How Stoicism can help you grow your small business

Written by Jared Dawson, Brainiact Hoxton Park

As a business coach, I’ve noticed that many small business owners struggle to grow because they’re not willing to grow themselves. Whether it’s improving cash flow or managing teams better, success starts with changing how you see yourself. That’s where the ancient philosophy of Stoicism comes in. I’ve found it offers pretty relatable and valuable lessons for small business owners. Here’s how Stoic ideas can help you find lasting success in your business and in yourself. 

What is Stoicism in business? 

Stoicism is an ancient Greek philosophy that basically advocates for self-control, resilience, and rational thinking to overcome life’s challenges. It’s the idea of accepting what we can’t control, focusing on what we can, and seeing obstacles as opportunities for growth. 

For small business owners, Stoicism can give you the push you need to survive in such a competitive market. It pushes you to get through the inevitable tough times and see them as chances to grow. It keeps you focused on the big picture so that you don’t give up so easily. By adopting Stoic principles, you can build resilience, improve your skills, and make better decisions, which leads to long-term success not only in your business but also in your personal life.  

What small business owners can learn from Stoicism 

“Be content to be thought foolish”

Over the years, I’ve noticed most small business owners, especially those making under 5 million a year, actually know what they need to do to build a successful business. They’re just too scared to get out of their comfort zone to do it. They know they need to go and sell more, meet more people, and find more opportunities. But they’re scared of failure, ridicule, or the effort and discomfort involved. 

Stoicism encourages us to see suffering as a challenge that makes us stronger rather than a burden. By embracing this mindset, you can view difficult tasks as chances to grow rather than things to avoid. You need this mindset to push past your limits and achieve. 

 Memento Mori: “Remember death” 

A key saying in Stoicism is Memento Mori – remember that you will die someday. It might sound dark, but it means you should live each day like it’s your last and focus on what really matters. It’s easy to get lost in daily tasks and lose sight of your big goals. 

Thinking about your mortality can push you to plan for the future. A lot of people don’t have a goal to exit their business, but I believe every business should be built up to sell. By remembering our limited time, you can make better decisions and build a business that supports that long-term goal.  

At the same time, Memento mori reminds us that ultimately, nothing really matters because it all has an end. So the discomfort you feel, the fear of failure – none of it really matters in the scheme of things. So just do it! Forget about what other people will think of you and focus on what truly matters – spending more time with family and enjoying life. Your business is only a means to an end, not the end itself. 

“The obstacle is the way” 

One of my favourite Stoic sayings is “The obstacle is the way.” Challenges aren’t just hurdles; they are essential parts of our journey. You can’t just flip a switch and suddenly be good at something. You have to suck at it first, practice, fail, and get better over time over till you don’t suck anymore.  

We don’t want to fast forward success. A huge part of succeeding is going through a long struggle and coming out on top. If you want to run a marathon but struggle to run 100 metres, you’re not just going to wake up one day and run that marathon. You need to start by walking, then jogging 100 metres, then go again, jogging faster or further. You keep going. You may be sweating, your gait is wrong, and you look silly. But with more and more practice, you get better and better. You start enjoying the process. 

The same goes for growing your business. It’s about enjoying that hard thing because it’s damn hard, and putting the effort in until you don’t suck anymore. You’re not going to do much with your business if you work 40 hours a week. You have to work 60, 70, even 80 hours a week in the beginning before you can relax. Embrace the obstacles and enjoy the journey, knowing that every challenge is making you and your business better. 

“If you accomplish something good with hard work, the labour passes quickly, but the good endures.” 

We all have things we’re not good at and we often label ourselves as such. We say “I’m not good at sales,” or “I can’t read financial statements.” These labels become excuses for us not to try. But just because you’re not good at something now doesn’t mean you can’t improve. Because guess what? Running a small business means you have to be able to handle various tasks. You have to be good as sales. You have to be able to read a profit and loss statement . You can’t let labels stop you.  

Some people might have natural talents that give them an edge, but that doesn’t mean you can’t develop skills through practice. If you avoid tasks because you’re not good at them, you’re setting yourself up for failure. 

Many of my clients are skilled in their trades, like hairdressers, plumbers, or photographers. But running a successful business requires more skills, like marketing, sales, and financial management. Like athletes training to improve, business owners should constantly work on their skills, especially the areas where they are weak. 

By adopting a Stoic mindset, you commit to lifelong learning, recognising that excellence comes from persistent effort. 

Implementing Stoicism into your daily business 

To apply Stoicism in your daily business, start by identifying what you’re not good at. You can either hire someone who excels in those areas or double down on the discomfort and improve your skills.  

Learn as much as you can about every part of your business, even the ones you’re not good at. Just because you’re not good at them, doesn’t mean they’re not important for the business. Avoiding important tasks for your business isn’t going to strengthen it. It’s like if you’re overweight and you avoid exercise – it’s not going to make the problem go away; it’ll only make things worse. Ignoring weak areas in your business will lead to bigger problems down the road. 

That’s is what Stoicism is all about: remembering that life is short and focusing on self-improvement through struggle. This will benefit both your business and your personal growth as a business owner. 

Stoicism brings fulfilment beyond your business 

Business is tough. You have to spend a lot of money without knowing if you’ll see any return. Not to mention the long work hours. But this challenge, with all its uncertainties, is also what makes it exciting and interesting. Many people live less fulfilling lives, stuck in boring, repetitive routines without ever pushing their limits. 

We’re all going to be gone one day, and in a few hundred years, no one will remember us. So, challenge yourself, try new things, and talk to interesting people. You’ll see growth happen.  

While business is ultimately about making money, focusing solely on getting rich can eat you up inside. Hard work makes success even sweeter. It’s like levelling up in a video game, constantly improving your skills and achieving new goals. Keep pushing yourself, and you’ll find fulfilment both in life and business. 

 

We can learn a lot from Stoicism, with its focus on resilience, personal growth, and purpose. By embracing discomfort, remembering our mortality, and seeing obstacles as opportunities, the challenges we face daily won’t seem like challenges anymore, just another part of life we can breeze through. Ultimately, it’s not just about building a successful business; it’s about becoming stronger and wiser, and leading a more fulfilling life.