You’ve seen the hype about small business and entrepreneurial success out there. It’s unreal! Not a day goes by when I don’t see photos of fancy cars, vacations, oodles of cash, and the typical success catchphrases that come with them on my social media.
Here’s the conundrum, though: when your business crosses into the territory of making seven or eight figures, it can quickly become less about doing what you love and more about grinding things out as an entrepreneur to meet demand.
So does bigger actually mean better for you? Or is big enough… enough? In today’s episode, I talk about why I believe in creating a big enough business to create an actual business and life you love.
On this episode of Promote Yourself to CEO:
5:54 – I discuss what it was like growing up around entrepreneurs, and the surprising information I recently learned from my mother.
8:16 – Why should you beware of creating a business that grows too fast? I tell you what I’ve seen from businesses that experienced hyper-growth.
10:02 – I retell a parable about a CEO and a fisherman that illustrates my point.
12:47 – I describe the time I was at a crossroads when I first heard the parable and the realization I came to after some reflection.
15:30 – The big questions I want you to ask about your revenue goals, and defining a Big Enough Business, the kind that loves you back.
17:10 – An early lesson in my business that serves as an example of why NOT to model your version of success after someone else.
20:05 – An example of what my “Big Enough Business” looks like and why it serves me in creating a business and life I love.
23:55 – How being intentional allows me to succeed without sacrificing my life and without causing me to be in a constant state of emergency in my business.
25:20 – How a big enough business allows you to live in your business sweet spot, and stop dreading Monday morning.
27:50 – How a big enough business and building a business and life you love will mean you must know your non-negotiables.
29:40 – Does focusing on a big enough business, mean you lack ambition?
34:00 – The questions I want you to ask to define your big enough business.
As an entrepreneur who has spent her entire career working with small business owners, I have to say that the amount of hype that is out there about what success looks like for small business owners and entrepreneurs is just unreal. Not a day goes by when my social media doesn't include some variation of “Reach and make millions.” “Don't let your small business make you small-minded.” “How I made seven figures in 10 months and you can too.” I have to say as someone who is behind the scenes, not only in my own business but with my clients and behind the scenes with my business BFFs, my colleagues, and my peers, I know that what we see on social media and on people's very polished and perfect websites is just a very small part of the picture. It is just the very tip of the iceberg. As we know with icebergs, the majority of it is not seen.
We talk about the end results. Those dolla, dolla bills, we talk about the total revenue they brought in. We might even get flashed a glimpse of their lifestyle which is, of course, complete with fancy, lavish vacations and expensive cars and designer-designer-designer, everything. All of this is intentionally put out there to make us believe that bigger is better, that a six, or a seven, or an eight-figure business equals what it takes to have the freedom that we are all seeking. But here's the problem: when money is the only yardstick of success, it is incredibly easy to get pulled in, sucked into the myth that more money equals more happiness. But in the conversations I'm having each and every day, I have a completely different perspective. The perspective I see is that success means having a business that allows you to live your desired lifestyle—having the schedule you want, living where you want, and being able to pursue the other things in life that give your life meaning; what it looks like to create a beautifully full and rich life.
There seems to be a point right now where there really is some truth to more money, more problems because as you cross into the territory of multiple six, or seven, or eight figures, your business can quickly become less about doing what you love, less about pursuing your passion, and more towards the grind of being an entrepreneur, growing a team, customer service demand, scaling-scaling-scaling. It makes me wonder, does bigger actually mean better or is “big enough” enough? In today's episode, we're going to talk about why I believe in creating a big enough business to create an actual business and life that you love.
Are you ready to grow from solopreneur to CEO? You're in the right place. I'm your host, Racheal Cook. I've spent the last decade helping women entrepreneurs start and scale service-based businesses. If you're serious about building a sustainable business, it's time to put the strategy, systems, and support in place to make it happen. Join me each week for candid conversations about stepping into your role as CEO, the hard lessons learned along the way, and practical profitable strategies to grow a sustainable business without the hustle and burnout.
