I was talking with a friend the other day about “owning” and accepting your emotions, and as the conversation sloshed around in the back of my mind, it started me thinking about emotions in business.
Running a small business, especially, I assume, if you’re fairly new to the game, can be a really emotional business. There’s the high when you get that first big customer, or actually have to pay tax on your first year’s income (I’ve made enough to pay tax! Maybe that’s just me … ); the low point when work gets a bit sparse; the utter cringing horror when you make a mistake – sure, no one likes to make mistakes when they’re an employee, but it seems so much worse when it’s your own business, utterly your responsibility, your own customer who’s personally chosen you to work with …
It’s important to acknowledge these emotions rather than let them boil away unnoticed. Running a business can be stressful at the best of times – good stress or bad stress, it’s still stress – and having stuff you haven’t taken out and given the light of day can make you stuck and hold you back.
Here are a few ideas which might help deal with those emotions in a constructive way:
- Be happy. Yes, do acknowledge those good times. Celebrate in your newsletter, Tweet about it, tell your friends (but see below). Also, make this last and cash in on it. If a customer has praised you, ask if you can quote them on your references/testimonials page. Then you’ve got that happy time forever. I also save emails with praise on them so I can revisit them in quieter moments.
- Be decent and do the right thing. If you’ve made a mistake, instead of dwelling on it, do something. First of all, do the right thing. That means apologising, in writing or on the phone, if you’ve messed up a job for someone. Don’t bluster, excuse and hide: just state what you’ve done, honestly, how sorry you are, and what you will do to put it right. You would appreciate a supplier or other company who did that, wouldn’t you?
- Use your mistakes constructively. Early on in my career with Libro, I didn’t have such strong Terms and Conditions as I have now. So when I “under-delivered” in a client’s opinion (I didn’t rewrite their essay, which of course I shouldn’t have done), they complained and withheld payment, criticising me fairly strongly for what I had done (or hadn’t done). I felt awful for longer than I should have. Then I used the experience to a) firm up my terms and conditions so new clients would know what to expect, and b) inspire a blog post or two!
- When you’re at a low point, realise it’s a low point and you will come back up. I keep a record of jobs and income per month, and my billable hours per week. I can see it dips, and I can see that some weeks I don’t do so many billable hours; but then I can see, now I’ve run the business for a few years, that these dips are temporary and it always comes up again. Every business area has cycles; keeping records helps identify these and reassure you that it’s not the end of the world.
- Have something other than the business. Yes, your friends, your partner, your kids, the lady in the supermarket are interested in your business. But do they need to live the business alongside you? Keep some other interests if you possibly can – I’ve temporarily lost my ability to read so many books, but then again most of my work involves reading of some kind: but I’ve made the effort to keep on with the gym and running; it’s kept me sane and given me something else to think about / concentrate on / talk about (but I know I’ve been bad about this at times: sorry, friends/M!)
- Be honest with your peers. Gather a group of people around you who also run their own business / work from home / work in the same area. This is a group of people who understand the highs and lows, who you can celebrate the highs with – but also be honest about the lows – and they will be too, and you can support each other. I was most despondent about a tricky potential customer a few months ago. I went along to my usual monthly networking event, not feeling that positive about going and having to be all jolly and upbeat. I ended up talking to a few people about my problem; they gave me excellent advice and more than one opened up about issues they were struggling with.
So, be honest, be decent, try to keep your perspective, and acknowledge the highs, lows, blahs and whoo-hoos!
November 30, 2011 at 4:07 pm
Really interesting post, Liz, and sound advice. I’d also say that we should acknowledge that, even as small business owners, we cannot bring everything under our control. There is a temptation, especially when working alone, to think that the measure of ability, or innovation, or efficiency, is success and that a lack of success is therefore evidence of a lack of ability. But success is also dependent on, for example, luck (perhaps an enquiry letter lands in someone’s in-box at exactly the moment they are looking to hire someone for a big project, or whatever) and time (the longer we are in business, the more likely we are to get referrals, to benefit from good luck, and to be able to choose the kind of work we do). We should not live our professional lives in bad faith, but neither should we hold ourselves ruthlessly to account for not always or immediately achieving success; that way lies frustration and anxiety – and I’m sure those are the kinds of emotions we all have enough of already 🙂
Liz at Libro
December 6, 2011 at 5:16 pm
Thank you for your comment, Sebastian – you have some very good points there.