Two Paths for Small Business Success

June 5th, 2014 by Steve Pavlina

On my path as an entrepreneur, I realized there were basically two paths that would lead me to some level of business success.

Path #1 was to get really good at marketing and selling. If I could become an expert at persuading people to buy, I could earn plenty of income that way. This path would involve things like copywriting, conversion rates, and search engine optimization. I might not create a lot of products, but maybe I’d only need a few, and then I could learn to market and sell the heck out of them. Lots of Internet marketers use this strategy. Sometimes their material is pretty generic, weak, or even inaccurate, but they know how to sell, sell, sell.

Path #2 was to get really good at creating. If I could become a prolific creator of value, I could afford to be very generous. I could give away copious amounts of free content and let word of mouth do the rest. This would create an interesting relationship with my audience too. My focus would be more on supporting others rather than selling them. If I excelled at this, I wouldn’t need to sell much at all. I could attract a sizeable audience and only need to sell a little here and there. Even a really poor conversion rate could still produce enough income to cover my costs, so I could afford to be very selective and only sell in ways that felt good to me. I wouldn’t have to push people to buy.

Of course it’s possible to do both simultaneously, and many larger companies do, but I felt I’d be better off if I focused primarily on one side or the other. I think that was a wise decision in retrospect.

The Creator Path

I chose to focus on path #2 for StevePavlina.com.

I like this path because it generates a lot of support. I like the relationship it creates with the community around me. I get to treat my readers like real human beings, not as prospects or leads.

Instead of focusing on things like SEO or sales skills, I focused on creating lots of quality content. I worked on getting better at helping people. I listened to people to see where they needed help. I didn’t do formal market research. I just applied some curiosity and empathy. I did my best to share my own path of growth and to connect with people. I’ve really enjoyed this path. I like focusing on the creative and community side of my business much more than the financial side.

Most of the people who follow my website don’t pay me a dime — ever — and I’m perfectly okay with that. They still often provide me with other forms of value, such as encouraging feedback, referrals from friends and family, interesting opportunities and invitations, and hugs and smiles in person.

There are many people on path #1 who make a lot more money than I do, with significantly less web traffic. However, they often have a harder time feeling happy and fulfilled on their paths. I think that’s because of the relationships they create with the people they serve — path #1 is more competitive while path #2 is more cooperative.

Money Isn’t the Only Form of Wealth

I often find that successful path #1 people don’t necessarily enjoy their work that much. I’m not saying they hate it, but they frequently have to discipline themselves a lot to get their work done. Then they use the results of their work — namely money — to try to create more happiness, like enjoying nice vacations and acquiring possessions. If they succeed financially, they can spend money to purchase the experiences they desire. Many of them also find some aspects of earning money to be pretty exciting too.

Money is only one way to hold wealth though. Social goodwill is another.

Often when I travel, it begins with an invitation to speak at someone’s event. I usually do that for free. They cover my airfare and give me a place to stay for a while, ranging anywhere from a few days up to a week. At the event I share stories and lessons. I don’t sell anything. I focus on connecting with the people there and encouraging them on their journeys. When I’m not on stage, I like to go around talking to people. I ask them about their challenges. I listen. I share lots of hugs. Sometimes we joke around. I reconnect with some people I’ve met before, perhaps in another city at a different event a few years ago.

After the event I often get some invitations. Let me show you around the city later. Come speak at this other event a few months from now. I’d love to get to know you better and share some cuddle time with you. These invites rarely involve financial transactions. Instead they involve positive exchanges of friendship, support, and fun.

Is it so terrible to run a business in such a way that it makes less money but creates much more happiness, fulfillment, and fun?

Because I receive so much value from my work directly, I already have the kind of life that many people think they need money to purchase. Making a huge sum of money doesn’t inspire me. I already have my expenses covered, and I already feel fulfilled. Now I’m more interested in how I can go even deeper on the fulfillment side, as opposed to racking up more income.

What Matters to You?

I’ve met a lot of people on path #1, and they’re often stressed or depressed. I usually don’t like the energy in the room when I speak to groups of such people. It’s a cold, calculating energy. People’s hearts feel mostly closed. I usually speak to them about following the path with a heart in business. To many of them, what I have to share falls on deaf ears. They can’t see how it will contribute to their bottom line. But then one or two people will sneak up to me afterwards, checking to make sure no one else is looking, and they’ll tell me how much my talk meant to them and how it validated their own feelings. These are the path #2 people stuck in the path #1 world. I know from experience that they’ll be so much happier if they shift their priorities.

After a very successful path #1 person gives a speech, they have people rushing to the back of the room, pulling out their wallets to put down hundreds of dollars on the exciting “time limited offer” they just pitched. After I give a talk, people often come up to me and give me very warm hugs. Their wallets stay in their pockets and purses.