Hey, there CEOs. I am so excited to be kicking off this series. I know I say I'm so excited each time I sit down to record something new for you but it is the honest truth because I am so sick of the hype. I am so sick of the over promise and under delivery that is out there right now, targeting small business owners, making them feel like if they are not trying to build a seven or now eight figure business, then their ambitions aren't worthy or their business—I've even heard this—"Your business, isn't a real business." I call such BS on all of that because as someone who has been behind the scenes of thousands of businesses, I can tell you there are a lot of business owners who have created not their dream business but a nightmare that has them burned out, stressed out, overwhelmed, and missing out on their life. That is why I wanted to record today's episode because I truly don't believe bigger means better.
I think that we need to stop with this extremist viewpoint of what we should be aiming for in our businesses. Instead, think about what makes sense for us, the human being behind the business, where we are right now. Instead of constantly being in this state of striving at the expense of our life, our health, our families, our overall well-being because life is short and nothing is guaranteed. This point has been driven home to me so many times because as many of you know, if you've listened to Promote Yourself To CEO for any length of time, I grew up with two parents who were entrepreneurs. Both my parents had a business when I was born. My dad started an insurance agency and has had that agency since the mid-80s. Prior to my dad starting his own business, my mom had started her business as a soil consultant. She was an environmental scientist who would go out onto properties that were being developed to test the soil and basically see if those properties could be developed for commercial, or residential, or whatever they were trying to put out there.
She was actually incredibly, incredibly successful. When she started her business, one, she was pretty much the only woman in her field in the area but two, she was actually the breadwinner. She was making a whole lot more money than my dad when he started his business several years later. When she got hurt—she was in a terrible car accident in 1987 that left her in a coma for three months and in the hospital for two years recovering from a traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury—she lost her business. She told me recently that her top revenue month was about $10,000 in 1987. That was her biggest month, the month before she got hurt and if we figured out what that equals in today's dollars it was something like $22,000 or $23,000, which is pretty good for a solo owner operated business. I was pretty amazed when she told me this information.
But I remember watching what happened afterwards because my parents were both in this world of entrepreneurship and small business owners. They were surrounded by small business owners. Most of their friends when I was growing up were all small business owners. They all had a variety of small business owners and when I tell you that I have seen people who grew businesses where they were absolutely sustainable, they could take the time off they wanted, to spend the time with their family they wanted, set aside for retirement to help their kids get through college, I also saw businesses where they grew so fast that they imploded their business and ended up not only broke but unable to help their kids get through college, unable to have anything because they were not only in bankruptcy but they had completely shattered their confidence.
These perspectives that I'm sharing with you are from somebody who has seen what it looks like to have a sustainable business, which is what I hear from most of us that we want a business where we can have time with our families, where we can take off our vacation, where we can show up for work for a few hours each day. If it happened to be a beautiful day out, we can go on a hike, or go out on the boat, or spend time with our kids versus a business that required you to work-work-work so that you could buy material things to show off how much money you were making only to lose it all when your business implodes.
I share these things because I think the hype is very overrated. The research follows me on this. The research shows that businesses that are in extreme, fast-paced hyper growth often implode because it is very difficult to keep up with the pace of growth. It is very difficult to hire that fast, to retain a team that fast, to deliver on the product, or program, or service, to keep the cash flow stable when there is hyper growth. It really makes me wonder, does bigger actually mean better or can you have a business that is big enough? Big enough for where you want to be right now in this stage of life where you are. It reminds me of a parable that I heard so long ago and this is about the CEO and the fisherman. I'm going to tell it to you quickly, this parable.
A successful CEO on vacation was at the pier of a small coastal village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The CEO complimented the fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.
The fisherman proudly replied, “Every morning, I go out in my boat for 30 minutes to fish. I’m the best fisherman in the village”.
The CEO, perplexed, then asks the fisherman “If you’re the best, why don’t you stay out longer and catch more fish? What do you do the rest of the day?”
The fisherman replied “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, spend quality time with my wife, and every evening we stroll into the village to drink wine and play guitar with our friends. I have a full and happy life.”
