Ask 100 business owners how they define success, and you’re sure to get 100 different answers. The idea of “success” has taken on several different meanings throughout my own entrepreneurial journey, but each definition has shared one unifying theme: freedom.
For me, success means having the ability to define my own course and try new things. I’ve never been one to follow the beaten path, and guidelines set while working under someone else left me feeling uninspired and creatively stifled. Creating a business based on something I’m truly passionate about and invested in has greatly contributed to Creative Click Media’s success, and it is with this same passion that I was able to launch my second entrepreneurial venture Apeiron Yoga.
Success is about more than making money, it’s about establishing financial freedom. As a single father, being able to provide for my six year old son is at the forefront of my mind with every business decision I make. The financial freedom I’ve gained since starting my own business has allowed me to create the best life possible for him, and a big part of this is living within my means and not accruing debt.
Success means having the flexibility in my schedule to make time for the things that matter most. When I worked in the restaurant and hospitality business, I often had to miss holidays and special events to work. Now, I don’t miss anything. I’m the parent that goes on class trips, plans theme park birthday getaways, and can drop whatever is going on when the school nurse calls because my son is sick and needs to be picked up immediately.
The success I’ve found through my business has also allowed me to prioritize my health. Without health, wealth is all for nothing. One of the main ways I stay fit is through yoga, which requires me to work early hours and late nights so I can attend class during office hours. I’m grateful that my business has grown to the point where I can plan my day around my son’s school schedule, attend a daily yoga session, and get in a full day of work even if the hours are unconventional compared to the standard 9 to 5.
Clearly, my definition of success is much more fluid and intricate than the dictionary’s simple definition of “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose”. With this in mind, we were curious as to how other business owners have interpreted the meaning of success throughout their careers. Read on to find out how 24 entrepreneurs define “success” both personally and professionally.
Mark Winokur, Founder & CEO of Workforce First Aid
My business career has seen many iterations over the years, most recently starting an e-commerce site at 70 years old, so my definitions of success have been fluid. At this point in my career, success means having the ability and the opportunity to continue to do what I love on my terms and being happy with the work I’ve done when I end my business day.
As CEO, I’m able to pursue the parts of my business that have the most impact, which often overlaps with the activities I enjoy the most. It’s a wonderful place to finish up a lifetime of work and to me, the pinnacle of success.
Cynthia Brown, Founder & Chief Editor at Only Top Reviews
I know I’ve made it when I’m making 10x the money I used to take home from my day job, all the while working 3x less. The numbers seem arbitrary but smaller figures weren’t motivating enough for me. I quit my day job 1.5 years ago and I’m currently working 90 minutes per day on my own business. I am already making the same amount as my day job as a marketing analyst, now I just need to grow 10 times while keeping the freedom.
Ryan O’Connor, Co-Founder of One Tribe Apparel
My definition of success is having the time to pursue what most excites me outside of work. From turning my laptop off for a week while attending Carnival in Brazil to going with my Dad to visit our cousins in Ireland, I want to optimize for experience over money.
I have the possibilities to scale up my team, to take on investors and other growth opportunities but I’m happy growing a business with a mission I care about while keeping an element of freedom in my life.
I came to this approach as others have, by not wanting to pursue what author Tim Ferriss calls the deferred life plan. The deferred life plan can be summed up as work your butt off and save your money until your 65 then go travel and see the world when you’re not able to enjoy it as much.
Tara Langdale-Schmidt, Co-Founder of VuVatech
I have seen many entrepreneurs that define success by how much money they have in the bank, the car they drive and the house they own. I think differently. I define success by how many women I can help. My main goal is to help women overcome pain and resume normal, healthy lives – anything monetary will only be a bonus.
Gil Gildner, Co-Founder of DiscoSloth
If I could narrow down my feeling of success to a particular moment, it would be when I realized, that we were making more money than we ever had in traditional employment roles. Of course, I valued the freedom gained from owning my own business; however getting the cold, hard proof that I could actually not only succeed but thrive on my own was the point where I could define success.
