The Butterfly Effect of Entrepreneurship

Breaking out on your own is hard. Just ask anyone that runs their own business, and you can pretty much guarantee that the one answer that will be consistent across the board is that it’s hard to be your own boss.

No guaranteed pay-check; no water-cooler conversations to split the day up; no big corporate budgets for projects and pitches.

But no-one said it would be easy. It takes hard work, commitment, lots of compromise and hard knocks to get to the point where you want to be. But the satisfaction and kick-back that you get when you get there makes all the struggle worthwhile.

One of the “tricks” I’ve used over the years (and offer up to clients that I feel fit the need for the example) is comparing entrepreneurship to the stages of the butterfly.

The Egg

A butterfly is one of the most beautiful things that nature has ever produced. Multi-faceted, colourful, elegant and varied – all the things a great business should be. All the things your business should be.

But a butterfly isn’t born this way. It starts off as an egg – tiny and in need of food to survive.

Your business is the same. No business is born huge; no entrepreneur starts with millions. It comes from small victories and winning the scraps you need to feed yourself and those that depend on you, and keep a roof over their heads.

The egg is where it all starts, so plan ahead:

  • Think about what you need to do to survive the egg stage.
  • Have enough savings to get you through six months with no paycheck.
  • Grab the food around you and keep looking for more.

Eggs are fragile. Their shells can break with the right amount of pressure; so plan to avoid the fall that could crack you.

The Larva

When a butterfly egg hatches, it’s still not the butterfly that’s inside – there’s still a way to go before the beauty of the butterfly reaches its full potential. Instead, you get the larva.

You probably know the larva in its most common form of a caterpillar. This is a big change for the egg, since it now moves from chasing scraps of food to having a ferocious appetite and eating everything in its way.

Once your business has moved past the gestation period of the egg/birth, you’re hungry for more. You’re ready for bigger clients; bigger projects; bigger paydays. The thing is, your current set-up may not be ready for this. But that’s okay.

A caterpillar can go through five or six growth spurts before it’s ready to move to the next stage. Your business can be the same.

  • Feast on the business that will help you grow.
  • Stay hungry and eat what you can.
  • Acknowledge that growth means change, and plan for staggered growth.
  • Prepare yourself for the “wrap period”, where the finish line is in sight but you’re not quite there yet.

Caterpillars shed their skin as they grow. Don’t be afraid to shed what you’ve encountered so far – new is good, and the only way to truly grow.

Business growth

The Pupa

The third stage of the butterfly is where things get really interesting. As the caterpillar feasts to fill its over-sized appetite, its skin struggles to keep up. Instead of stretching, it sheds the old skin and replaces with a new one.

After five or six of these, it eventually stays inside the last skin, called the pupa. This skin envelops the caterpillar, and it’s in here that the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly takes place.

The funny thing with this stage is that it looks as if nothing is happening – the pupa attaches itself to a twig or branch, and lays pretty much motionless until the butterfly is ready to break out.

But thinking that nothing is happening will see you miss all the activity inside. The caterpillar’s body is being broken down to change to the butterfly, and all the food the caterpillar ate during its binge eating is what’s keeping the butterfly alive now, during the change. This process can take anywhere from a week to a year to happen, depending on the species.

Now think of your business. Your slow time usually comes after your early burst of activity when you’re new, as you chase clients and projects down. You use the money from that to help you grow to your next stage.

This is your own pupa stage.

  • Look at your business and see what you can eject, and what can grow with you.
  • Make sure you save enough from the early activity to see you through quiet times.
  • Make the changes slowly and with purpose to take you to the defining moment of your business – the identity.

Pupas are the heartbeat of life for both caterpillars and butterflies, and effect the transition from one to the other. Think of what you can achieve with your business in your pupa stage, as you get ready to unveil the complete you.

The Adult

The caterpillar is no more. The hibernation period is over. Everything the egg, then the larva and then the pupa has been working toward is finally here – the adult butterfly is born.

The pupa breaks open and the butterfly emerges. Its colour and shape is defined by the pupa stage. Now the real beauty is unleashed on the world, after taking the time to make sure it’s ready for the public gaze. Emergence; mating; and the cycle begins again.

Your business has been building up slowly, and eating what it needs to survive the early days. You’ve been working behind-the-scenes to plan your growth, and your transition from small business to medium and upward.

Now’s the time to let your business become an adult.

  • Emerge from the the cloud of preparation into the sunlight of opportunity.
  • Think of partnerships (strategic and otherwise) to mate to your goals and business.
  • Think of how you can continue the cycle, and the people and properties you need to make this happen.

An adult butterfly has a life cycle of around a week or two, but some can last a year and a half. Let’s say a butterfly week is equivalent to a year of a person. Think of your business’s current life cycle as a year or two, then look at refocusing again and choosing direction.

If you need to, cocoon yourself away again into your pupa, and plan for the next stage. The ever-evolving business is the one that will be ever-persistent to succeed.

And we all want that, right?

image: rondeboom
image: JarkkoS

This post originally appeared over at Beyond The Pedway, a resource centre for entrepreneurs and creative thinking. Hosted by Tim Jahn, it’s full of informative video interviews, tips and advice for starting and running your own business.

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