The CEO scoffed and said, “I am successful CEO and have a talent for spotting business opportunities. I can help you be more successful. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats with many fishermen. Instead of selling your catch to just your friends, you can scale to sell fish to thousands. You could leave this small coastal fishing village and move to the big city, where you can oversee your growing empire.”
The fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”
To which the CEO replied, “15 – 20 years.”
“But what then?” Asked the fisherman.
The CEO laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions!”
“Millions – then what?” said the fisherman.
The CEO said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, spend time with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your friends.”
Okay. This is a very simplified story. We didn't talk about healthcare costs, or setting aside for retirement, or what you're going to do in your old age when you can no longer fish a little bit. But I first heard this story when I was at a crossroads in my own life. I had realized that following the MBA Career track that I was on would mean putting the next 20 to 30 years of my life on hold until I was "successful enough" to scale back from 60 or 80 hour work weeks in the consulting world to enjoy, as the fishermen shared, a full and happy life. What if you want a full and happy life right now? This is something that's top of mind for me all the time because my mom was only 31 when she got hurt. She was 31, I was four, my younger sisters were two years old and eight months old. She missed out on a lot of our childhood. She lost her business and as a family, it was just incredibly traumatic.
At the time I heard this story I was thinking, "I want a family, I don't want to miss out." If I have the opportunity to spend quality time with my kids, have a great relationship with my husband, and live this beautifully full rich life, I can't do what everybody else is doing. I've got to find some way that is different. I realized that I didn't want to wait until retirement to live my full and rich life. I wanted to live it now. I wanted to live it in the moment because honestly, nothing is promised to us, and I've seen this so many times. I've been through losing so many people or having so many things like my mom's accident that it has really made me believe that if we are not intentionally making room for our life right now, we are missing the point because at the end of the day, it doesn't matter how much money you make. You can't take it with you.
The people who remember you at the end of the day, the people who show up at your funeral are likely not going to be focused on how much money you made. They're going to talk about what you meant to them and that only happens when we have a full and rich life. When we care about all of the different parts of our life that actually matter. I ask you, what if you want to have a full and happy life that you love right now? What if you have things in your life that you want to enjoy? What if you are in a season of life that you want to savor, that you want to make memories in, that you don't want to sacrifice? What would it look like if we took all that pressure to be successful off the plate and we stopped focusing on the only measure of success to be the bottom line?
This is why I am a fan of creating what I call a big enough business. The goal of the way I approach business (business design and lifestyle design) is to create a business you love that also loves you back. A business that loves you back, it provides for you, by helping you to do what you love for those who love what you do, actually work with clients you adore. But even more importantly, a business that loves you back creates space for what matters most to you.
Over and over again, I hear from women who have started their business to create freedom for themselves and their families. But somewhere on that entrepreneurial journey the deeper they got into it they start to realize they don't feel free, they feel trapped. And often that is happening when they are modeling their business on someone else's version of success. At some point, they realized one size truly does not fit all.
So, something I do a lot is podcast interviews. And as you probably know by now, maybe you found me through a podcast interview. This has been hands-down my favorite way to attract new people into my world and into my business. So early on in my career, early on in my business, I was interviewed by John Lee Dumas, and if you've been in the online entrepreneurial world you've probably heard of his podcast Entrepreneur on Fire. And he is truly a man with a mission. I mean, he is super ambitious, up to big things in the world. But one thing saw and paid attention to him early on with was, he shared income reports in his business. He would publish them publicly for anybody to go see what he was actually doing in his business. And he not only shared the income report as far as how much money he made but he also shared how much time he was investing into his business each and every month.
