What is slow business and how it can help you succeed

There's no business like slow business.

More and more business owners are trying to find ways to make more by doing less. They have learned to value their time and effort, and understood why burning out is not desirable. They are choosing themselves, their families and other people over money and hustle.

Usually the words slow and business together are a dreaded combination. If you make a quick search with the phrase slow business, you will find lots of articles about what to do when your business is slow. Business being slow tends to mean not making profit, and not making profit is the death of a business.

Powerful people have always been afraid of inactivity and relaxing. People who are busy and tired are easier to manipulate and control. Which is why we all are persuaded into thinking busyness is desirable.

The slow movement started with slow food sometime in the 1980s. Slow food was a reaction to the emergence of fast food in Italy, and it promotes local food and traditional cooking.

Slow food got expanded to slow living and slow movement in general. The fast paced life feels chaotic, and slow living tries to answer the call for a simpler and less frantic lifestyle. Slow living can mean anything from living more intentionally to sustainability. It doesn’t necessarily mean discarding things like smartphones or social media, but rather being more mindful with them.

Slow living all about slowing down and having the time to smell the proverbial roses. But what about slow business?

Slow business, I admit, is a bit of an oxymoron. The English word business originally comes from busyness, the state of being busy. In time, these words have differentiated, and now mean distinct things. But the expectation of hustle is still there.

Being busy and hustling your ass off is often understood as this weird synonym of success, and idleness as something to be ashamed of. You have filled your life with all kinds of smaller and bigger things to do, to avoid boredom and appearing lazy. After all, you are such a hard working and valuable member of society.

Some of us have learned the hard way how the constant hustle is the surefire way to a burnout.

Here in Finland many self-employed people and small business owners complainbrag about how they don't even remember the last time they had a vacation. It's okay to work like there's no tomorrow if you are really enthusiastic and passionate about whatever you do, and you understand and respect your own and other people's limitations. There's life beyond your business.

You may not even notice how you are stretching the endurance of the people around you. The people working with you, and your family and friends are probably sucked into your busyness and stress, whether you meant it or not.

In Finnish we call being in business as yrittää. It's not as busy as business, as it is closely related to a word that means to try or make an effort. A Finnish entrepreneur, yrittäjä, makes an effort. To me, that's what it's all about. Making an effort. Your best effort.

The tradition of business has been built around the belief that businesses must aim for growth. For business to be successful and valuable, it must grow. When you have a business, you are pressured to grow, expand and make at least six figures. Anything but a wild success is unacceptable, and you must always do better than the last quarter.

This type of thinking comes with issues. Growth often requires unnecessarily harsh decisions, such as putting business needs before the needs of the people. Concentrating on growth tends to lead to taking advantage of employees and powerless people.

Growth is inclined to be unsustainable. Your business could expand to a point where it makes you uncomfortable and doesn't feel like you anymore. On the other hand, business growth is mostly incompatible with natural sustainability and environmentalist thinking. In slow business, you want to succeed, but not at the cost of nature and your own wellbeing.

While it sounds ridiculous, part of investing is expecting businesses to fail. For investors, businesses must either be huge successes or huge failures, so that they can reap bigger wins. Fast and uncontrollable business growth often ends in situations where the business owners and investors make huge gains, and employees end up unemployed and broken.

Growth is a somewhat alien concept in certain small and creative businesses. For example, an artist can only create a limited amount of art. The amount they create cannot be increased much with business growth. Of course, being able to hire help with business can release the artist more time and energy to create the art. That said, an artist business can often grow only for a limited amount without adding other services and products.

What if businesses don't have to aim for growth? What if a business can make enough to go on, and enough to keep its owners, employees and customers happy?

Fast growth often leads to all kinds of problems. Many businesses have failed due to growing too fast and not being able to keep up with the bills and taxes and expenses. They have found themselves in a situation where they have enthusiastic customers, lots of sales, and much more debt than income. So they either dive in more debt and pay less to people who work with them, or go bankrupt.

Business means making money by producing or buying and selling products and services. It doesn’t require growth, nor it requires employees or even building a company or other formal organisation.

Slow business takes a cue from slow living. It's about taking a day at a time, planning for only the most necessary things, and not making money or fame the measurements of success. It’s about intentional and meaningful business strategies. It’s about putting people before business. It's about sustainability and not subscribing to consumerism.

A slow business grows at the pace and to a size that's perfect for it. Not too fast, not too slow. Not too big, not too small. Just enough.

Slow business may be difficult to explain to investors and banks, and to those who are firm believers of hustle. It's okay, not everyone needs to get on the bandwagon of slow business right away. It's a slow bandwagon anyway. Plenty of time to hop on.

In slow business you take time to do mindful and meaningful things. You concentrate on creating meaning and sustainable, long term fulfilment. You don't try to make fast cash or transient satisfaction. In slow business you create and share products, ideas and services that last.

In the world of chaos, noise and quick endorphins, a slow business stands out.

Mervi Eskelinen

Hello, I'm Mervi!

An artist, nerd and business sorcerer, dedicated to make world more beautiful and strange with art, illustrations and logos + to help you figure your sustainable business out.

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