No one is denying small business isn’t tough. 65% of small businesses fail within 24 months of opening, only 3% of startups survive and there is increasing pressure on the freelancing sector.
But within this landscape of hardship, the realities generally haven’t changed. We all still face cashflow problems. We have to service with less and less a more demanding public. The struggle between real life and business life continues.
Small business and self employment are tough undertakings. But what makes it even tougher are some of the pervasive attitudes towards how things work in business. By that I mean investing in notions such as hyper-competitiveness and scarcity.
It’s time to define what these issues look like and bust scarcity myths that erode our abilities in small business once and for all
What is scarcity myth?
Scarcity myth is built into how we sell, market and respond to the market. In very basic terms, it’s the use of techniques to activate buying within consumers in a capitalist system. Prior to it triggering the buy buttons in ordinary humans, scarcity myth kept us alive because it told us to eat when we had the opportunity or to take that tool-shaped rock while we still had the chance.
What it works on is the fear that what we have available is all there is. It’s why we are triggered by early bird sales or 241 promotions. We as consumers feel as though we may miss out on something fundamentally important if we don’t act. And that act is usually to buy things.
We give things that are in short supply greater value through scarcity too. So being the one place people go to purchase something or being at the top of the consumer choice ladder is a huge driving force.
How does it relate to small business?
Small business people and the self employed need to use these sorts of scarcity triggers to sell our products and services. There’s no getting away from it in what we do. There’s no getting away from it in capitalism and Western economics generally.
But we’re talking about a deeply embedded socialised action that works on us due to it being equally entrenched in our brain on a biological level. So being around the idea of scarcity day in and day out can give the average self employed person or small business owner a skewed view of reality.
How small business scarcity influences behaviour can become quite dark. There are heightened feelings of someone being “on your patch” that turn into resentment and jealousy. It breeds hyper-competitiveness. From this hyper-competitiveness comes a focus on others as enemies to your small business endeavours.
On Hacking Happiness, I have investigated some of the reasons that small business scarcity may translate into on a behaviour level.
Here, we’ll press on to why small business scarcity does not have a practical foundation in business. And why indulging these errant emotional responses is detrimental to both the self employed person’s ability to perform and the scene in general.
Small business meets the demand of the people (not the business owners)
Imagine if the aggression, fear and worry about territory displayed by some people in small business and freelance translated into the music world. Imagine if as soon as a band hit the ARIA charts, it was open season on any other band in the same genre. What would it look like if universities decided that only one place in the country was allowed to teach? Or if you had to settle for one cafe, one baker and one restaurant because someone got their first (or second or by bus), what would that mean?
As a teen, I travelled around some of the remotest parts of outback Australia. I remember being in a town where, despite only handful of people living in the town and lack lustre through traffic, two pubs stood proudly on the main street. Bold and quizzical, I asked one of the well seated locals why this was. He took a big pull on his longneck, looked me in the eye and replied:
“Not everybody likes to drink together, sweetheart.”
This important response has stuck with me all my life. It is the crux of what consumers want, after all. It’s soaked in choice and consumer design. Now the hoteliers may have found it hard to work alongside each other. Or they may not have- maybe they worked together to keep the hard working, often hard drinking townsfolk fed and watered.
But the lesson here is crystal clear- our customers value the ability to choose over whatever worries we have as small business owners about which one is the cooler one. People choose for different reasons.
In short, being our business selves and owning our space is far more important than reducing the number of people in the space.
Scarcity myth distracts you from the task at hand
I hate to disappoint the women out there that think I am competing with them but I am going to lay it flat on the table for all to see:
I didn’t give up the job that assured me of promotion because I saw you in the distance and felt like competing with you. In fact, I didn’t know you existed and it’s only through your own efforts that I do now.
Choosing to drag someone in as your competitor against their will is as ghastly as it is ridiculous. Why we choose to run a small business or start freelancing or sweat over a startup is a deeply personal choice.