So, there was a point where I saw his income report. He was making seven figures and he was working 219 hours a month. And his significant other, his partner, she was working 207 hours a month. It was about 400 hours a month over four weeks between two people. Which means combined it was not unusual for them to be working 100 hours a week combined, so individually, at least 50 to 60 hours a week. And those hours were not an unusually busy month for them because of some big launch or promotion. The chances are a big launch would take even more hours. So, the income reports that I was seeing was saying, "Hey, on our less busy months we're still working 50 to 60 hours a week." And at the time flipping through their income reports, I saw that the way they had structured their business, the way they had set it up, was that in order to have a seven-figure business they had to both put in 50 to 60 hours a week. Which is a pretty big reality check. Right? When you're starting to think about who you are modeling success off of?
When you start to peek under the hood of that business you might want to model. You start to get a clearer picture of what it has taken for them to create that measure of success. And then you have to know for yourself if that version of success actually fits you? Does it work for you? Does it work for your life? Does it work for your family? Does it work for what you actually want to experience?
So, when I talk to entrepreneurs like John Lee Dumas and so many others, who have just done amazing things. I think what they've accomplished is great. I'm not pooh-poohing on anything that they have done. I think you know what? For them? Cool. They've gone after something they've made it happen. I am always going to cheer on people who have gone after what they want. I just know that for me that is not the way I want to be spending my time. I simply don't have 50 or 60 hours that I'm willing to put into my business right now and honestly after, I'm on what year, 14 of my business? I have proven to myself again and again that I can run it in an excredibly successful profitable business. Pay myself multiple six figures, working 25 hours a week. And that's good for me.
I don't have the bandwidth personally. I have some chronic health conditions that require me to take a lot of downtime, to focus on myself, to invest in my health and my well-being. I want to spend more time with my kids. I want to spend time with my husband. I want to have real hobbies. I want to have friends. I don't want to put 50 or 60 hours a weekend. I just don't want to. I want to do what I'm doing, which is 25 hours a week and live an incredibly beautifully full rich life, according to my definition of success. So, my business is big enough. And that definition, the revenue mark for big enough has increased over the time that I've been in business. But, it has always been big enough to support my desired lifestyle, for myself and my family.
Now, we're not millionaires yet, I say yet because we are well on the way. But we live a comfortable lifestyle. A comfortable lifestyle that has allowed me to be the primary breadwinner for our family. That allowed my husband Jameson, to leave teaching almost 10 years ago to be a stay-at-home dad. That has allowed us to invest into our own retirement and our kid's education. Has allowed us to have the flexibility and freedom to homeschool the last couple years of this crazy pandemic. Has allowed us to go on vacations. We probably take, I would say anywhere from 8 to 10 weeks of vacation a year. And I don't have to put off any of these things, any of these dreams to enjoy our life and our family. I don't have to wait for a retirement to do the things I really want to do. I can do them right now
And what has been most important to me over the last year and some is that, you know, I had to take over the care of my mother. Who as I shared, she was in an accident 1987, she is permanently disabled with a traumatic brain injury, she's wheelchair-bound and requires 24/7 nursing care. In this past year, I was fully able to step into managing her care. Everything from all of the doctors and specialists visits, to hiring and managing all the nurses to making sure she has everything that she could possibly need.
That's a whole other job of its own but I was able to do that and my business not only kept running but continued to grow because of this philosophy. I did all of that still having time off, still having vacation time, still having space to enjoy my life right now. My family doesn't live for the weekends or vacations. Each and every day, we're living in alignment with our values for our family, our health, our relationships, our creativity, for adventure and fun. My life is amazing and I'm always so incredibly grateful for what we have built.
So don't get me wrong, a big enough business doesn't mean that I'm not always coming up with a million new ideas or that I'm lazy. I have to tell you. it is far from that. I have just been very intentional about showing up consistently and slowly and steadily growing my business over 14 years. So that, I didn't have to sacrifice any of it. I didn't have to sacrifice any of my kid's childhood in order to create quote "success". I wanted to make sure that every part of the process was in alignment.
Running a big enough business allows you to create that sustainable growth instead of finding yourself in emergency mode or constantly putting out fires or feeling like you're in that feast or famine cycle. You can take your time to find the right people for your team, who will help you to implement the systems and the structure that you need to consistently deliver an incredible experience to your clients and community. There's a reason why so many people in my team have been with me not just for a few months but for years. My director of operations has been with me since 2011. Many of the people on my team have been with me for over 5 years now.
