Adelaide Lancaster & Amy Abrams: The Big Enough Company - Author interview

Successful entrepreneurs and co-founders of In Good Company, Adelaide Lancaster and Amy Abrams, were kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions about their refreshing and inspirational book The Big Enough Company: Creating a Business That Works for You.

Adelaide Lancaster and Amy Abrams describe why entrepreneurs must build successful companies on their own terms and share ready to apply ideas for starting and developing a company that stays true to the founder's original dreams and goals.

Thanks to Adelaide Lancaster and Amy Abrams for their time, and for their very comprehensive and highly informative responses to the interview questions. They are greatly appreciated.

What was the background to writing this book The Big Enough Company: Creating a Business That Works for You?

Adelaide Lancaster and Amy Abrams: We have been working together to help entrepreneurs solve their problems for years. We initially set up shop to provide one-to-one support to women looking to make their business dreams a reality. Before long however, we realized that what was getting in the way for many of our clients was isolation. Their work-from-home routines left them unproductive and uninspired. Their limited networks left them unsupported and under-resourced.

In the true entrepreneurial spirit, we crafted a remedy. In 2007 we opened In Good Company, a collaborative learning center and workspace designed for a range of small business needs. Our Manhattan location currently supports more than 300 entrepreneurs who are now better connected, educated, and professionally outfitted on account of their membership.

By working with thousands of additional entrepreneurs, we quickly identified a different problem plaguing the ranks of the independently-employed: disenchantment. Despite all the freedom and latitude that entrepreneurship affords, too many business owners compromise on what they need and want as they grow their business. Often they find they have built a venture that doesn’t work for them. Convinced that entrepreneurial success is really about satisfaction, we decided to shift their focus. Our new goal is to inspire others to take advantage of the opportunity that entrepreneurship provides by building a business that reflects their needs and goals.

You describe how women entrepreneurs have grown their businesses while sustaining their personal goals. How does this combination of business growth and values reflect the emergence of a new type of company?

Adelaide Lancaster and Amy Abrams: More than ever before people are more interested in reaping the rewards of their work now – whether they are entrepreneurs or not. It used to be taken for granted that you’d slog through your work hour after hour, year after year in pursuit of some big reward at the end of it all – a gold watch, retirement or maybe just a big payday. That’s not what the majority of people are interested in any longer. Instead they want their everyday and every week to be more meaningful and satisfying.

They want to do work that matters to them and they don’t want to sacrifice everything else at work’s expense. As a result a new type of entrepreneur has emerged - one that wants to specifically engineer their company so that it is truly on their terms. They want companies that serve up the challenging and meaningful work they want without giving up everything else in the process. The companies these entrepreneurs are building have an emphasis on longevity and sustainability.

Adelaide Lancaster (right in photo left) and Amy Abrams (left)

Why do so many entrepreneurs still attempt to copy the success formula of other businesses even if those blueprints don't fit the entrepreneur's true dreams, goals, and values?

Adelaide Lancaster and Amy Abrams: Even though many entrepreneurs are innovators motivated by the unknown, many still long for a road map! When you’re doing something that’s never been done before it’s hard to set direction, establish goals, and measure success. Often people look to follow others because it seems like more of a sure thing. If you copy someone else’s path you can find answers and systems but the problem is that they might not bring you what you’re looking for, which defeats the whole purpose of starting a business. Many entrepreneurs don’t realize what big compromises they are making until they are really suffering. And since they have little to compare their experience to, it’s sometimes hard to realize that there is another way to do things.

You recommend that entrepreneurs consider what is in it for them. What do you mean by that idea?

Adelaide Lancaster and Amy Abrams: It’s critical that every entrepreneur knows what they want to get by being an entrepreneur. Not from their business in particular but from the experience of working for themselves. What makes entrepreneurship better than any other employment option? The answer to that question alone has profound implications for the future of their business. If security is of utmost importance than a balanced portfolio of clients or diversified menu of services will be key.

If it’s the opportunity to always be working on something new, then you’ll want your organization to be well-oiled but lean so that it can monetize while you create. If it’s more about creative freedom or choosing your clients then you want to make sure each product or service brings in enough money to allow you to be picky. What you need from your business may change but that’s the beauty of being the boss. You can make sure that your business evolves along with those needs.

How important for business to be known for something important and to have a real purpose?

