dear strictly business: how do I avoid comparisonitis?
Rule number one: take social media brags with a massive grain of salt.
Welcome to our Dear Strictly Business advice column, brought to you by our pals at Xero. This is where you ask the questions and we hunt down the answers. Got a burning question? Feel free to send it our way.
Teddy Roosevelt famously said comparison is the thief of joy. We’re not sure if Teddy ever started his own boutique jewellery business, but his statement rings pretty true for freelancers, artists and business owners everywhere. When we see someone kicking professional goals, a big part of us is stoked for them (honest), but a small part (a part that lives in a dark cave, muttering and scrolling through LinkedIn) thinks: why not me?
This is comparisonitis. It’s the tendency for small-business owners to compare themselves to other small-business owners and get seriously bummed out. But never fear, frankie people, comparisonitis is totally treatable. Thanks to the friendly folk at Xero, we sat down with ceramic queen Tantri Mustika and accountants and business consultants Bramble & Briar to get some envy-busting tips.
Beware the ‘LinkedIn Effect’
The ‘LinkedIn Effect’ is a bit like the ‘Instagram Effect’, only instead of people posting photos of themselves in France, on a yacht, with captions like “Don’t you just hate Mondays!”, they flood LinkedIn with tales of bootstrap business success. New clients. Record-breaking growth. Sexy new media coverage. You know who we’re talking about.
Vita and Sarah from Bramble & Briar say this is often a classic case of sizzle over substance. “It’s that perception piece. People will present their business in a certain way, and that might have nothing to do with what’s actually going on behind the scenes. We see it all the time: you get large businesses with healthy turnovers, great branding and so on, but they’re not actually making any money.” The lesson here? Take LinkedIn with a massive pinch of salt.
Go back to your values
Vita and Sarah say the big trick in beating comparisonitis is going back to why you got into business in the first place. Now, we’re going to go out on a limb and say you started your small business for some combination of the following reasons: to make cool stuff; to have a better work/life balance; to change the world; because it makes you happy. Very few people actually start a small business to become millionaires (although it can be a rather nice side-effect). “If your growth is working against your core values, that’s counterproductive,” they say. “We’ve got clients who grew massively but are now downsizing, because that growth came with all this stress, pressure and headaches, and they don’t want it. That’s not why they started the business.” Basically: figure out what actually matters to you, and ignore everything else.
Talk to your idols
Everyone looks godlike on Instagram. That’s kind of the point of the platform. Melbourne-based ceramicist Tantri Mustika says the trick is reaching out and actually talking to business owners you admire, rather than worshipping them from afar. “From the outside I thought they looked so calm and cool and in-control, and then you actually talk to these people and you realise, ‘Oh, you’re in the chaos too!’” she says. “It even happens with me. A friend recently told me, you know, you’re doing so well and moving so fast, but on the inside I’m like, ‘Fuck, this has been the most chaotic year of my life! I have no idea what I’m doing.’”
By reaching out to your idols and hearing their stresses and setbacks, you can break down the myth that they’re all smooth-talking Silicon Valley pros who never get anxious or mess up their taxes. Plus, Xero research shows that businesses that collaborated and shared resources within their community thrived during the pandemic, while over half of small businesses surveyed said they need other small businesses to survive.
Set proper goals
Unhappiness is best measured as the gap between your expectations and reality. Tantri recommends having different-sized goals, and focussing more on the small, achievable ones – at least in the beginning. “Don’t be too hard on yourself when it comes to goals,” she says. “Give yourself big ambitions, sure, but write them down somewhere and don’t look at them for a few years. Focus more on mini goals that you can achieve as you go along.”
Vita and Sarah also break things down into two categories: what’s desirable and what’s achievable. “We always get our clients to make two sets of goals for the next 12 months: one is their crazy dream of where they want to be, and the other is more realistic. With your annual financial goal, break it right down into the number of units and hours required, ask yourself if it’s achievable and make sure you know your fixed costs. Looking at annual goals really prompts discussions around profits, margins and processes. If those three aren’t right, nothing else matters.”
Pro tip: if you need help staying focussed on this stuff, consider investing in some easy-to-use accounting software like Xero. It comes complete with a dashboard that lets you set goals, track your performance and see your business’ numbers in real time.
Be inspired, not envious
This step is harder than it sounds. If you manage this, you’re well on your way to becoming some kind of Jedi Master (also, please email us and tell us how you did it). “When I started out and I was looking at other ceramicists, I wasn’t thinking of them as competitors,” says Tantri. “I was kind of idolising them to be honest. I tried to see how they built their website, or posted on Insta, and learned everything I could.” Vita and Sarah agree. “We’re not immune to comparison anxiety,” they say. “But we look at ourselves and think, we could be bigger, but we’re not really here to be bigger. We value relationships more than growth.”
The truth is, when you see other business owners, you’re seeing the finished, well-marketed product – you’re not seeing the years of sweat, the late nights, the doubt, the crippling debt or the support crew. Starting a business isn’t about being the best – just doing your best. Run your own race, and take inspiration wherever you find it.
This helpful content was brought to you in partnership with our pals at Xero. Whether you lead a small team or are going it alone, Xero is online accounting made for your business. For a limited time you can get 50% off new Xero plans for the first three months when you purchase before June 30th, 2021. T&Cs apply.