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There's More Than One Way to Define Entrepreneurial Success

04/08/2015 06:16 pm ET | Updated Jun 08, 2015

How do you know when you've made it as a business owner? What does true entrepreneurial success look like? Can it be measured by your bank account, number of employees, customers, or media mentions?

Looking back, at the height of my entrepreneurial "success," I was actually quite miserable. Several years ago, my husband and I sold our first company for multi-millions of dollars. It was considered a dream exit. Yet rather than basking in the glow of success, I felt hollow and empty.

This is not to say that financial success and happiness can't go hand-in-hand. They can, but on some level we all know that money doesn't buy happiness. That experience gave me a new perspective that all entrepreneurs should consider when building their companies. Success comes in many forms. The key is to define what success means to you, rather than using some else's measurement. Here are some of the ways that entrepreneurs define success:

Building something out of nothing

It's incredibly gratifying to build a company from nothing more than an idea and then watch it grow. Or to see a product you created on the store shelves. And the harder the journey - i.e. failed prototypes, pivots, mistakes, even big ones - the more satisfying it is when you come out the other end. There's no better feeling than when a client or customer tells you how your company, service, or product has made a difference in their lives. From where I sit, few other career paths can offer this kind of personal fulfillment.

Supporting your lifestyle

One of the ways to define success is by having a business that lets you live the way you want. Some entrepreneurs want to avoid the daily grind associated with working for someone else. Others want to be able to spend more quality time with family, pick their children up after school, be able to travel, or just want the freedom to call the shots and be in charge of their own destinies. The bottom line? Being able to financially support yourself while living the way you want is success.

Making a difference

For many entrepreneurs, the goal is to build a business that makes a difference in the world. Virgin founder Richard Branson has become a perfect ambassador for "business as a force for good" (his words). He's stepped back from running his own empire to found the B-team, a not-for-profit that encourages businesses to put people and planet alongside profit.

As an entrepreneur, you can harness your innovative thinking and hard work to create positive change on any size scale. Business can be less about making sales than it is about solving problems and helping others.

Creating jobs

Success can be defined by the number of jobs your company has created. Small businesses have been the job-creating engine in our economy, as small firms accounted for 60 percent of the net new jobs since the end of the recession. If you employ anyone, each job touches people well beyond the individual receiving a paycheck. With every hire, your business plays a vital role in families, communities, and the overall economy.

Creating financial security

For some entrepreneurs, it's all about the money. And that's okay. There's a common saying, "Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won't, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can't."

If money is your driving motivation, it's important to define just how much money you need to make in order to consider the venture a success. Are you looking to support yourself and your family? Be able to retire at 40? Buy an island in the Caribbean?

The bottom line is that many business owners never step back and intentionally define what success looks like for them. As a result, they fail to recognize their own success because they've been defining it using someone else's terms. As you launch and build your business, keep in mind that it's typically the journey, not the end goal, that matters most.