An Outside idea : What to do when life gives you lemons?
What do you do when as a business owner life’s events knock you off course, and you’re struggling to cope? How do you look after yourself while running your business when you’re sick?
Have you heard Andrea Bocelli’s music?
If you haven’t you might be missing out! The Italian singer-songwriter holds numerous awards including the Golden Globe award for best original song.
But what’s often untold about Andrea’s story is that he was dealt a bad hand, BIG TIME. Andrea was only 12 years when he lost his eyesight, following an accident during a game of football.
His doctors tried their best to restore his vision but it didn’t work.
We’ll all agree that going blind is a serious challenge to overcome; but what I find interesting about Andrea is that his challenges didn’t define him or stop him from pursuing his dream.
He learnt to adapt to his new life, with the same end goal in mind. At 33 years old, Andrea was discovered at a restaurant as a piano performer. Today, he’s known as one of classical music’s biggest-selling artists with record sales of over 80 million units.
One thing’s for sure, we’ve all got our own story. It’s an inevitability of life that, at some time or other, things will go wrong for us. None of us will sail through from start to finish. What often matters most is how you pick yourself up and move on.
As business owners; how we pick ourselves up is pivotal. We aren’t afforded the support of sick pay by employers or the government. We’re more isolated, vulnerable and arguably more likely to be affected long term when things start to go south.
I was inspired to write this blog on the back of a highly emotive and impactful talk by Eva Rickett during a recent Networking in… During her talk, she displayed a graph which showed the point(s) when shit happened for her, and the subsequent drop in sales revenue over the preceding months.
It hit me like a hammer in the face. It resonated with me, and I was sure that everyone else in the room had their own story and a similar graph. Have you?
Because no matter how successful, strong or grounded you are, one thing that you can always be guaranteed of in life, is that there will be ups and downs. Good and bad things will happen. It’s just a matter of time, and it’s crucial how you react when life throws you lemons.
So what can we do about it?
Preparing for challenges
For the most part, being self-employed is great! But it’s not without its ups and downs.
I spend a lot of time helping my clients plan for and grow their businesses. One thing that comes up time and time again when I discuss this topic, is the importance that other people play when things aren’t going to plan. If you’re self employed, an interesting question to ask yourself is:
What would happen to my business if I:
(a) got sick for a month and couldn’t work or
(b) took a month off to go travelling with my family.
You see, if the answer to that question is, my business would stagnate, significantly decline or fail; And your family rely on you and your income, it’s arguably a dangerous place, where at best, you don’t get to fully enjoy the fruits of your labour and at worst, you struggle to make payments.
In essence, we must prepare for challenges.
Challenges that the business owner may face
I’m not going to second guess every single challenge that you may encounter, but there are certain things that come along from time to time that affect us all. Here are some of the things that can throw us off the rails.
Sickness and physical illness when you’re self employed
At one point or the other, we’re all bound to get sick. Business people aren’t excused from illness.
When you’re poorly, there’s no way to cut corners. You need to pause and take a break. Resting helps you heal.
The problem is that this break will affect your work schedule. What do you do when clients are still ringing your phone with requests?
Mental health challenges when you’re self employed
It’s no secret that I’ve had my fair share of mental health challenges, and I can tell you for sure that it’s not an easy ride. When you’re struggling to get out of bed or even to concentrate on things that matter… Your business will not wait for you to pick yourself up. So, how do you prepare for it?
Stuff that is just simply outside your control
The most humbling human realisation is that we just can’t control everything. In 2020, this was drilled into us when everything came to a standstill due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Or maybe you get a notification from your landlord that you have to move out of the house because they’ve just sold it.
Of course there’s not much you can do about these sorts of problems. Andrea Bocelli couldn’t have controlled losing his eyesight, and there’s absolutely nothing we could have done to stop the COVID-19 pandemic from spreading.
What you can do is accept them, adapt to them, and try to bear with them as they pass.
You’ve got too much work on
Having a lot of work is a good thing, essentially. It means that people value your work, and if you do it right, you will make the big bucks! It’s great that you’re so busy and have so many projects on, but what happens when those clients or projects aren’t finished? If you don’t support your pipeline, you’ll soon find it dry.
So what can we do about it?
Preparing for shit hitting the fan…
So now we all agree that there’s an inevitability about things cropping up to throw us off target, and that those challenges come from numerous different areas of life. It begs the question, what can be done to mitigate them?
Without question, the single most important thing you can do to mitigate against the challenges that come up is to get to the point where you are growing and you have support. This may come in the way of full time team members or business partners, but more commonly among small businesses is to find freelancers or part time team members, or even family, to help.
If you have people you know, like, and trust you, and that already know the business then it’s much easier to delegate additional stuff to them in your hour (or weeks of need).
Create a content locker
Often, when things go wrong, the first thing to go is the marketing – which is understandable as direct, paid client work will always come first. However what happens if as a result of your marketing your sales dry up?
The trick here is to be prepared. We use a “content locker” in our business to ensure that we always have content (adverts, blogs & social media posts) essentially, we always look to have a bank of pre-prepared content that’s been signed off.
This will give you the time to put the bulk of the work aside and focus on getting yourself together.
