Business (and life) Lessons Learned from a Successful Entrepreneur with an ADHD Brain
Whether you are already an entrepreneur, want to be, or are managing someone else’s business responsibilities, I want to share some Lessons I’ve learned as an ADHD Entrepreneur over decades of building a successful business that I think may make your road a little easier to travel.
Since adults with ADHD 300% more likely to be entrepreneurs, many of my clients have or are building their own business. It can be a natural fit for many of us in some ways, but it’s definitely not an easy fit in others. Overwhelm, lack of external structure and accountability, inconsistent follow through, and poor time-management or over-working are just a few of the most common problem areas for my clients who, like me, have ADHD or related tendencies.
Anyone who works with me knows that I love my work and I love my clients. I have a great team. I really enjoy being an entrepreneur and building and running my business. But it definitely hasn’t all been easy! I did not come from a business background or a family of entrepreneurs, so I’ve had a steep learning curve in a lot of areas as I’ve created and grown my business over the last 17+ years.
Here are a few of the Top Lessons I’ve learned as an Entrepreneur with ADHD:
1. Get clear on your “Vision” for your Business, and Hold on Loosely
Now, before that word “vision” freaks you out, take a breath. It’s essential to have guiding direction for your business (and yourself) so that you know where you’re going, you have clarity that directs your focus and actions day to day, and you can objectively gauge what and where you need to adjust, do more, or do less. Otherwise, you’re likely to end up either overwhelmed and stuck, or flailing and reactive, letting happenstance determine success and never learning what works (and what doesn’t work) for you and your business. This is true for everyone, but it’s an especially important lesson for those of us with ADHD!
BUT, there are a Few important things to consider:
- First, not all of us are wired to think in terms of the “ultimate”, far-off picture of what your ideal business will be some day. And, frankly, I’m not wired that way myself! There’s nothing wrong with setting an intention for a general direction further out (say, increasing net revenue by 5% by year end, building your audience by 10%, or increasing the number of people you’re serving, year over year) while you focus more clearly on the specific vision for your business 90 days from now. Regardless of whether you’re someone who can most easily look at what you want your business to be like, feel like, and look like ten years, one year, six months, or 90 days from now, you have to look at it in whatever way works for you, and create some clarity for yourself so that you have direction.
- No matter how far out you get clear on your vision, “Hold on loosely, but don’t let go!” (Courtesy of the band 38 Special. Can you tell I’m a child of the 80s?) As an entrepreneur, t’s important to be connected to and invested in your vision and direction for your business, but don’t get so attached that it keeps you from making revisions and adaptations along the way that are an inevitable part of how any business (and any person) grows and blossoms into the best version of itself.
- Make sure to proactively schedule regular intervals to check in with yourself about what’s working well, what you’re doing that you enjoy (or don’t), how your business is working for you, where you may have gotten yourself off track (and whether the direction you’ve found yourself taking is really one that you’re happy with), and don’t be afraid to make intentional revisions along the way. I don’t know who said it, but I live by the expression, “Every great Vision has many Re-Visions!”
- Idea: I will plug a variety of questions into my calendar that recur at odd intervals, asking myself things like:
- What am I doing in my business that I enjoy, and what am I not enjoying right now?
- What do I want more of and less of in my work?
- Is what I’ve been doing in my business lately aligned with my current vision? (I literally write a manifesto for my business each year, review and revise it quarterly, and paste into the calendar with the question so that I don’t have to go looking for it!)
- How many hours have I been working the last few weeks?
- Idea: I will plug a variety of questions into my calendar that recur at odd intervals, asking myself things like:
- Never Let Someone else’s Goals or Vision for your Business Supersede Yours! There may be times when you get caught up in comparing your business and your direction with someone else’s, and there will probably be people who make you feel like you should be aiming for something higher, bigger or different than you are. But don’t let them get in your head! Your business needs to work for you, your life, your current circumstances, and in conjunction with your own core values. One of the most important, and hardest lessons, I learned as an entrepreneur has knowing when I’m headed down the wrong path (especially with my ADHD tendency to get excited and see possibilities).
I’ve worked with a few really successful business mentors, advisors and coaches over the years who really wanted and sometimes even pushed hard for me to go in directions with my business that really weren’t aligned with my life at the time and my values. While it’s hard to not get caught up in the possibilities or what you think you should be doing, especially when you’re hearing those things from someone you admire, make sure you keep going back to check in with yourself on your direction and where you are now, with your own life and values front of mind.
You journey as an Entrepreneur (and an individual) needs to be your own vision and ideal of success, not someone else’s version.
2. Get clear on your “Why” for your business, and keep it front of mind
Make sure you’re clear on that “why” for your business itself, those you serve, and for you and your own life. And be sure to go deep with your answers. You’re looking for why and how your business is related to your core values and the life you want for yourself.
Below are a few questions you can ask yourself, for starters, but please remember that this is not a once-and-done thing! It’s important to review periodically so that you can make revisions as your life and your business evolve and change. I create a brand new “manifesto” for myself and business every year as both a pulse-check and an opportunity to revisit what’s working, what I’m enjoying, and what I want to revise.
- Why do you want to have/build/grow your business?
- Why do you want to serve your customers?
- What’s important about how you serve your customers and how you want them to experience what you do?
- How is your business tied to your quality of life, and why does that matter?
- What kind of Entrepreneur do you want to be? What’s most important to you about that, and why?