Elizabeth Ricci, Managing Partner at Rambana & Ricci, PLLC
To me, success is akin to freedom. I am free to make my own schedule decisions from chaperoning my kids’ field trips to taking time off throughout the year. Especially during spring break, summer vacation, and over the winter holidays. Although I have many responsibilities, I prefer to be my own boss and manage my own time. Why work so hard as an attorney if I cannot have quality time with my family? That’s success.
Lori Cheek, Founder & CEO of Cheekd
My definition of success has changed drastically since I started my business in 2010. I have gone from helping build the dreams of others for 15 years to a dedicated life of building my own. Success to me is to be able to spend your life in your own way. I no longer have a job, I have a lifestyle. Miraculously, I am always working but I’ve never been happier because I love what I do.
Adam Cole, Owner of Adam Cole Works, LLC
I have been publishing for 20 years and this month a major publisher indicated their interest in carrying all of my books. However, for me, the definition of success is not a single event like that. Success in business means doing one thing a day that will move me forward, whether it’s making contact with a person I’d like to collaborate with or paying a bill. Each success and each failure means that I am living the life I need to live, and not hiding from it. The little successes are what make the big successes possible.
Linda M. Lopeke, Founder of SMARTSTART
I left my job as a systems engineer and corporate executive in finance and banking to start my own international management consultancy in 1982. This allowed me the freedom to work when, where, and how I wanted to; and only with the clients whose projects most interested me. That I could do so with no limits on how much I earned was a bonus, not a primary driver.
For me, originally success meant being able to live and work on my own terms based on personal priorities and self-development interests. In 2002, I shifted my focus to be able to create opportunities for other business owners to experience success on their own terms, as I had had the benefit of doing for so many years, as well.
When I began my career, I set out to work hard and get paid well. With my business, I was able to work less and get paid more. By 2002, with the availability of the internet, I was able to take the experience even further. In founding SMARTSTART, I’m now able to work once and get paid indefinitely by creating and licensing my intellectual property, selling it to multiple clients, and delivering it through automated systems of my own design.
Scott Christ, Founder of Pure Food Company
My opinion of success is being in control of how you use your time. I had a cushy job as a senior consultant/strategist for a large health care company. Good salary, benefits, job security — on the surface everything was great. But I was miserable. The 75-minute (one-way) commute, the corporate bureaucracy and long hours away from my wife and young son were taxing.
Once I quit my job to pursue my start-up full-time, I finally controlled how I spent my days, and that has made all the difference. Today I wake up excited to go to work (in my home office). I get to do things I enjoy, create food products that help people get healthier, and spend more time with those I love. Doesn’t get much better than that.
Kent Lewis, Founder of Anvil Media, Inc.
As a career entrepreneur, digital marketing professional and the owner of my marketing agency since 2000, I have a few thoughts on defining success. While many entrepreneurs and business owners measure success with a financial measuring stick, I prefer to measure my success based on the quality and quantity of lives have been impacted through my business.
My primary interest is helping my employees build a lasting career that provides fulfillment and financial security. I measure success based on employee growth (role and compensation) and satisfaction surveys. Similarly, I’m driven to create consistent results for our clients, as measured by testimonials, case studies, references, and referrals.
While it’s been a roller coaster adventure, I’m proud of the results thus far. One of my proudest moments at Anvil was hearing from one of my first employees that my advice in her first few days at Anvil, was able to achieve her goal of buying a house years later. Helping employees create a quality of life and a fulfilling career drives me and is a yardstick for measuring success.
Caroline Blazovsky, President of My Healthy Home
Obviously, as an entrepreneur most people are going to think that money is the ultimate symbol of success. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth with me. Maintaining a business that keeps evolving is my number one goal. It takes more than money to do this, it takes the right contacts, relationships, employees, resources, new ideas and education.
A business is huge tree made up of many roots. If the roots fail so will the tree. It is from the strength of the tree that the innovation can take place. Companies will have peaks and valleys of successes some ideas become big winners that help the public, while others way be less helpful.
I have always had the goal of making the world better, the positives that come from that are just icing on the cake. I would do what I do for free, whether the money came or not.. But, in my case I have been able to keep pushing environmental health ideas while also having a career. It takes many individuals to do this, success is measured in the amount of people helping to get your idea across, the more you have supporting you the more successful you will be. It takes a family!
