Q&A with Mark Silver, author Heart Centered Business:
1. What is Heart Centered Business: Healing from Toxic Business Culture so Your Small Business Can Thrive about and why did you write it?
This book comes out of twenty-three years of experience with thousands of small business owners, where I consistently saw that people who have hearts, who have integrity, will refuse to follow through with strategies that are unethical or unaligned. They will allow the business to struggle rather than compromise themselves.
At the same time, I’ve also observed how business at large, over the last few centuries, has wreaked havoc on our environment, on our communities, on our economies, in search of unethical levels of profit, more than anyone can spend in one hundred lifetimes.
Both for small business owners, and for the world at large, healing in the world of business is not the only answer, but it’s an essential part of what we need. Small businesses are such an important ingredient in healthy communities and societies, are where the creativity comes from, and where a great deal of sincere care gets put back into the neighborhoods around them.
I wanted to see as many of those small businesses thrive before they stumbled and lost their dreams.
2. What advice would you have for people starting small businesses who are afraid they might fail?
It’s such a beautiful question, and such a common theme for folks. I learned to juggle in my early twenties, over thirty years ago now, and the person who taught me said, “Here’s the first trick you need to learn: the three-ball drop.” He threw the three bean bags up in the air and let them hit the ground. “Learning to juggle, that’s going to happen a lot. Embrace it.”
Trying to build a business with the intent to avoid making mistakes or failing is a terrible way to set out. Everyone makes mistakes. You need to make mistakes. My Sufi sheikh shared that, in the Sufi tradition, it’s held that the Divine told the human that mistakes are essential to our path forward. That if humans did not make mistakes, the Divine would have created an entirely other race of beings that did makes mistakes, that’s how important they are viewed.
That said, we can be mindful not to put ourselves in the path of catastrophic mistakes. I ask my clients to try things out in small ways, expecting some of them to fail, and to iterate, tweak, grow. It’s impossible to do someting for the first time and expect to do it perfectly. But if you don’t do it imperfectly the first ten times, you won’t see the fruit of your labor with the eleventh.
This is true in creating offers, business systems, marketing messages. It’s all going to be imperfect and messy, and some of them won’t work. But if you do them in a small way at first, then you have a chance of improving them and becoming very effective with what you’re doing.
One of my strongest recommendations is if you have a brand-new business you want to start, don’t quit your job expecting it to support you in just a few months. Taking a business through the stages of development from creation to momentum takes anywhere from two to four years. You will see successes and make money along the way, but it doesn’t become dependable for awhile.
We work in depth with out clients to discern when it’s the right time to jump ship and go full time in your business, or when to “go for broke” with a new strategy. But it’s never right out of the gate, unless you have two to four years of living expenses saved up to carry you there.
Let me say that I’ve seen so many people who considered themselves unlikely to succeed at business make it work in beautiful ways. Did they become multi-millionaires, head of a huge empire? No. Did they want that? No. But what they did do was create a solid, beautiful micro business that gave them more than professional salary, doing what they loved, with a lot of freedom.
3. What are some of the ways a small business owner can create a Heart Centered Business?
It’s an interesting question, because in some sense, there aren’t that many structures, if you will. On the other hand, it’s infinite. I think about our human faces- pretty consistent structure- two eyes, nose, mouth, chin, cheeks, etc… Yet, there’s an infinite variety of faces, in how we show up.
There’s more variety than that in business structure, yet a heart-centered business shouldn’t look to go so completely off into the weeds that there are no role models or easy ways of leaning into structure.
The main thing is that the way we teach heart centered business is based on principles, not scripts. Templates are useful to lean into when learning, but as you develop your business, as you integrate core principles of a heart centered business, it will be easier for you to trust your guidance, and to make your own choices, without being so extremely creative that the business can’t function.
There are three keys to this, in general.
The first is to open to the heart qualities that lead to success, which include vulnerability, creativity, trust (or faith), sovereignty, and patience (or persistence). The combination of these helps us listen deeply, to trust the learning path, and to follow it through.
The second key is to let yourself learn, always looking for the love. Meaning, don’t just copy/paste what other people teach you. But in learning from others, which is a really critical in life, we make sure that what we learn aligns with our values, what we care about, and doesn’t harm people. So, we learn, we lean in, we listen deeply, and we integrate new things in a way that makes it work.
The third key is iteration. This means that we let go of the desire to be perfect on the first, or second, or third try. We embrace mistakes, and we embrace a developmental process of business. Most businesses that end up being successful change their structures, their business model, a lot about themselves, often several times.
