Is Perfectionism Holding Your Business Back?

In my first post about business life I thought I'd start with the topic of perfectionism. It's something that comes up a lot.

We seem to be conditioned to aim for perfection from a young age. Being perfect is to be applauded and admired isn’t it?

But, I’m not convinced that trying to be perfect, or making everything around us perfect on our businesses is a good thing. In my opinion, this approach can be quite detrimental. 

High standards are great, and it’s true that you should always put effort into the things you care about, mostly because it feels good when we're rewarded for our hard work, especially when we're passionate about something.

But, I wonder how many of us are wasting time trying to make things seem completely flawless in our businesses before presenting them to our customers and followers. When you stop to think about it, how much is that approach holding us back?

Brené Brown says: “Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact. It’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction and life paralysis.”

For the most part, when it comes to running my business I’m not a perfectionist and never have been. I've always accepted that I’m a bit flawed, relatable and normal, and so is my business. I know I’ve got limited time and resources available to me, so I’ve adopted an attitude of done is better than perfect which helps me stay sane and run a busy business at the same time.

I’m not a slob, I like tidiness and organisation because it makes me feel calmer, but I really don’t care about showing my less than perfect side to my audience. You see how I’ve had to disclaimer my lack of perfectionism by saying I’m not a slob, because deep down I’m worried you’ll judge me if I don’t say I have the highest standards! It is deeply ingrained within us to show our best side only.

But, I think sometimes people appreciate seeing things go a bit wonky or watching something evolve from something a bit rubbish to something good. Not aiming for perfect doesn’t mean you’re lazy, it simply means you've learned how to prioritise.

Having said all of that, there have been a couple of occasions over the years where I got lost in aiming for perfection, and afterwards I realised what a huge waste of time it was.

In lockdown, spring 2020, I thought it would be a great time for me to start a side business where I mentored other small business owners. I’ve wanted to do this for years and had loads of ideas for content that I could share. But, instead of writing and sharing this content, which is at the heart of what I wanted to do; help others. I decided I wanted to set about creating a brand new professional looking brand from day one. 

So, I spent ages on Design Deeds choosing brand colours. I researched different typefaces on Pinterest, chose a business name and spent hours creating a logo on Adobe Photoshop. I created a new Shopify website which included buying a domain name, and an email. I set up a new email newsletter account, chose a theme for the website and I created a downloadable factsheet on Procrastination Tips for subscribers.

I got completely lost in the detail, in trying to make it look super professional, and it ended up sucking the joy out of an idea I’d been excited about. All I wanted to do was to tell some stories about business life, but I ended up spending all my time creating this new brand, and it was so unnecessary because I hadn’t even tested the water with the content.

In the end, I lost interest, I could feel burnout approaching and it didn’t feel like something I wanted to channel my time into anymore, so I gave up and walked away. Instead of working on the things I was passionate about, which was the content, I was obsessing over choosing the right shade of coral.

Now I’m sharing my business lessons here on the blog section of my existing product website. It’s in my heart to share business stuff, and I’m just going to put some posts here for now and see how it feels for a few months first. I’m not about to set up a new website or create a logo and I’m not certainly not starting a separate business for it because at the moment I only have so much time and energy.

When I started my handmade business in 2012, I followed the “done is better than perfect” approach and I think this is what helped me get some momentum going. I would think to myself well, it’s not quite how I pictured it, but this is good enough and I’m going to put this out there and see where it goes.

I started out selling on Facebook and Instagram, there was no website and yes it wasn’t as professional as I would have liked but I got sales through those early social media posts and my business grew from those sales.

Initially my photographs were not very good. But, I just did the best with the knowledge I had at that time, so that I had something to share on my social media and I learned along the way.

My product range has evolved over time too, I know a lot of people aim to launch a business with a whole sleek collection, but I started out with a few items, and added more designs as I went along, and it was fine!

Sometimes you can agonise over creating a perfect new design, and spend hours going back and forth. My best-selling product is my pumpkins; a product I made on a whim in my little home studio one day, they didn’t look exactly how I had pictured them, they certainly weren’t perfect, but, I shared them on a social media post and my audience instantly loved them and have done ever since.

If you’re reading this thinking why wouldn’t you try to make everything look super sleek and professional, well because most of us will struggle to find the time to endlessly tweak and faff. If you’re just starting out, it can drain you of your enthusiasm for a project, and, while you’re faffing around with the font sizes on your website, you could be making sales.

Life isn’t perfect, and neither is any business, or any person behind a business, and you might burn yourself out if you keep obsessing over making it all appear that way.

Your energy and enthusiasm are what will make your business successful, so you need to protect that by thinking of the bigger picture and not the tiny, insignificant details.

If you’re thinking of launching a new business, allow yourself to be a beginner because business is constant growth, evolution and learning. That’s the fun bit. If you look at most successful businesses, they have evolved. There’s nothing unprofessional about getting started and giving it a go. It can be hard when you look at other people and see how polished they look, but we all start somewhere, and it takes times to cultivate your brand properly and to learn what you’re doing.

Have you ever seen those social media posts which are: “How it Started vs How it’s Going”? That’s because growth, putting in the work and watching a business flourish are things to be celebrated and applauded. Evolving over time without aiming for perfect from the start will endear you to your audience.

If you’re already running a business and finding yourself short on time, try to let go of the perfectionism a little. Do you need to make your photography, social media, branding, website etc. picture perfect and faff with it endlessly for your business to thrive?

I would like to disclaimer this post by saying that if you sell handmade products, quality is key to happy customers. Quality will encourage customer loyalty so don’t half-ass making your products please! It’s one area you need to give a lot of care and consideration because great well-made products will shine through. But, I’m sure your creative skill will probably come quite naturally to you anyway, so just go with it, create and don't be hard on yourself.

Here’s where I think aiming for perfectionism leads to:

  1. Procrastination
  2. Stress
  3. Overwhelm
  4. Worry
  5. Low self-esteem
  6. Frustration and disappointment
  7. Lack of enthusiasm and creativity
  8. Lack of time for more important things
  9. Lack of mental energy
  10. Being stubborn and not able to adapt
  11. Alienating other people
  12. People not being endeared to you

Do any of these resonate with you? If they do and you think you’re constantly getting stuck on detail ask yourself what’s all this perfectionism for, what will it achieve in the end?

Brené Brown concludes, and, I wholeheartedly agree:

"If you want to be happy, stop trying to be perfect. In the fast-paced world of business, it's better to aim for excellence, then to take the long shot to perfection...”

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