Steve Scheez, President of MoonBowBaby
Entrepreneurship is the means to accomplish my much larger vision of saving the world. My older brother once told me, “if you achieve your goals, your goals aren’t big enough.” So until my last day, I will pursue my mission of creating positive change on a global scale; and ultimately my success will be defined by my legacy.
Renea Hanks, President of Solid Solutions Today
Success to me is the freedom to spend my time with my family and the ability to be able to help others with the most valuable resource any one of us has: time.
My son recently went through a separation. He and I own a candle company together, Candles By Me, and a tech company, Solid Solutions Today. I lived about 40 miles from him at the time and I stopped everything to move in with him. Moving in with him allowed me to help him with his two boys while encouraging his family. I am happy to say his marriage is in tact, his family is back together, and our candle business is growing more. He just won a new contract for technology. We got three blessings!
I think success is about others. It is about sacrifice. It is about love. I think when I focus on those things, everything seems to fall into place perfectly.
I spent years trying to put square pegs in round holes. I learned this principle: Flow not force. It is the steady flowing of the river stream that breaks down rocks.
Rune Sovndahl, Co-Founder & CEO of Fantastic Services
To me, visualising your goals and everything you want to achieve is what truly defines success. My ideas are always clear and detailed, and not influenced by any obstacles on the way.
Several years ago, while on a date with a lovely girl at my house, we accidentally spilled a glass of red wine all over my cream-coloured carpet! After the date had finished, I found myself vigorously rubbing the stain trying to remove it, but with no luck.
Not long after that, I met my soon-to-be business partner Anton Skarlatov at a party. That same wine stain on my carpet was the unusual conversation starter. We soon realised that we had many things in common and shared the same idea of revolutionising the services industry. I wanted to deliver high quality professional services and to establish a trustworthy domestic and office maintenance company in the UK, and so did he. We started Fantastic Services almost 9 years ago as a solution to a problem.
Nowadays, the company is one of the leading services providers in the UK, USA and Australia. I finally see the results of all our hard work – happy return customers and constant demand for even more and more services to include in our rich portfolio. Rome was not built in a day and neither was my business. But with strong dedication and determination, I believe I’ve succeeded.
Lisa Chu, Owner of Black n Bianco
I define success through my happiness and satisfaction with my job and business. I love the creative freedom of expressing myself through my apparel design aesthetics. Nothing brings me more joy than creating products that my customers adore. Success is often associated with money, but I attribute my success to the value I provide to my customers. I am very proud of the product reviews my business was able to collect. Creating a memorable and appreciated shopping experience with the same creative brand aesthetics from beginning to end is my way of defining success.
Kelly Hsiao, Co-Owner of Block Island Organics
My definition of success is defined by customer satisfaction. Customer satisfaction encompasses product reviews, to product returns, to customer emails, etc. Every week, I tally how many of each positive and negative reviews I have received and I give myself a score. Every year I set an average score I want to achieve for the month. Then I give myself vacation days or not based on that score. Obviously I want to achieve my goal so I can take some time off for myself, but if I don’t that means I need to work harder for my customers.
Nicole Faith, Founder of 10 Carat Creations
I define success as having the freedom to do what I want because of my location independent business. I feel successful every time I can sleep late, work with clients in a short amount of time and still get loads done and pursue hobbies.
I feel most successful when my head is clear, my shoulders are light and my body reflexively twirls down the sidewalk from sheer joy. Success isn’t about having it all (even when you have it all)- it’s about having options.
Francesca Montillo, Owner & Founder of Lazy Italian Culinary Adventures
I really only have one definition of success and that’s being able to define my day and spending it how I want, all day, every day. Success means something different to everyone. For some it’s money, financial worth or accumulation of material things. But honestly, that’s not for me. When I worked for someone else, I had very little control in how I spent my days. I needed permission for a day off, and if I had a doctor’s appointment in the afternoon, I needed to ask permission to leave early. If I got sick during the day, I had better ask someone if I can leave early. And thanks to smartphones, these days bosses expect you to answer email all day, every day, nights and weekends too. Even in my daily tasks, I generally had to prioritize my own responsibilities based on other people’s needs!
