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When capitalism isn’t one of your business values

As business owners, what do you do if you struggle to reconcile capitalism with your business values?

In much of the world, we live with an economic system that’s a hellscape of self-interest and greed, in which people not only receive applause for taking as much as they can at the expense of those further down the ladder – not to mention the environment – but actively vote for policies allowing that to happen.

It’s one in which we’re constantly encouraged and expected to pursue more, more, more, never mind what else we might want to do with our lives – and all that can come second to hitting the next set of 0s on the balance sheet.

And it’s one where people (especially women) find themselves pulled in all directions as they desperately try to meet expectations of working like they aren’t parents, and parenting like they don’t have to work. But, of course, they do have to work, because we like having housing and food.

A lot of us get into business because we reject this, because we want flexibility and more choices in their lives. But we quickly get sucked in to productivity messaging and hustle culture, and the idea that building a business can and should be a quick process if we work hard enough (read: at all hours, to the detriment of everything else in life). You know the sort of thing: ‘How I built my 6-figure business in just six months’.

And after a while, you start to feel a bit sick about it; going to business networking groups full of men with firm handshakes and even firmer opinions of their own genius, and needing to find ways to up your prices and sell more things, and….and…and….

You’re more than your business

We have a bad habit of defining ourselves, and other people, by what we do. It’s usually the first thing we ask people when we meet them, and there’s definitely judgement around certain roles. I try and get round this by instead asking people, ‘so how do you fill your days?’ or even ‘what do you like to do?’

You are more, a lot more, than what you do for work. As we strive to get noticed, to find clients, to carve out that space for ourselves, that’s easy to forget.

So how do you reconcile capitalism with your business values?

  1. Remember that making money isn’t inherently wrong; it’s how you’re doing it. If you’re providing a great service that people need and which is solving a problem for them, that’s something to be proud of.
  2. Be really clear about your own values and work them into every aspect of your business.
  3. If you’re paying people for work – whether outsourced or employees – make sure you’re paying them fairly. Treat employees well, and give them the flexibility to be human, and you’ve got yourself a business asset that’s worth way more than what you’re paying.
  4. Give back: it doesn’t even have to be monetary. Perhaps you could support a community endeavour through your business, or find ways to integrate sustainable practices into your business. For every client who works with me for coaching, I gift one tree to Trees That Count.
  5. Be really clear about your why – that thing that drives you in your business, that thing you really want to do for others. It means that you don’t feel yuck taking money for something you don’t really believe in.
  6. Think sustainably in your life and business. If you’re making personal purchases, go for quality and locally-made if possible. You can’t always do that for business purchases, especially for tech products, but you can hang on to hardware for as long as is feasible. You can support other businesses who share your values (and there will be lots), and choose not to buy from those that don’t.

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