Running a big enough business gives you permission to live in your business sweet spot. Your business sweet spot is that intersection between what you're passionate about, what you feel your purpose is, and the perfect for your clients who truly make it a joy to wake up and do the work that you're doing. If you are dreading Monday mornings then, you're not in your business sweet spot. But if you sit down at your desk and you instantly feel energized and excited about the work you're doing, you can't wait for the calls that you have on your calendar. You can't wait to show up and create things for your community, then, you're missing out. Because your business sweet spot is such a sweet place to be. And when you're there, you're not pulled in a million directions. You're not dealing with stuff that you have going on in your business because it's not your zone of genius, like, I don't ever have to dip into the weeds of my business. I've got people who it's there's zone of genius to handle those things. I get to show up and do what I do best and my team gets to show up and do what they do best. And I get to make an impact by creating these incredible dream jobs for these amazing women on my team. That is incredible to me.
Running a big enough business means that, you're going to have to make some hard decisions and this might not be what you want to hear. But the truth is if you want to have this kind of business that I'm talking about where you get to have a life. You have to make some hard decisions about where you focus your time and energy. You're going to have to make know your favorite response.
So, years ago, I decided to shift from one-on-one consulting into having an online course. And that meant that I needed to say no to potential revenue, I needed to say no to people who wanted me to work with them one-on-one in order to shift that focus towards an online program. And then a few years later, I decided I needed to shift my focus from that particular online program into a whole another way I wanted to work inside of the CEO collective.
Now, I could have continued to just add hours to my workday and said yes to lots of other things, but I knew that each hour I said yes to revenue that wasn't aligned with where I wanted to go, to clients who weren't fitting the new focus of the business. It meant that I was saying yes to them, but I was saying no to going on a walk that afternoon or I was saying no, to spending extra time with my kids or I was saying no, to a date night with my husband. And that's just not an option for me. That is not even an option anymore.
At the point in my life where I started making some of these hard decisions and I had to start saying no to things that before I would have been like, "Oh, I can't let that go." I had my youngest child Mitchell in 2013, and I had him in the afternoons by myself before my older twins got home from school. And I just thought when he was a baby, I was like, you know what? I'm not sacrificing these precious first years, and I'm so grateful, I'm so grateful that I didn't. Because now that they're on the precipice of becoming teenagers, I can see that the time I invested back into them has really solidified the relationships that I have with my kids.
So these are sacrifices that I'm not willing to make, you have to know what sacrifices you're not willing to make. You have to know your non-negotiables. And for me, that is my health, physical, and mental, that is my relationship with my husband, that is my relationship with my kids. Those are my top priorities and they are non-negotiable. I have to say it doesn't mean you're not ambitious. It doesn't mean that growth isn't something you want for yourself. It just means, you're prioritizing growth alongside the life you truly want to have.
When my children were younger my big enough business was smaller. My big enough business didn't require multiple six figures. It didn't require me to take home as much as I take home now, because my husband was still working a job. We had what we needed at that point. We really valued that flexibility and time with our family over anything else. We had the lifestyle that was the most in alignment with us. And each time my kids grew a little bit and went to a new stage of their life, I grew a little bit. My business grew a little bit. I became more ready to allow that more ambitious side of myself, the one that wants to make a big impact in the world to come out even more without sacrificing being the mom I want to be or the wife I want to be, or the daughter I want to be.
Now that my kids are older. My twins this year they are 12 and my youngest is about to be nine, which is wild. As they have gotten older, I have felt like, I'm not sacrificing my relationship with them in order to grow. Honestly, they would much rather have quality time with me than quantity time with me. So it's worked out really well.
So, I asked you, how big is your big enough business, right now? Doesn't mean you can't grow in the future. It's about where you are right now. This is such an important question to ask yourself. And I think if you haven't asked yourself this. I really encourage you to journal on these questions. It's easy to look at what everyone else is telling you, you need to create that, you need to hit.
