How Will I Know When I’ve Succeeded?

“Think about the big questions that drive your business. What challenges are you trying to solve? What changes are you going to make to your industry? How will you know when you’ve succeeded? ” –  Adelaide Lancaster (Co-Founder, In Good Company)

I was reading through some articles this morning for the end of the Month posting with my favorite articles and came across those words from Adelaide Lancaster, who wrote the article titled “Build Your Business Empire by Thinking Big and Starting Small” for Women 2.0.  As I continued reading the article, I kept going back to those questions, especially the last one, “How will you know when you’ve succeeded?”

How will I know when I’ve succeeded? 

I haven’t the faintest idea. Which scares me!


Well because I’m a type-A goal focused control freak. Okay, maybe I’m not all of that, but I am quite a bit of all of that.  I’m flexible in everything that I do, but I am prone to have a new goal almost as soon as the old goal fails, dies, or finishes.  For example, after Marathon number 4 on November 6th, I have decided that I will focus on rock climbing. I haven’t even begun to look at places for me to tackle this challenge/goal, but I know that I’ve wanted to do it for a while and I did it once, freaked out and then climbed to the top, so I can do it.  More importantly, I want to experience that feeling again, get better at it, and build strength. Crucial not just for my health, but for my brain; changing activities and moving toward new challenges helps keep me motivated, challenged, and learning.

I know you’re thinking, “Great, you know when to stop running, but what does it have to do with knowing how to succeed in your business?”

My point in sharing the bit about knowing it’s time to leave running endurance events alone for a new challenge is that I’m aware I know when to cut my losses and move toward a new area. Which seems to me as part of knowing when I’ve reached a success business wise.  But I know it is just a piece, a very small piece.   And the differences are huge. Now, I know I need to move on from running  (and a few other things) because of three things:

  • I’m exhausted with the status quo;
  • I’m bored;
  • I need to spice up my life a bit with variety.

I’m a Sagittarius, I can’t help that I’m this way. And just for the record, I am not blaming my fire sign for my lack of care and boredom, I’m just saying it’s a trait of my sign and I’m okay with it.   This is something that is part of my DNA. As much, and often, as I talk about wanting to go into the woods and remove myself from distractions and find peace and quiet, I know that it’s unrealistic. I need people, noise, smog, dirt, and all the rest of the ugly as much as I need beauty, peace, nature, time alone, and quiet. All of those things help make up my creative person I am.  I also don’t ever want any of this to tie in with my business. I want S2 to thrive and grow and if I ever feel the way I feel about running about S2, we’re in trouble.

So back to knowing when I succeed, I’m still stumped.

The questions that have me thinking are the following:

  1. Will it be when I make a certain amount of money? Probably not. Although, that will be a great success in deed!
  2. Will it be when I’ve given back to the community in ways that I can see the value?  Probably part of my success equation, but not the total sum.
  3. Will it be when I have my own studio space and some employees? That’s definitely part of the equation, too, but again, only part. 
  4. Will it be when I have a work/life balance? Again, part of the equation, but still not the full total. 
  5. Will it be when sales are at a certain level?  Or rather when I’ve completed “X” amount of custom orders?   I haven’t even considered this! Currently, a sale is a sale and exposure, so I’m always pleased for a sale, but I don’t know that making a goal of having 100 custom orders or 200 sales is really going to make me feel like I’ve succeed. I mean sure, it’s a goal, and a good one to have, but it’s not the end all be all and I know it’s not what is propelling me into this business and industry, so no. 
  6. Will it be based on my customer(s) joy? You can bet on that! But again, not the complete sum, just a piece of the final equation.

Hmm… I’m going to have a complicated equation when I finally get this down! I also see now that I really need to give this thought. It doesn’t have to take that much space to the point where I’m not working on design, but it should definitely be something that I focus on as I create my business plan and strategy.  I think it should also align with my company values and mission.

But a mission and personal values don’t always add up to success. I don’t want any of you to think that I don’t have my values and mission aligned because I do. But those are more about education and helping people. Both amazing and extremely possible things, but I need to have a product and a successful one to boot to create the opportunities that I want to in education and that help people.  This is a conundrum that any business person and entrepreneur faces. It is what leads many to decide whether they want to outsource or not, or use plastic to wrap their products, or find a more eco-friendly alternative.  It boils down to having a profit to make other things happen. I’m realistic about this, but I’m also an idealistic optimist. I believe that we can all find solutions that aren’t hurtful and can inspire positive impacts.

And so, now my plan is to adopt this question as my basis for my business plan.  The profit that I make will have to be based on how I determine and measure my success as much as anything else I would consider. 

This will be an interesting experiment and I’m sure that many a well established business person is scratching their head and laughing at me.  But I’m going to remain adamant about this. I’m going to see how I can develop a profitable and sustaining business based on not just my values and mission, but on how I finally conclude as my equation for establishing success as a business.

I had decided earlier this year that in 2012, I would really put effort into piecing together my polished business plan. I know I’ve mentioned before that I do not have a business plan. I mean, I do, it sits on my hard drive no longer than four pages.   I’ve been all action and not strategy since 2009.  2011 has been a great year for me to help pick things that will help make the more concrete strategy next year, but it’s partially why I risked a lot more money this year and dove into tabling shows and created ready-to-sell pieces (that I had originally been against) without any real consideration or depth and planning.

As someone who has experience in business and studied Marketing in college, I had set out to create a business plan first and then immediately got caught up in the creative element. I don’t regret that I have done things this way, but I do think in 2012, as I approach my three year mark, it’s time to step my game up and be able to present my business in a way that’s not just for paper lovers, invitation and stationery needers, and fellow crafters, but business people who can see my big picture and go to bat for my team, as I continue to make things with a focus on high quality, small scale, and  unlimited education.

I should definitely be scared, but I should also be excited. The future is and will be extremely bright, I just need to figure out how I will determine and measure my success.  To the drawing board, I go!

I’ll make sure that you know how I end up with my equation (believe me, I’m about to create an equation!). I want to know about your success measurements and equations. If you have one that you think I can learn from or should see to help me, please share! I’m sure I’m not the only one who has to ponder what they consider their footprint.


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s2 stationery & designs

A rule-breaking designer, artist & entrepreneur who's passionate about paper and handcrafting stationery. I also write, travel, and focus on eco + social good.

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