When I signed off on my taxes last month, it was the first time in 10 years that I didn’t owe any money to the IRS.
In fact, I got a refund.
Now, I’d love to tell you that’s because I was much more diligent with my financial planning. And, that is partially true.
But the main reason I’m getting a refund is that I personally made a lot less money last year.
Not gonna lie: making less money was a big hit to my ego.
Worse, I realized how much my personal identity as a provider, a businesswoman, and a leader was tied up in the dollar dollar bills.
Let me clarify: I don’t define myself by how much money I make. I don’t think I’m worthless if I’m not rich…
What happened is that I had been using money as validation. I equated my ability to do my job with my ability to continue to grow the revenue my company generates.
So it wasn’t so much the money itself—but continuing to push the needle on that money that felt tied to my value as an entrepreneur.
Taking a deliberate step back to pivot, as well as develop a new product and marketing strategy, as I have over the last 2 years, just didn’t allow me to grow at the same rate.
But, instead of seeing that objectively, I responded emotionally.
I’ve recently learned something fairly obvious but nevertheless profound about myself: I define myself by my accomplishments.
Not just because my accomplishments tell others something about who I am but because I worry, deep down, that I don’t have much to offer. The more I accomplish, the more value I can believe I have.
Accomplishing that year-after-year revenue growth was a sign that I had created something valuable… that I was valuable.
In that way, money has been an easy metric for me to use to measure my worth and to calculate the exact value I’m creating in the world.
That means that when my paycheck took a hit, it felt like my credibility took a hit.
Of course, revenue is just one very small way to measure success or value. Thankfully, I can use it to pay my mortgage but otherwise it’s about as useful as a Facebook like or an Instagram follow when it comes to measuring my personal value.
While I’m personally working on not defining my identity or credibility solely by what I’ve accomplished, it has been helpful for me to look at what we’ve accomplished as a company outside of my self-imposed numbers game. I’m choosing to take pride in the process and enjoy the journey of refining my approach.
Today, my company produces this exceptional podcast that gives you behind-the-scenes access to how businesses actually run (no gurus, hype, or magic formulas).
My company hosts an exceptional network of small business owners having candid conversations about what’s working and not working in their businesses.
We’ve dialed in operations, honed our approach, and nurtured a community culture of constructive optimism.
My company facilitates small group masterminds that bring business owners together around a common goal. I’ve personally had the chance to level up my facilitation skills and learn how much I love this role.
Today, my company operates better than it ever has. Our customers are happier than they’ve ever been. Our products are being used by more people than they ever have.
We don’t have to have hockey stick revenue growth, a shiny medal, or an award for best small business owner community to know what we create is insanely valuable.
And the real upside is that, because we’ve taken the time to get systems right and found the energy to do things exceptionally well, we’re poised to generate more revenue than ever before.
The company that we’ve built is capable of 10x-ing our best ever year of revenue.
Of course, coming to this understanding was incredibly difficult. After we pivoted the business and revenue declined, I wanted hide from the numbers. All those numbers told me at first was how much I was failing at a mission I believed in wholeheartedly. All I could see was the gap between our potential revenue and our actual revenue.
But the more I looked… the more I allowed myself to explore our revenue numbers, the more I could see the real opportunities to reshape our company, our product, our brand—and my own personal identity. The numbers told me a great story about what was possible if I was willing to stick it out.
So I’ll take that refund this year and remind myself that it’s a symbol of a much bigger investment: doing great work, creating things of immense value, and aiming for being exceptional.
Numbers give us a lot of information about what’s working and what’s not in a business.
They can tell us a pretty interesting story… if we’re willing to listen to it. Numbers might not tell us everything we need to know but they certainly help us ask better questions and point to new possibilities.
Throughout May, we’ll be featuring candid conversations with small business owners who have changed course because they paid attention to the numbers—everything from profit margin to time management to website traffic from Pinterest.
You’ll hear from Jennifer Johansson who found a new opportunity to sell her art after one of her Pins went viral.
You’ll hear from Grace & Vine founder Madison Wetherill who made a big decision about which of her two businesses she should put her focus on after running the numbers.
You’ll also hear from Systems Saved Me founder Jordan Gill about how she ran the numbers to decide both on her pricing and the unique way she delivers her service.
And, you’ll hear from Do Less author and Origin Collective founder Kate Northrup about how she discovered doing less actually allowed her to accomplish more as a mother, wife, and entrepreneur during a special LIVE episode.
Plus, I spoke with Rita Barry about the ways she looks at traffic and conversion rate numbers with her clients. And, you’ll hear from a member of the Bench bookkeeping team about ways you can dig into your business finances.
As you listen, I challenge you to get curious about what your business’s numbers might be revealing about your own next steps as a business owner. Give yourself the opportunity to peer into numbers you might have been avoiding (like your business expenses or your sales conversion rate). And challenge yourself to take a fresh look at numbers you thought you had a handle on.
Spend plenty of time just noticing these numbers. You don’t need to make decisions yet. Give yourself permission to just look—no action necessary—so you can form a full understanding of what’s going on.
Have you changed course in your business because you got real with the numbers? Have you discovered a new opportunity right under your nose when you examined your traffic, profit margin, or conversion rate? We want to hear about it!
Share your story on Instagram and tag me, @tara_mcmullin and use the hashtag #explorewhatworks.