This revenue level, whether it's six or seven, or now eight figures I'm seeing on some ads out there. But when you sit down and look at how big is your big enough business? I really want you to ask yourself. What does that look like for you?
When I first started my business. I knew that a big enough business was me working about 15 hours a week, and I needed to make $2,500 a month. And that's all that I needed. Because I started this business and within that first year, I got pregnant with twins which kind of threw a wrench in all of my plans and had me starting to ask these types of questions. But at that point, I just needed to supplement what my family needed because my husband was also working full-time so, I didn't have to do all or nothing. I just had some minimum levels here that I needed to hit.
And then as my kids got older my big enough business grew. I had a vision that my husband got excited about, we were going to grow the business to the point where I had replaced not only my corporate salary but his salary and he could stay at home with our kids and pursue his passions. And then suddenly, instead of just supplementing our family's income, that big enough business had to support the entire family income. In a comfortable lifestyle.
And so, those numbers changed. I went from needing to create 25,000 a month to 50,000 a month to 75,000 a month and then the business had other needs in order to support where I was. So I had to break the $10,000 mark, and then, I had to break 15,000 and 20,000. The big enough business number can grow, it can grow. Okay?
So, I don't want you to mistake that big enough business means, there's no growth here. But it's about making sure that it is in alignment with what you want. That the revenue level, the business model your choosing, the amount of time and energy, and resources, you're putting into that business are aligned with what you actually want. So, you don't have to sacrifice what matters most to you in order to create the success you really want.
So I want you to think about these questions. What matters most to you right now? How big is your big enough business? If you're not sure, I want you to answer these questions to help you figure out the math, figure out the numbers, and figure out what your capacity actually is.
First, how many hours do you really want to work a week? We have been trained in Corporate America that a 40-hour work week is a minimum but I'm here to tell you that is not based in any sort of research about what is productive, especially for those of us who are not operating a machine. Forty hours a week was not created for the type of work many of us do. And in fact, the research shows that once you go past 30-35 hours a week the productivity drops off of a cliff. So most people who are saying, "Oh, yeah, they work 60 hours a week." They are getting just as much done in 60 hours a week as someone who's probably working 30 hours a week with more focus.
So how many hours a week do you really want to work? How big is your big enough business in terms of revenue? What does your business need, to bring in revenue-wise, to pay you the paycheck that you need?
I'm going to be talking a lot more about this in the coming episodes here on, Promote Yourself to CEO, to help you figure that number out. But chances are unless you are trying to pay yourself, not just multiple six figures, but half a million or more. You don't need the 70 figure business. In fact, I probably pay myself a whole lot more, than many people I know who have bigger businesses because of the way I have designed my business. Because of the amount of profitability in my business.
And then I want you to think about, what does your business needs to look like in terms of what is the business model that's going to get you there? Don't model your business off of someone else's. If their definition of success is not your definition of success. It is taking them a whole lot more time or a whole lot more team or a whole lot more risk or a whole lot more resources. It is not going to be helpful for you to design your business in that way. Make sure you're getting clarity on what's going to work best for you. What you need to say, yes to. And what you need to say, no to, at this point in your business journey.
So, if you loved today's episode and this conversation, I know we went deep into some mindset here, and why I believe that we need to put life as just a higher priority as a business in creating this. I want to let you know, that in the coming episodes I'm going to start breaking some of these numbers down, breaking some of this math down, removing some of the smoke and mirrors here. Because the truth is if all we're doing is focusing on, topline revenue and just using that as our definition of success. We truly are missing the point quite often. And we're going after that moving benchmark, as the world gets more and more high p about what we should be going after, and we're doing it at the expense of what really matters for most of us.
So, I encourage you to keep on listening. If you're not subscribed, go ahead and subscribe to, Promote Yourself to CEO. And if you liked this episode, and if you started to think about what is a big enough business look like for you? Then make sure you pop over to Instagram and let me know. I'm @racheal.cook, I would love, love, love to continue the conversation.