- What is important about how you run your business, and why does that matter?
Once you’re clear, make sure everyone who works with you and supports your business in some way is clear as well! Plus, once you’re clear on your “why” for the various aspects of your business, it makes it easier to come up with creative names that can help make some of those “nonpreferred” responsibilities you have as an Entrepreneur a little easier with ADHD, like:
- “Client Communications” instead of email/message management.
- “Outreach” and “Visibility” instead of marketing, social media and other kinds of promotion.
- “Financial Wellness Check” or “Sustainability Pulse Check” instead of bookkeeping and analysis.
- “Client Service” instead of sales.
Sorry. I’ve got nothing for taxes. 🙂 Taxes just suck. period.
3. Make your Business Fit your Life, not the other way around
Honestly, there’s no such thing as perfect balance when it comes to your business and personal life as an Entrepreneur (or for anyone). The word “balance” implies that there’s some perfect equilibrium that we should be maintaining, when that’s just not the way real life works! Some times are busier than others in your business, and some times are more demanding in your personal life. Instead of looking for balance, focus on creating harmony in your life. It’s a subtle difference, but it’s often easier to know when you’re either in or out of harmony, than feeling like you have to find some hard line to stay away from. And this is such an important lesson to learn and thing to stay on top of when you’re an Entrepreneur with an ADHD brain!
- Get clear on those non-negotiable boundaries of time (keeping your “why” in mind can really help with that).
- Put structure and safeguards in place to prevent workday creep.
- Keep the lines of communication open in advance, and check in with the people your work life impacts (spouses, partners, family members, friends, etc.).
- Be honest with yourself and don’t be afraid to look at how/whether the business you have really is or is not becoming the business you want as a big part of your life.
That’s where those regular check-in questions in the 1st tip can be so helpful!
4. Pay to Learn from People who Are Already Where You Want to Go
Do yourself and your business a favor and stop trying to save pennies while dollars fly out the window! Invest in yourself and your business by working with people who have a proven track record of doing what you want to do, can fast-track an easier path to your success, and help you actually apply what they know to your life and business.
Yes, there’s plenty of good, free information out there, but self-teaching is the long, hard way to get where you want to go. Plus, do you really know if the person writing that interesting article, talking on that podcast, or holding that entertaining webinar really knows what the hell they’re doing and has been successful doing what they’re telling you to do in their own business?
The truth is that there are lots of people who are great at “telling” you what to do but have no real, practical experience in doing it successfully themselves! Make your path to your version of success easier and more direct by investing in working people who have already attained it.
5. Stop Treating Your Business Like a Hobby by Avoiding Your Numbers/Money
If you’re not looking at and analyzing all the metrics that are relevant to your business, you’re doing yourself and the people you serve a huge disservice! This is most common in my clients who are in helping professions, and I can totally relate. I started my business from a powerful pull to help people with ADHD, and that passion sometimes felt at odds with the fundamentals of running a business. And, I had to do a lot of work on this in my early years, so don’t beat yourself up if this sounds too much like you! It took a while for me to feel the connection between the two elements of what I do that felt so disparate. Eventually, I learned to really accept that I can’t support the people I want to help most if I can’t keep my business viable and my doors open!
One of the fundamental differences between a Hobby and a Business, is that you Know Your Numbers:
- customer conversion and close rates for sales,
- the cost analysis and profitability of every offering,
- open rates for emails,
- signup/show-up/sales rates for events,
- your actual hourly rate (income per actual hours worked not what you charge), and
- marketing, promotion, and advertising ROI, etc.
All of it. It’s the difference between having a hobby that makes money, and actually running a business.
If you’re not looking at all your numbers on a regular basis, you’re winging it, and the odds of your business being sustainable are not in your favor. (And if that’s something you need help with, go back to tip #4!)
6. Surround yourself with people you Enjoy working with (but steer clear of crossing boundaries)!
Get clear on your expectations of yourself and your team and be proactive in communicating those expectations regularly. Get clear on your boundaries for your relationships with your team and review them regularly. Remember: you are the CEO, so make sure you’re thinking like one. Are things flowing effortlessly? Have you been delegating with ease? Are you hesitating to delegate to or manage the people you work with in any way? Are you communicating with clarity, and are you certain that they’re on the same page? What needs to be tweaked, who needs to do it, and how?
Great business teams are built and cultivated. They don’t just happen because people like each other. Being the a leader isn’t the same as being bossy.
7. Develop Solid Systems, Structures and Process.
Many clients who are Entrepreneurs with ADHD struggle because they lack the right kind of structure, processes and systems to support themselves and their business. They expend a lot of time, energy and focus doing work they shouldn’t be doing themselves in ways that don’t work well and easily for them. And, they’re constantly revising and reinventing the tools, systems and scaffolding they need to support them.
- Automate everything you can.
- Do more of what you enjoy and what only you can do.
- Outsource the rest (to systems or people)!
I hope you find something in my hard-earned Lessons from my journey as an Entrepreneur with ADHD that are helpful to you in your own, or in life in general!
I’m always here if you need a hand up.
Thanks for reading.
Lynne Edris, ACG
Productivity & ADHD Coach
Need help with setting up the systems, structure and processes that work for you? It’s one of the things I do best! Feel free to reach out via the site or check out my small-group time-management mentoring program at www.UnleashedPotential.group