I often say I kind of fell into self-employment by accident and winged it. That I quit my job not knowing where I was going to go. And all that is true. But on reading the book Story Driven by Bernadette Jiwa, I have realised the truth in why UnlikelyGenius has succeeded. Maybe it was by design after all. And that reason is that I’ve had clear values that I have lived and worked by. I have lived my story, I share my backstory, I have purpose and I have aspirations for the future. I allow my story to guide my actions and create belonging.

There is a clear distinction between those who are competition and sales driven and those who are story-driven. That is not to say that being competition-driven is wrong per se, I’m sure it works for some people and in some industries. But I have always found people driven by awards, sales and ‘being number 1’ to be arrogant, false and lacking in authenticity. It’s too pushy, too selfish, it’s just not who I am. When those people are around it makes me put up my defences too.

I can see how some may feel that approach is sometimes needed in the more cutthroat Rat Race, but in running your own small business, I think it leaves a sense of distrust; that you are not going to do the best by your client and that you have ulterior motives. It doesn’t give a sense of the person behind the brand. I have witnessed this reaction to other business owners and freelancers in my field who take the competition approach. It is easy to look at these people and think “I should be going for awards too” or “I should be selling myself more”, but it depends on the story you want to tell.

There is a stark difference between a business whose purpose is to help others, to build communities and to change lives, and a business owner who is purely driven by winning an industry award and having badges to put next to their name. It may be a long-term ‘game’ to go for the greater good approach, but that is where my story lies.

“No business ever died from a shortage of attention. Companies and ideas fail because of a lack of resonance with the people they seek to serve”.

Bernadette Jiwa, Story Driven

Having come from some really tough experiences in past employment, it meant that when I went solo there were some non-negotiables for me, some things that had to be present for me to get my health back on track and enjoy my work. For me to thrive again.

These important features unconsciously became my focus and have guided the ethics, values and principles running the business. Though I have only occasionally and informally written these values down, they have been clear in everything I do.

“When you know where you came from and where you’re going, decisions become easier. You know which clients are a good fit and which ones are not. You have a way to filter options and make decisions that will get you to where you want to go without compromising on your values.”

Bernadette Jiwa, Story Driven

Mahatma Ghandi said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony”. This is the very essence of why I am happier now: I am working to my values, not those imposed on me by others. What I think and what I do are finally aligned.

In a bid to actually formalise my thoughts, so I can also check back periodically to make sure I am living by them, I have created the UnlikelyGenius business values:

Learning

I continually strive to develop my skills and knowledge and to share my learning with others in my network and beyond. I am to create an environment where people are excited by learning.

The learners/audiences I create for

Living by my mantra ‘The content you create is not for you’, I believe the end-user should be the focus of the design experience, not our personal preferences as designers/CEO/marketing/anyone else with an opinion.

Flexibility

A significant factor in why I went into self-employment – I thrive on flexibility and also allow my clients flexibility to fit around their needs.

Make it easy

Why overcomplicate things? I guide clients through the process and make projects easy to manage. I explain the technicalities in plain language. No flouncy fluff (bunnies aside) and jarring jargon here. I bring experience from a range of disciplines and work on the full process so clients only need to hire one person instead of multiple.

Openness & Authenticity

I am who I am. I will no longer be pushed down or forced to be someone else. I allow those who work with me this freedom too. No fairness, pretence or arrogance here. Just a clumsy buffoon.

Creativity

Creativity is at the core of everything I do and I help my clients to have a more creative approach to their work. Exploration, trial and error and making mistakes are all welcome here.

Community & supporting each other

I continue to be active in communities and networks where we support each other, and will continue to provide resources to help others. In particular, I will help new and existing freelancers to establish themselves, and families looking to become more sustainable. I will be establishing my own communities for these too.

Happiness

I will set boundaries to help prevent overwhelm and stress, and aim to take on work that excites me and brings me joy. Likewise, I aim to make the lives of my clients easier and stress-free through their dealings with me.

The planet, the oceans, creatures great and small

I will take continual steps towards becoming a more sustainable business, to protect our wildlife and lessen my negative impacts on the world. Plus, through our BeTheFuture project, I will continue to help educate the next generation and their families about looking after our planet.

Which leads me onto, of course…

The Bunnies

My assistants <ahem, bosses>. I shall continue to work hard to keep them in the life they have become accustomed to, and the expensive Coriander to which they are partial. (They are the very reason you need to pay my invoices on time please clients).

When I look back to how I felt working for others, it was not difficult to decide on this list, and see the areas which have helped me to thrive and UnlikelyGenius to become well established.

These values have been evident in how I have conducted myself with clients, in networks, in sharing successes and in adversity, in my promotions, free resources, consulting and all other areas of my business.

I intend to be much more intentional in my story and values now, here’s how:

•   Working on a mission statement and sustainability statement, which alongside these values will be visible for clients, colleagues and anyone else that wants to take a look

•   Niching into the industries where my passions lie – health, wellbeing and the environment

•   More purposefully helping fellow business owners and freelancers, possibly creating my own community and looking for mentoring opportunities

•   Being more intentional in embedding my values in what I do and how I do it

•   I will review and amend the values as the company progresses, to make sure it still reflects the business direction and I am on course

Do you have values that drive your business? Do you share them?

If you want some great tips for creating your values, take a look at Business Values by Business Queensland.

You can also come and join my newsletter ‘Don’t get me started’ where I share semi-regular tips on creating content, learning design and running a business. There are also many bunnies, and sometimes llamas. Sign up here.