Adelaide Lancaster and Amy Abrams: We aren’t judgmental about what a business’ purpose is but are emphatic that it needs to have one. A business purpose, or what you want your business to be known for, provides mooring in an endless sea of opportunity. Without a clear picture of the impact you want your business to have it’s very hard to know what direction to go. Businesses without a strong purpose tend to become jumbled in the marketplace because they are trying to be too many things to too many people. A good business purpose will define the goal, not dictate how it should be accomplished.

In Good Company logo - The Adelaide Lancaster and Amy Abrams founded company

Many entrepreneurs don't start a business that really suits them personally. How can a would be entrepreneur do what they do best?

Adelaide Lancaster and Amy Abrams: The first step is knowing what it is that you do best. Where do you add the most unique value? What are your skills and talents? And then you need to think about how much time you spend doing those things. It is surprisingly easy to give yourself a job that you don’t like or a job that emphasizes tasks that you’re not great at. What you need to remember is that you are your own boss and it’s up to you to employ yourself in a way that’s most satisfying. It’s also important to build and grow your company in a way that keeps that job in mind and prioritizes the activities that you enjoy most.

How can an entrepreneur plan for the future and know where to go from here?

Adelaide Lancaster and Amy Abrams: The future is never certain but entrepreneurs are most successful when they can use what they know to be true to help shape their direction. We often encourage our clients to think about the job they want to have in 5 years and build their company accordingly. We believe that their long-term satisfaction should drive the bus.

How can an entrepreneur recognize when there is value to doing less?

Adelaide Lancaster and Amy Abrams: Simply put, when they experience the costs associated with doing too much. As entrepreneurs we are used to having full plates. We hunt for opportunity and are inclined to give almost anything a try. While this optimism and enthusiasm can be advantageous at times, it can also lead to being overwhelmed, overburdened and burnt out, which as you can imagine is terrible for ourselves and for our businesses. The antidote usually involves prioritizing your goals and taking small steps to meet them. Entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint. Success requires you to pace yourself.

How can an entrepreneur avoid the trap of supposed perfection to embrace experimentation?

Adelaide Lancaster and Amy Abrams: All entrepreneurs have a choice: hold their cards close to their chests or get other people’s input in how to best play their hand. The first choice almost always leads to failure, while the second greatly increases your chance of success. Feedback and iterative improvement are critical ingredients for any business. As the leader it’s your job to figure out how to best solicit and incorporate that feedback. Of course, instead, you can get caught up in the myth of perfectionism. But the truth is no one really cares how right you were on your first try, all they care about is the end product and experimentation is hands down the best way to create the best overall offering.

When is enough really enough, and when is it time to say no?

Adelaide Lancaster and Amy Abrams: As a group, we entrepreneurs are terrible at saying no. We are haunted by the thought “you never know.” However there are only so many hours in the day and so many priorities that a company can tackle at once. Saying yes to one thing means that you are saying no to something else. So make sure you are saying yes to the right things for the right reasons. Guilt or fear of saying no are never good reasons to say yes.

How can women entrepreneurs benefit from the collaborative value of community?

Adelaide Lancaster and Amy Abrams: Entrepreneurship can be a lonely experience – but it doesn’t have to be! All entrepreneurs can benefit from having a robust network and being connected to multiple communities of entrepreneurs. Your peers and colleagues will be your best secret weapon. The more people you know the fewer things you have to learn the hard way and the greater access you have to ideas, knowledge, wisdom, experience and feedback. Your peers can prevent you from reinventing the wheel and they can give you much needed support and encouragement.

What is the first step a woman entrepreneur take to creating the big enough company?

Adelaide Lancaster and Amy Abrams: The first step is making a commitment to take advantage of the opportunity that entrepreneurship affords you and to pursue your own definition of success. There is no one right way to do things and your satisfaction depends on your ability to create a way that works best for you. Once you realize that you have the power to make your business whatever you need it to be then you can really harness the necessary creativity to grow your business in the way that will work best for you!

What is next for Adelaide Lancaster and Amy Abrams?

Adelaide Lancaster and Amy Abrams: Lots of things! Right now we are most excited about talking to as many people as possible. We want to hear from entrepreneurs, learn about their experience and share what we have learned. The next year for us will be engaging as many people as possible in a true dialog about the opportunity of entrepreneurship.


My book review of The Big Enough Company: Creating a Business That Works for You by Adelaide Lancaster and Amy Abrams.

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