When it comes to having impact, making a difference in the world, you can be deceived into thinking that you have to wait.
Your business is big
Your revenue reaches $1 million
Some event happens when you suddenly have more wisdom, more time, or more permission to have impact.
Is that you? Have you been waiting?
Abraham Maslow, in his famous Hierarchy of Needs, theorized that people couldn’t begin to make contributions to society or even develop themselves as people until basic survival needs were met.
I see this viewpoint reflected in the way that old-style businesses have organized themselves. In the worldview of survival and competition, eat or be eaten, a lot of inward-looking businesses focus only on profit as the way to survive in the business world.
To me, that’s a very base level at which to be operating.
It’s true, you can’t have a sustainable business without profit. But I and many business leaders feel that a profit / survival focus isn’t the only way to have a business that lasts and makes money for its owners.
That’s not just a belief. It’s based on real results from real businesses.
When I started my first business 21 years ago, I didn’t begin just by learning the ropes in finance and marketing and setting up systems. Along with that and at the same time, I used a visioning guide. That book and the mentor I had at the time led me through a process of defining what was important to me in my business, what I valued, and how I wanted to have well-being and impact as well as abundance.
I wanted a business that made a real contribution in the lives of people every day.
I wanted a business that reflected my values: integrity, honesty, high quality, and working with people in a way that was collaborative and respectful.
I wanted a business where I’d have room to help and mentor other people. I did that even in my first consulting business, when I had interns work with me or my corporate clients stopped me in the hallways and asked me for advice and support to start their own businesses.
And I got one. Just 13 months after starting, I was into 6 figures. Equally important, the work I was doing had impact.
That all sounds pretty good, right? But having this impact focus sure didn’t make me perfect! I haven’t always met my own high standards for myself or my business, but having those standards in place changed how I did things. I didn’t take shortcuts that would have led to more profit if it conflicted with what I valued and that would have hurt other people. I refused to work on projects for companies in the tobacco industry, for example.
I had to laugh when I pulled out that visioning guide the other day, the one I used before I started my business. In some ways, I thought I’d changed so much. When I sold my house and most of my belongings 7 years ago and spent a year traveling while I kept my business going, I thought I’d undergone a complete transformation.
And in many ways I have – where and how I live and my actual business focus – but my business values remain, and continue into my coaching business today.
So, back to our friend Maslow. I think his 5-tier hierarchical system for human development was certainly useful in its time. But it doesn’t really capture the full complexity of human experience and potential.
You have so much to offer even when you’re in the early days of your business or in a transition in your established business. Your awareness of that informs your own growth and your business’ creation, transition, and growth.
So my answer to that question in the title: do you have to wait to have impact?
Not at all. You don’t have to wait. In fact, you shouldn’t wait.
Starting to get clear about the impact you want to have NOW, wherever you are in business, NOW is the best time wherever you are in your entrepreneur journey.
I see our growth as entrepreneurs as being not just a personal journey, although it certainly is that!
I see your business also as an exchange, a dialog between you and the larger world.
For example, as you put your offerings out into the world, you get feedback. Offered with love, the response to those offerings will tell you a great deal about your impact.
Are you having the impact you want to have? If not, you can change what you offer and how you offer it until you are much more in alignment with both your own desired impact and what people want.
So really, you always have an impact. You may just not always know what that impact is! And that’s why being conscious of the impact you want to have is so important.
A phrase I often use is, ‘Impact: it’s not just for social enterprises anymore’.
Making a contribution as a business isn’t limited to social enterprises. We often think about companies and organizations like non-profits that are focused on social change as being the ones that are concerned with their impact. There are many large and small businesses successfully operating in this way, having as their focus the impact that they want to have. Not just successfully, but even more than companies that only focus on profit.
Whole Foods, Southwest Airlines and Patagonia are some big companies you probably know. In a study done of large corporations that operate with principles that value every stakeholder, that recognize their impact on everyone that comes into contact with the company, from the owner to the team members, the suppliers, to the customers and shareholders.
Companies that focus on impact do 12-14 times better financially than companies that follow the traditional business model that focuses only on profit.
Many of those companies built a focus on connection and yes, even love, into their mandates.
They saw the pragmatic role of love in business.
They view business stakeholders not as competitors for a limited pool of value, but as active contributors to it. The pool is constantly replenished as businesses contribute, so we’re not in danger of running out. That scarcity mentality of business of trying to get your part of a limited pie just doesn’t apply.
It’s not just big companies that choose to operate this way.
The clients I work with, small business owners are uniquely in a position to build their companies as they choose, right from the start. We as entrepreneurs have the opportunity to build businesses with a strong sense of connectivity to our fellow beings and the Earth.
Through that dedication to a higher purpose, companies move through challenging times with more ease, the owners and their staff are more motivated, and often, employees want to contribute even more, to volunteer and make a difference outside of the company.
Through clarity about your Impact Purpose, you can have a substantial impact right away. Imagine the effect of a focus on impact on how you treat a supplier, or a contract employee, a VA (virtual assistant) or vendor. You already have impact on them, just by how you show up, by how you choose to treat them and handle your relationship. How you show up for every person in your business is a big part of your impact.
What’s key in all of this? Consciousness.
Being conscious about the impact you want to have means you can exercise it. When you’re conscious about the impact you want to have, you can make decisions in your business, and your life, that really reflect your desired impact. You can show up in your business every day with that in mind, and make a real difference, the difference you want to make.
So I hope this has you thinking. Your impact doesn’t have to wait.
You can have impact right now, in your work, in your startup, in your existing business.
You already have impact, just by how you show up. Do you want that impact to be just profit, or do you want to bring more love into the world?
You can. By making the impact you want to have conscious, your impact can only grow as you make decisions that allow you to put that desired impact into action.
I’ll leave you with a quote from the Impact Manifesto, which I wrote for the Work Alchemy community and anyone who wants to have more impact:
“I believe that impact is grounded in love – love for myself, for others and for the world in which I live.”