The majority of people I speak to get into self employment for two reasons:
- To derive some extra satisfaction from their working life
- To enhance a part of the lifestyle or meet the challenges within their life
I’ve surveyed over 300 people in the recent Australian freelancer survey, a re-run of my original survey that saw the birth of the Freelance Jungle as a Meetup. I’ve heard a lot about managing kids and family life. Many a conversation has consisted of wanting additional freedom, taking on new challenges or wanting to grow and stretch personally. Others have cited mental health, physical health and special needs children as the reasons why self employment works for them. Redundancies and not having to put up with toxic office politics in future were also key motivators.
Yet despite being a freelancer since 2010 and speaking to other freelancers in depth about their motivations for almost as long, no one has ever turned around to me and said “I did it because I want to beat the business pants off that guy!”
On my walls are photos of puppies, goals and project outlines. In my journal come January are always 3 goals written down to keep me on track. These walls and these journal entries don’t feature what other small business owners are doing as a benchmark.
Why? Because what I deem a success and want from my self employment experience is about me being able to buy a house, work on projects that engage me and better support people with stress reduction by ending the isolation inherent with self employment.
My point of sharing this with you is to remind each of us that you didn’t get into freelancing or small business because Freda over there wanted to compete with you 7 years down the track. You didn’t get into this because you saw Mandy kicking arse and thought “I want a slice of that”.
Most of us choose this life because there’s something deeply personal that is driving us on a professional level. We want something from our working life traditional employment doesn’t offer.
Business McBusinessyFace may want a rumble. But they were not part of the decision making process. They won’t have to face any of the consequences of your decisions, comfort you during sleepless nights or dust you off during failure.
So screw ‘em and their desire to race. That’s their insecurities and not something you should accept responsibility for.
It’s all smoke and mirrors anyway
Those perfectly manicured and maintained Instagram photos you see may look beautiful. But they are crafted that way. That top of the Google pops ranking may look impressive, but that doesn’t mean they are converting into sales. The champions that cry the name, the press articles, they are massaged and invigorated.
Yes, we humans love a good amount of social proof. But we also enjoy manufacturing it too.
A couple of things to keep in mind when you peer over someone else’s fence and see their success are:
- Nobody ever puts a bad testimonial on their website. In fact, some people write their own and simply ask the person to agree to it
- For every pretty Instagram shot you see, there’s bound to be another 9 failed attempts behind it
- A person may look like they have an amazing life, but unless you wake up next to them every morning, the likelihood of really knowing what goes on is severely diminished with each degree of separation from the bedroom
- No one is an overnight success. It always takes time and patience to get somewhere
- If you’ve only just noticed someone on your radar, yours isn’t the place to pigeon hole them as a Johnny Come Lately. Maybe they’ve sweated many more hours than you have. Heck, maybe your ability to even have success has been smoothed out by them blazing the trail
- If you think there’s only so much to go around and you have to keep it to yourself, that’s not the market’s problem. That’s yours and yours alone. Either your business model isn’t fit enough to weather the storm or your emotional resilience is lacking
- No matter how much you cry and stamp your feet, no one is ever obliged to slow down or stop running their race just because you want to win
Keeping your head glued on with small business and self employment can be a tough thing. That’s why I recommend you do what you can to keep your business in proper shape any way you can. And for you to also keep your own stress levels down.
You can help keep the fires burning while you work on your business endeavours by:
Choosing me for some relief via a pain point clinic.
Learning how to build resilience and create a business life you can be proud of by following Kylie Travers.
Working through the different directions of heart and hustle you find yourself in with Hustle and Heart group coaching.
Watching the virtual tonic you need via Russell Allert’s Indie Pro Summit.
Checking out some of the suggestions in this blog on scarcity myths on the Freelance Jungle.
Coming to discuss the challenges inherent with freelancing and self employment with me, Freelance Australia, Creative Plus Business and a bunch of other wonderful people at ‘the future of work is freelance’ as part of Vivid Ideas on June 7th.