I know that some people would rather have the results of path #1. That’s fine. If that’s what you desire, go for it. You have my full support.

I prefer the hugs. I love to enjoy the abundant warmth of real human connection in my life. It’s very empowering and inspiring to me, more than any amount of financial compensation could provide. Having lots of loving support flowing through my life is what makes me want to get out of bed early each day and dive into my work. I love to create and share. I love giving form and expression to ideas. I love to encourage and uplift people, whether they pay me or not. I love that my business can help people who can’t afford to buy anything – people that other businesses ignore and disenfranchise. Those same people, however, can still provide a really nice hug, or a fun invitation to connect, or some information that might be helpful to me. Or they can pay it forward and help create more transformation elsewhere in the world, which I also see as a major reward of doing business this way.

Love as Income

Money is the primary fuel for a path #1 business. Love is the primary fuel for a path #2 business.

Money is taxed. Love isn’t. When I receive a hug, I get to keep 100% of it. I don’t have to give some percentage of it away. That would be pretty funny if there was a love tax. Imagine if you received 1000 hugs this year, and you had file a hug return and remit 200 hugs to the IRS. To pay your tax bill, you’d go to their nearest office and hug 200 agents. That wouldn’t be such a bad way to pay your taxes, would it? Imagine how fun it would be to work at the IRS if every day, thousands of people showed up for a hugfest. :)

When you generate a lot of love income, you don’t need as much money. By being generous with others, you can attract a lot of generosity in return.

When I was in L.A. last weekend, I hosted a small meet-up at Cafe Gratitude in Venice. We all greeted each other with hugs and shared some lively and playful conversation together. At the end of the meal, as I was pulling out my wallet to pay for my food, one of the attendees stopped me and said, “Steve, let me pay for your meal.” He also gave me a nice gift afterwards. Then most of us went for a long walk down the beach together, having some great conversations about our personal growth journeys. This kind of flow happens a lot in my life. Technically, some of the people at the meet-up were customers of my business; they had paid money to attend previous workshops of mine. But to me they’re just friends. It would feel weird to label them as clients or customers.

Business Without Walls

In my experience, path #1 will often do a better job of earning more money. In that world, persuading people to buy does actually work. But I find that path #2 does a better job of creating a flow of positive feelings, support, happiness, and fulfillment. It makes me feel like I’m part of a community that really cares about my success (both personally and professionally) and wants me to succeed. I don’t feel like we’re on opposite sides of the fence, with one person being inside the company and the other person being the outside customer. My business doesn’t have a wall between the inside and the outside. All are welcome to participate with me on this journey, whether they have money to spend or not.

Actually I wouldn’t say that’s quite accurate. Whereas a path #1 business will repel people who can’t buy, a path #2 business, to some degree, may repel people who can’t love. For instance, if someone thinks they’re entitled to personally interact with me in a harsh or overly critical way, I may avoid dealing with them. So whereas a path #1 business may ignore people with no money to spend, a path #2 business may ignore people with no willingness to share love.

In my business there are no sharp divisions between friends and customers. Those labels don’t describe our true relationship. What we really seem to be for each other is fellow explorers on a shared journey of conscious growth. We’re all at different stages on our journeys. Some are very far along their paths. Others are just starting out. What we all share is that passion for wanting to improve our lives, to align ourselves with the flow of inspiration, and to encourage the heck out of each other. We want to live lives that are beautiful to us. And we all need to lean on each other for support now and then.

Breaking the Rules

A path #1 person could easily point out all the things I’m doing wrong in my business, and from a path #1 perspective, I’d have to concede failure in that sense. I’m definitely not earning as much money as I could be. There are many obvious optimizations I’ve failed to make.

But from a path #2 perspective, my business is an unequivocal success. It inspires and encourages people around the world every hour of every day. It keeps me feeling motivated, happy, and fulfilled. It enables me to enjoy a lifestyle that I love. It creates a flow of connections with truly beautiful people. It has even saved some lives. And it still successfully covers expenses and meets my material needs with grace and ease. It may not meet someone else’s definition of success, but it surely satisfies mine.

Of course there are other paths and combinations of paths you could explore as well. I’m simplifying the ideas here to encourage you to consider which type of path inspires you.

Where is your path with a heart in the world of business? Which type of business would you prefer if you were the customer? What sort of abundance would you like to create?

Allow yourself to be a rule-breaker now and then. Don’t feel you have to do what everyone else is doing. Roughly 80% of employees don’t even like their jobs. Why would you want to join them? Learn to start trusting your intuition, even if you can’t logically see how things will work out. Give your own path a chance to prove its merit.


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