The Story Exchange

How to Design Your Life and Business for Success

When chocolatier Alexandra Clark opened Detroit sweets shop Bon Bon Bon in 2014, it was the manifestation of a lifelong dream. Initially, she was only open on Saturdays and operated from the back of a local diner, catering to a clientele of mostly friends and family.

Then she started receiving press coverage, appearing in Bon Appetit, Food & Wine Magazine, Martha Stewart and Forbes, and her client base grew. That influx of customers allowed Clark to hire staff, rather than rely on volunteer help from friends. “Hiring people is always a milestone,” she says, adding that seeing them achieve their dreams — such as buying a car, thanks to the salary she pays them — is especially rewarding. Clark has now moved Bon Bon Bon into a brick-and-mortar location and launched an online shop.

Looking ahead, Clark is excited — and relieved, she adds — to dedicate her life to her passion. Never again will she “be inconvenienced by being other places or thinking about anything but chocolate all day.” She also relishes the lifestyle owning her own business affords her, which includes international culinary travel — “I study what I love!” — and working with people she respects. She even gets to bring her dog to work, since she makes the rules. “I live a lifestyle that’s exactly how I would design it — because I did design it,” she says.

How can anyone design their life and business with similar success? Clark’s story provides a few clues.

She followed a passion. Rather than attempting to succeed in a profession or industry that she had no interest in, Clark focused on an early love: Chocolate. It’s smart to start a business in an area that makes you tick, as you will be personally motivated to see it succeed. Running a business can require long hours, incredible focus, and the ability to press forward when naysayers (and obstacles) are plenty; having a passion for your product and service will keep you in the game. And when your concept come to fruition, it will be that much more rewarding.

She behaved generously. Clark feels fulfilled in part because she has helped her employees lead the lives they desire. A trait of great leaders is being committed to others’ success as much as to one’s own. In business, behaving generously — praising employees, giving credit where credit is due, and acknowledging that many people contribute to key milestones — can mean the difference between success and failure.

She took on all the responsibilities that business ownership entails. Let’s face it: Working for someone else can be a heck of a lot easier. Starting your own venture requires a tolerance for risk, a need to make fast (and sound) decisions, and the ability to juggle many different roles…all while you’re trying to offer the best product or service you possibly can. But if you’re willing to to do all that, as Clark was, then the rewards are many. If she worked for someone else, Clark might not have the ability to travel, dream about chocolate or bring her dog to work…all the things that make her happiest.

This post has been updated.