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Helping clients define their personal vision

Two women review something on an open laptop

By Emma Carey

Imagine an entrepreneur’s store of time, money, energy and attention piled onto a scale. On the left is what they give to their business, the right their personal life. Focus solely on business, the left is weighed down and the right rises out of reach. An entrepreneur can’t fulfill the needs and wants in their personal life if they don’t have any time, money, attention or energy left to spend. A personal vision works together with a business vision to build both a sustainable business and balanced life.

A personal vision is like a dream, says Elizabeth Vieira-Richard, a mentor at BC’s Women’s Enterprise Centre — a dream that summarizes what a client wants out of life. As the name suggests, a personal vision focuses on personal aspects of an entrepreneur’s life. But in the entrepreneurial world there can be a fine line (and sometimes no line) separating the personal and the professional.

The process of defining a personal vision usually doesn’t follow a straight line, says Vieira-Richard. When her clients struggle to move past their abstract hopes and dreams, she starts asking concise, open-ended questions that come from a place of genuine curiosity. What are you settling for? Do you feel something is missing from your life? Why?

She is trying to get into her clients’ heads and hearts to explore what they’re thinking and feeling, and describes her approach as going into her client’s sandbox to play.

“When you’re in the sandbox it’s playful, it’s fun, it’s learning, it’s sharing,” she explains. “While I’m in there I can then really connect with where that person is in that moment in time.”

When asking her clients questions, she’s not expecting a specific answer, says Vieira-Richard, in fact she usually expects to be met with silence, at least at first. The next reaction could be either excitement or frustration, which could indicate a desire or a fear in identifying their personal vision.

Explore these perceived roadblocks, she says.

Question your client’s perspective. How are they viewing the issue? What’s getting in their way? What can they do to change that? Even if your client thinks they know their personal vision, questioning them will likely mean their vision evolves for the better.

“My style is one of inviting curiosity, exploration, insight, and challenging perspectives to open up to new perspectives,” says Vieira-Richard.

After putting your client’s personal vision into words, the next step is creating a plan to make it happen. Vieira-Richard suggests mapping things out in a spread sheet. Create different sheets for short to long term goals and their accompanying actionable items. For example, your client could break it down into one year, three years, and 10 years. What do they need to do in year one to achieve what they want in year three? Make these actions concrete and plausible to achieve, she suggests.

A vision can be different for everyone, she says. For some entrepreneurs, diving into their 10-year vision might fill them with excitement. If it doesn’t, no problem.

The level of detail or number of years in the future doesn’t determine the completeness of a personal vision. If mapping out 10 years is overwhelming, try something sooner and pick a specific date. A deadline can help your client conceptualize the timeline and develop strategies to help them achieve their goals.

“For me, a vision is more of a state,” says Vieira-Richard.

Asking your client to reveal their hopes and dreams at the drop of a hat may be a tall ask. Without a trusting and confidential relationship with your client, you’re likely to get incomplete and superficial answers. They might be worried they’ll be judged or feel insecure that their answers aren’t perfect.

Vieira-Richard says part of relationship-building means sharing your intentions and goals with your client from the start. If your client knows your genuine desire to help them, they’ll be more comfortable being vulnerable and you’ll get to the root of what they really want to achieve.