However, in those cases, there was ZERO chance that they could have started the business in the form that it finally ends up in. That form wasn’t accessible in the beginning.
I think of a past client of ours who has developed a very successful communication training company, deeply ethical and heart-centered, as well as practical. At this point the business has several coaches working under the founder, there’s a body of work, there’s a real structure. It’s beautiful and reaches many people.
That structure was not possible, was not even remotely imaginable, at the beginning of the business. Like most, the founder started with a private practice, and slowly iterated over years. In time, putting things in place, moving more slowly that some would have wanted, but slowly enough to be able to listen deeply, and to not create any financially dangerous situations, so that there was no temptation to choose financial success (or survival) over integrity and care.
The business may not look that different structurally from many other similar businesses, but the love, the care, the heart-centeredness, shines through every aspect of it.
4. How can a Heart Centered Business owner balance the logistical, legal, and procedural (admin) aspects of running a business and still stay connected to their heart?
This is the biggest question, and really what sparked the creation of Heart of Business in the first place. The first step is to get rid of the word “balance.” Even if unintended, the word balance creates a belief that somehow the heart is on one side of the scale, and the practical aspects are on the other side. It carries the assumption that is rampant in our culture that somehow these are inherently opposite. Given how terribly business has been conducted over the last few centuries, it is perfectly understandable why people carry this belief, but it’s not true.
What we teach is that you want to look at all aspects of business and ask, “Is love available even here?” So, for instance, looking at administrative needs, even something as simple as invoicing. If we slow down and connect in our heart, we can realize that each person we invoice is a real person, with a heart, or if it’s a company, still, a real person is going to be processing it.
Is there a simple way to personalize it, to express gratitude, to make it feel more human? Is there a way to do invoices that make it fun, or connecting, for the person invoicing? It doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. Including a small candy, or a new photo every month of something beautiful, or some expression of lightheartedness?
This can be done in a gimmicky way, which doesn’t feel good. But it can also be done in a sincere way, that feels genuine to the person doing it, and thus most likely to the person receiving it. And brings in a reminder that these are people involved.
And all of that can be systematized, on a checklist and reminder. “On the 20th of the month, select a photo and send it to be printed, and delivered, which is already pre-setup through an account. Receive the prints before the end of the month, where they sit in a stack, ready to be put into invoices, if you’re mailing them. Or even printing it yourself as an extra sheet when the invoice prints.
These are small things, and it’s just one example, but they can spark a presence, a remembering of love and care, rather than just treating it like a “hard-nosed business transaction.”
This is even possible with legal needs.
At one point early in Heart of Business’ history I needed to find an IP lawyer. I looked for one who came recommended, who was a great lawyer, but was happy, eager even, to write up legal contracts in language that was much more accessible, more human, less legalistic and distancing. She explained it was perfectly possible, and yes, you did have to know what you were doing. But the usual, difficult-to-read legalese was rarely needed.
5. What are some of the greatest joys of running a heart centered business?
There are so many! To feel confident that we’re deeply in integrity, and how good that feels. The tremendous amount of goodwill that is generated, not just from how our services are experienced, but because people support the way the business is run, and so have a real ease in referring people to us.
Similarly, long-term clients, and repeat and referral business. The deep trust that folks have for a heart-centered business once they get to know it.
The joy, the enjoyment that can be found in every corner of the business, even the admin and legal!
When you have a team, that they feel cared-for, and so they are enthusiastic about their jobs. Where the job of the leader is to spend more time encouraging people to take breaks, and to not overwork themselves, rather than trying to push people to get things done. So much more fun.
And, of course, having a business that just works, that you can trust to care for you and others on the team.
Not every moment is joy, of course not. When raising kids, you change a lot of diapers, and do other things that may not always be pleasant. But there’s still love involved in every moment, and that’s priceless.
Since 1999, Mark Silver has worked with heart-centered entrepreneurs to help them realize that every act of business can be an act of love. One of the pioneers in integrating real spirituality with the nitty-gritty of small business, Mark founded Heart of Business, Inc in 2001. As a designated Master Teacher within his Sufi lineage, and a coach, teacher and spiritual healer, he has facilitated thousands of individual sessions with entrepreneurs and has led hundreds of classes, seminars, groups and retreats. His weekly writings and teachings are followed by thousands of people around the globe.
A fourth-generation entrepreneur, prior to Heart of Business Mark ran a distribution business, turned around a struggling non-profit magazine, and worked as a paramedic in Oakland, CA. He is the author of 7 books, including his latest, Heart Centered Business: Healing from Toxic Business Culture so Your Small Business Can Thrive.