistakes less taboo.

Sometimes your employees will not achieve their objectives in time or they will do things wrong. This is normal. But it’s also human nature to emphasize negative setbacks and minimize positive small accomplishments. According to Amabile and Kramer’s research, the effect of a setback was two to three times stronger than that of an achievement.

Also, when employees are feeling discouraged or beating themselves up, they are not likely to be as productive. Once you decide to celebrate the small wins, you must also highlight the failures and seek to make them less taboo.

At Etsy, people who mess up are encouraged to send out a company-wide email detailing their mistakes, the effects of the errors, their original expectations, and what they believe went wrong. The theory is that if employees admit their small mistakes in the present, the company can help avoid making larger mistakes in the future. Every year, Etsy gives a special award to the employee who has made the “most surprising” mistake.

In your small business, the real learning is present both in the small mistakes and in the small wins. By choosing not to ignore these signs of progress, you’ll build momentum that may help you reach your business’s stated goals sooner—and then your team can move on to new and better goals.

When you cultivate a culture of celebrating the small wins and of making errors less taboo, you may also find that your employees are happier and more proficient—all of which contributes to your—and your small business’s—current and long-term success.

5 Startup mistakes you can avoid

Hindsight may be 20/20 but who doesn’t want to avoid making mistakes when possible? In business, mistakes can cost you money, customers, and even your hard-earned brand. However, there are missteps that can easily be avoided with the right preparation and awareness.

Waiting too long to delegate

As a leader, your role is to inspire your team with your long term vision, innovation, and planning. In the nascent stages of your company, you wear many functional hats, and perform many roles. As the business grows, you need people to manage different areas and specialists who’ll add their expertise to your management team. Bring on team members with skills that are different than yours and give them the tools they require to execute. The ability to successfully manage is different than the ability to lead. Relinquish the management role to someone who has proven experience so you can focus on exploring new opportunities.

Not learning from failures

Failures in a growing startup are par for the course, no matter the business. Every failure is an opportunity to learn and grow, and when things veer off-track, be nimble and open to pivoting if necessary. When you remove fear of failure, teams are free to move forward, innovate, experiment, and flex their creative muscle. Minimize people’s natural aversion to risk and instill a culture of continuous learning in which the lessons learned are used to improve the business.

Not protecting your intellectual property

You’ve worked hard to build out your business so it’s crucial you protect intangible assets like your name, logo and, if you’re a designer or inventor, your creation. Everyone starts small, but protecting your intellectual property is important when planning long-term. The theft of intellectual property is a rampant problem, and patent, trademark, and copyright protection are your best bet against what could amount to a significant financial loss.

Not putting everything in writing

A handshake deal might not be enough if you have a disagreement with a vendor, partner, employee, or customer. A well-defined, signed contract by all parties, on the other hand, will save you from an enormous headache and expense if problems do arise. It might be tempting to pick speed over diligence when you’re busy growing your company, but make sure to get everything in writing and think of it as insurance. You hope you won’t need to use it but it’s there if you need it.

Ignoring preventative care

Don’t wait until a problem arises before seeking professional help. Consulting with legal and tax professionals early on in your business’s lifecycle can help you build a solid foundation and establish relationships with experts who’ll learn the intricacies of your company. They’ll guide you through reviewing contracts, establishing the best tax structure, and hiring employees so you can concentrate on the reason you got into business: growing a successful company.