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Don’t Let the World Define What Success Means for You

Don’t Let the World Define What Success Means for You

Whenever I read popular publications for entrepreneurs, like Inc. and Entrepreneur magazines, I feel like a failure.

I didn’t attend an Ivy League college (although I was an academic All-American!). I have no coding skills. I don’t live in Silicon Valley, I’m not an Instagram influencer. I’m not a fearless 22 year old with world altering vision. And of course, my business is not worth a billion dollars.

Every year, Inc. Magazine puts out a list of the 5000 hundred fastest growing businesses. After almost a decade of running a profitable business, I was super pumped to submit my business. Within about 10 seconds, I read the requirements and immediately got gut-punched.

My revenues for 2017 were most certainly not $2 Million. So there went that.

The more I thought about it, I realized what a gimmick these types of lists are. I mean, seriously, who reads this list other than the people on it? What’s the difference between being on this list and my kids getting a ribbon at horse camp?

Let’s call the Inc. 5000 list what it really is: a marketing opportunity for businesses, and an SEO bonanza for the magazine, creating enough backlinks to choke a hippo!

In case my whiney rant above didn’t tip you off, it’s safe to say I’m bitter. Obviously, the exposure that comes with being on the list is quite valuable, and any business owner would welcome the recognition.

Getting Down to the Numbers

The thing that truly annoys me is that their main criteria is revenue. I spent about a decade underwriting commercial loans, so I have an appreciation for which numbers matter when it comes to businesses. Hint: revenue is not the most important.

Here’s the thing about revenue: it’s a gross figure. It only measures of how many widgets or thingamabobs that a business sold. It says NOTHING about the truly important measures of a business: profitability and cash flow.

In theory, Inc. magazine is saying that a business that went from revenues of $100K in 2014 to $2 Million in 2018 but LOST MONEY every year is worthy of your praise and adulation.

But what about my business? You know, the one that has been profitable every single year. The one that let me quit my job, and make double what I was making in banking. According to Inc. magazine, my business is not all that interesting because my “top line” isn’t eye popping. Apparently, bottom line just doesn’t matter.

Shiny Object Syndrome

Now that I’ve completed my whiney tantrum, I’ve reflected on the situation and come to a conclusion. The world loves shiny objects and celebrities, but that doesn’t mean that the attention that the world grants them is deserved. After all, people slow down to gawk at car wrecks too.

Rather than begrudge businesses that are growing fast, I started to think about what actually matters to me. Inc. doesn’t determine my self-worth. I do!

Do you know what matters to me more than revenue growth? These things:

  • My business is dependably profitable
  • I drop my kids off and pick them up from school every day
  • I’ve incurred no debt, business or personal, to start or run this business
  • I answer to nobody except my clients
  • My business can be run from anywhere that I have an internet connection
  • Helping business owners who are in dire financial straits is actually fulfilling.

The Grass Over Here Is Pretty Darn Green

If I had to venture a guess, I’d say that most small businesses out there are more like mine than the ones that grace magazine covers. I’m a “solopreneur” and own a service-based lifestyle business, and that’s just fine by me.

I’ll never be a household name or give a TED talk, but there are definitely some things that are great about being in my situation as compared with a hot shot startup, such as:

  • Fundraising is a grind. A service-based lifestyle business requires a nominal amount of capital to start, which means you never have to pitch or answer to investors.
  • Having lots of employees means lots of headaches. Nobody ever cares about your business as much as you do.
  • The hours I work are very flexible. It allows me to work around my kids’ schedule. Sometimes it’s hectic, but being able to participate in their daily activities is an amazing opportunity.
  • The success or failure of the business depends on my efforts, and mine alone. (Side note: I completely believe that luck plays a role in any venture.)

Most people I know casually around my town don’t even know I work. Because I’m at every drop off, pick up, gymnastics class, and horse riding lesson, people automatically assume that I’m simply a stay-at-home dad (not that there would be anything wrong with that if I was).

If you really think about it, the fact that I run a really successful business but it LOOKS like I don’t work at all should worn as a badge of honor. As my brother loves to say, I’m living the dream!


If you are running a small business, and the media you consume makes you feel crumby, you are not alone. There are definitely times when I’m envious at how people fawn over “star” entrepreneurs, but when it comes down to it, other people’s opinions about what you do are not what matters. What does matter? Building a business that you are proud of that actually pay the bills.

Published: March 22, 2019

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Jason Milleisen

Jason Milleisen is the founder and owner of Distressed Loan Advisors (JasonTees.com). Since 2009, DLA has helped hundreds of small business owners through the SBA Offer In Compromise process, resulting in over $50 Million saved. Jason is a former workout officer for the largest SBA lender in the US, where he oversaw a $400 Million portfolio of delinquent SBA loans.

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