From growing to building: Shifting the entrepreneurial mindset

It’s not often that entrepreneurs offer an inside look at the ups and downs of building a business from the ground up. UBC Sauder Bachelor of Commerce alum and marketing strategist/entrepreneur Vanessa Lau (BComm'16) breaks the mould with her vulnerability and candour. She shares how her mindset has shifted from “growing” her business to “building” her business.

Lau’s venture helps individuals branch out of traditional jobs and build their own personal brands in the digital space. Late last year, she penned a blog post, 2021 Reflection and Recap: The Year I Didn’t Hit My Goals. It offered a first-hand account of a year that didn’t go quite as planned. She hadn’t met her revenue goals by a long shot and had reached a plateau. Some months she was even sustaining losses.

"I had this feeling, 'Wow, I went through a lot this year and want to document it for myself,’” Lau says. “It started as a journal entry, but as I wrote it, I realised it could be helpful for other business owners.”

The blog went viral — even beyond Lau’s Instagram audience of over 230,000 followers. A video version she filmed for her YouTube channel clocked over 21,000 views.

Instead of feeling discouraged, Lau says in hindsight her “worst-performing year” became the most seminal. “In all the three years I’ve been an entrepreneur, the one year that I didn't hit my goals was the one year that I learned the most,” Lau says.

Re-framing 2022: growing vs building your business

Lau says the most important lesson she’s taken forward is how to distinguish between “growing” and “building” a business.

"There's a huge difference between the two. When you're thinking of just growing, it’s 'I gotta hustle. I gotta keep moving forward.' We always think we're a failure if we don't grow," Lau explains.

"But when you change your mindset to 'building' — now that's just a different energy. You're building something you're passionate about. It's a labour of love. It's going to take patience. It's going to take scaling back something so that you can accelerate it further."

This mindset switch allows business owners to set a realistic pace and standards for achieving goals, Lau says. It also allows for a better work-life balance and leaves room for entrepreneurs to have fun, process losses with more humility, and savour wins with more pride.

Leaving behind a legacy

When entrepreneurs use the "build instead of grow" mindset, it can also help reconnect them with the purpose of their business — which is typically to drive value and help people, Lau says.

The lessons from 2021 reminded Lau that she embarked on entrepreneurship not to grow revenue, profits or even her staff count simply for the sake of growth, but to help other individuals build sustainable ventures.

"I'm helping my clients extend their guidance, support and coaching to a global audience by using social media. And my belief is that if I'm doing a good job helping that individual spread their message, then they're enriching the lives of others as a result — and that becomes a ripple effect of helping more people," Lau says.

"I'm reminded that I don't just want to run a business, I want to leave behind a legacy."

Lau says she also learned another important lesson: employees appreciate and respond best when their managers lead with honesty. As she clicked "publish" on the blog, Lau’s biggest fear was how her own team of employees would react.

Lau says the response was overwhelmingly positive and she was met with support.

"They read my piece unprompted and responded to it very positively. Now I feel like my team has a deeper understanding of what it's like for me, behind the scenes, running the company they work for," Lau says.

Following the popularity of her piece, Lau has decided to pen a monthly newsletter, Confessions of a Content Creator to CEO, where she plans to continue writing her candid takes on what goes behind building an online business.

She hopes the newsletter will serve as guidance for students, young graduates, aspiring entrepreneurs, and fellow business owners who want a realistic account of running a venture, but through a positive and balanced lens.

This article was written with support from Meg Suderman.