Saving your business without selling your soul

By on June 16, 2016

benefit-38034867A few years back I spent most of August on a self-styled writing retreat at a gorgeous house overlooking the ocean on Vancouver Island. I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful or inspirational place to write. By the second week, however, I began to go a bit stir crazy and found I needed to get out and have a change of scenery in the afternoons in order to continue writing.

On the recommendation of a friend who knew my passion for all things Asian, my first afternoon escape led me to a little café called Sakura Japanese Coffee and Tea in a nearby town. Walking through the front door I was overcome with “natsukashii” – an expression that conveys a complicated and favorite Japanese emotion, the bittersweet nostalgia for something lovely and loved, now past – and settled in for a productive afternoon of writing. I returned there almost every afternoon in that second week.

As much as I loved the place, however, it was evident to me by how empty it was that business might not be so good. Even though I was supposed to be focused on my writing, I can never resist offering a helping hand to a small business in need, so by Friday I was compelled to strike up a conversation with the owner.

Naoko, an energetic and youthful looking woman in her forties, had emigrated from Japan ten years ago due to her husband’s work. She had always loved baking and drinking coffee and had missed the Japanese-style sweets and coffee that she was used to back home, so these passions had formed her business concept. She believed she could differentiate herself in the market by running an authentic Japanese café serving green tea, Japanese-style coffee and homemade Japanese-style baked goods.

Unfortunately, the market was not too keen on her products. Sales in her first month were dismal. The Japanese-style coffee was too strong for Canadian tastes and the authentic Japanese baked goods were perceived as too sweet, or too bland. Over the months, she had changed her menu many times to offer weaker Canadian style coffee as well as lattes, cappuccinos, panini sandwiches and traditional baked goods such as muffins and cookies. This had led to a small increase in business, but still not enough to cover her monthly expenses. Naoko was feeling frustrated and fearful. What had inspired her to open her business to begin with hadn’t been received well by the market and now she was scrambling to compromise in order to survive.

I have seen similar scenarios occur in many small businesses and the results are never good. If they hit on the right mix and the business ends up surviving, the owner ends up stressed-out and unhappy because they find themselves heavily invested both with their money and time in something that they do not have a passion for. If they don’t hit on the right mix, the owner frantically jumps from one new idea to the next trying to figure out what the market wants, creating inconsistency in both marketing and product offering that fails to attract new customers and may even lose existing ones.

Whether in Japan or anywhere else, how do you get out of this dilemma?

Be smart and strategic, but never lose sight of the real reasons that you started your business. For most small business owners, their business began as much more than just a way to make money. If, in order for your business to survive, you need to change it so much that it no longer serves these passions, then you are better off to let it die. Building a successful business requires putting your heart into years of hard work. If your business is designed to serve your soul then all of the hard work is not only worth it, it is a huge part of the payoff long before you see the financial returns rolling in.

In Naoko’s case, we were able to increase her likelihood of success by amplifying the real reasons she had started her business – to create a place to connect with her community and share her culture – and integrating them more fully into her business concept and marketing strategies. This involved making her shop a destination for locals rather than just a convenient place for tourists in the summer season, by holding classes in sushi-making, Japanese flower-arranging, tea and coffee appreciation, and even baking. Within just a few months, her loyal tribe of regular customers was growing, revenues were up, and she was on her way to realizing her vision for both her life and her business.

Whether you are an entrepreneur or and employee, always remember that building a strong foundation for success and fulfillment in your business and your work requires that you don’t compromise purpose for profit, or give up meaning to make more money. And if you are an entrepreneur who left your job because you didn’t want to sell your soul to the company store remember this: Even if it’s your own store, selling your soul still has the same result.

About Andrea Jacques

Andrea Jacques is the founder of Kyosei Consulting and the author of Wabi-Sabi Wisdom: Inspiration for an Authentic Life (available on She has spent more than 20 years developing the potential of people and businesses worldwide, five of which were in Japan. A dynamic speaker, coach, and facilitator, her work integrates spiritual insight with top-tier leadership, wellness and sustainability consulting to help individuals and organizations build thriving, purpose-driven cultures where employees know their work truly matters. She can be contacted through her website at