Oh, the joy of not having someone tell you what to do! Now, that’s success! I decide what time I want to get up. My salary is based on my efforts and whether or not I put in the effort. I don’t have to wait for a measly 2% raise every year. I work hard and I am happy to do so because I work for myself.
Ricky Marton, Founder & Owner of Be Robin Hood
I think every business has different parameters for what defines their success. For me, the owner of a charitable clothing brand, I have a few different criteria that will define our success. Our company is about giving back and changing lives. In my eyes, the day that I think the company has reached a level of success is when I see someone completely by chance wearing our merchandise and am able to approach them with curiosity, only to have them tell me about my brand! Blake Mycoskie with Toms had a similar experience – the first time he saw someone wearing a pair of Toms, they told him all about how great a company it was and was as enthused as he was. To me, as the owner of a company devoted to giving back, think that this is the ultimate form of success.
WenFang Bruchett, Founder of Bliss Finance
I launched my business in early 2017 after 25 years of working as a corporate zombie. I consider myself a successful business owner as I have achieved the true freedom of earning living, my way.
I was hit hard by Hurricane Harvey in August 2017 and I lost everything. I am still displaced as of today. However, I am totally relaxed and peaceful with running my business. My definition of a successful business is no longer measured by revenue. The ultimate truth of successful business is that as the owner, I have no anxiety or stress over money. My soul is happier and can smell, see, taste, feel and hear the PRESENT despite the fact everything has taken away from me.
As the business owner, I savor my moment and enjoy the little things each morning such as walking my dog. Watching how she reacts to everything confirms that being successful in business is about how to manage every moment. If she can’t play it or eat it, she will piss on it and keep on walking. That is how I feel about success in business: the ability to maintain adventurous and marching on with fun regardless of bumps along the journey.
I am debt free; both business and personal. The freedom that no one owns me or my business is exhilarating. That is what my business is all about. I share my financial expertise by educating consumers and business owners with the successful path to financial freedom. I live on the ultimate truth that success is not defined by materialist things, prestige, title, affiliations, but the ability to stay unique, be alive and make impact of others while we still living.
Serena Holmes, President & CEO of Tigris Events
To me, being successful is having the freedom to do the things that you want to do. As a business owner, you are inextricably connected to your business during the early years. For the first decade, I only took 1-2 week holidays every other year. Once we transitioned to direct deposit (which meant I didn’t have to stick around to sign pay cheques for our hundreds of events staff) and I built my team up a bit, I have been able to get away for 4-6+ weeks of vacation per year since, including trips to Thailand, Australia and Europe. It’s been amazing!
Michael Mason, Owner of Perfect Chaos Films
I define business success by whether I think my father would be proud of what I’m doing. I lost my father 13 years ago and I know that if he wanted anything, he wanted his family to do well. I know that he wanted me to do well financially. He had a good job but he also went into substantial debt to make sure I had a good education wouldn’t have any disadvantages.
I know that he wanted me to have a degree of freedom. He didn’t always like the people he worked for and I believe he wanted me to be my own boss, to have the independence he didn’t have. I know that he wanted me to follow my passions. He always supported any decision I made along the way, whether it seemed like the most lucrative decision in the world or not. And so by these standards, I think I’m very successful. I think he’s proud of me.
Jason Parks, Owner of The Media Captain
Success to me is giving my all each and every day. If I fail, I’ll have no regrets because I know that I gave 110%.
I’d hear so many stories when I was younger about people who regretted not starting their own business because life became too busy. When I decided to start my own business ventures, I didn’t have kids or a family. I knew then was the time to give it my all. I’m not just talking during the work week, I’m talking about the weekends and holidays and I would work so I could set myself up for future success. The only regret I would have in life is if I didn’t give 100% to the business I started, because this means a competitor would have and I’d be left in the dust.
Creating Your Own Business Success Story
These business owners have shared their stories – now it’s time to share yours! How do you define business success from an entrepreneur’s standpoint? How has your interpretation of success changed as your career shifted? Sound off in the comments!