There are a range of different ways to save this pre prepared content, a simple word doc or spreadsheet might be enough. Or you could use a social media scheduling site. One of the most popular scheduling tools is Hootsuite, but we have found Planable to be fantastic. A lot will depend on where your audience is, so shop around to find the best scheduler for your favourite platforms.
There’s a lot of software and technology out there now for business owners that can save us time. Whether you’re in times of challenge or not, it’s very good practice to be automating where possible.
Automation rules out human error (when it works) and can save you business hours each week. Automation becomes even more important when things aren’t going your way. From a marketing perspective, you can pre-schedule your content. From finance, you can automate the sending of recurring invoices, and from an operations perspective the simplest things like an out of office with your sick note will help you communicate with your stakeholders.
Automating your work will give you more time to get your shit together.
Create how to’s
Creating ‘how to’ and FAQ write ups and videos might seem like a complete waste of time up front, but it’s actually one of the most leveraged things you can do for your business.
Having how to guides in place in theory makes it much easier for people who aren’t overly familiar with a task to learn as they go. You won’t have to constantly explain to guys the nitty gritty of your products. This can help you focus on yourself, while others sort themselves out. That way, you’re not worrying, they’re happy, and it’ll be much easier to get your head back in the game.
Find a freelancer
Working with freelancers is a great idea in general, and it can be a lifesaver when problems start to arise. They can help to offload some of your responsibilities as you recuperate. Then, once you are up to speed with everything, you can pick it up again.
It’s a good idea though to have these relationships already in place to some degree though, as an amount of handover or briefing will be needed – much simpler in a time of crisis for them to already know you, your brand and your business.
Keep an eye on your cash flow
It’s easy to overlook your cash flow when problems start coming up. You focus on other things and forget to keep an eye on your money, leaving it for when you ‘have more time’ (seriously when does this actually happen?!).
This is really dangerous. Make sure to constantly monitor your cash flow. If you need to reduce your bills, find ways to cut them out. Make sure that you have everything in check and nothing finds you off guard.
Stay close to your books, and if you use a bookkeeper remember to continue to check in on your outgoings.
What is your break even point? and what do you have to do to achieve it? It might be that just making enough, is enough for the time being. Giving you the space to not worry about the growth factor just now.
Have financial forecasts and a business plan in place. If you’ve got a robust business plan in place, with goals, measures, and KPI’s even if you have to put it down due to ill health you at least know where you are within your business plan, and importantly where to pick up once you’re able to.
This can also help if the client or project work gets too high.
Save for a rainy day
With business, there will be times when things go perfectly right, and times when it’s the opposite. It’s the nature of life.
Always save for a rainy day. Put money aside in an emergency fund and know the financial issues that may come about. This is what it means to stay on top of things.
Saving will help to cushion you through your financial problems and help you to recover faster.
Banks nowadays have so many great inbuilt features, for example, you can use Monzo, to save a percentage of each payment you receive in to go to an emergency pot. Or Starling can help you set a figure each month to go across to what they call saving spaces (This is really good for tax saving too!). It means you’re moving a smaller, comfortable amount over each month/payment and not having the scary prospect of having to suddenly find a pot of cash… you’ve already got one 😎
When life gives you lemons
Understand how bad the situation is
You know the saying, “You need to go through things to get through them…”
Before you can deal with a problem you have to first acknowledge it. We tend to ignore that things exist until the balloon goes up. Don’t put your head in the sand. That’s dangerous.
Notice as early as possible when things start to get tough, and try to think of solutions in good time. Don’t ignore it, because you’ll end up struggling a lot more.
Become self aware and set reasonable expectations.
If you suffer from mental illness such as depression, it may come back in waves over years. So try and understand your trigger points, and get your back up plan in place before it hits.
Things like going in for an operation may be more sudden, so understanding your recovery time etc will help you to manage your workload.
Let important people know
Of course you don’t want to tell every Tom, Dick, and Harry your problems, but it’s important that you tell the right people. Don’t suffer in silence. This is the time when those great support networks, and relationship building you’ve been working on pay dividends. Be honest, be vulnerable, and don’t try to cover things up.
Communicate with your clients in good time if you won’t be able to deliver. Explain your situation to them, apologise in advance, and try to give them a clear expectation on when things should be back up and running – but remember to under promise and over deliver.
Flexibility in business comes in a few different forms, and one of the beauties of a lot of smaller businesses is that we’re nimble and can roll with the punches.
We all have times where late night working is needed, getting the kids to bed early to crack open the laptop again, or cancelling those weekend plans to meet a deadline. But remember this is only feasible for most of us in relatively short spells, burnout is real, so keep an eye on how long the midnight oil is burning.
Although a business plan is essential, sticking to it no matter what could be detrimental to adapting to the current situation. For example when COVID-19 hit, you may have had to adapt your business practices to accommodate the new landscape.
Test and measure your business plan. If you need to move back to move forward again, that’s ok, don’t be afraid to take the leap – armed with new knowledge of what didn’t work and what is more likely to work next time.
Lastly, having in place a number of emergency financing options can often be essential in keeping companies afloat during times of acute pressure on cash flows and income streams.
When things get tough, learn to rest, not quit.
Giving up always seems like the easier way out, and indeed many of us choose this option. 80% of businesses fold within 5 years of starting.
Our impatience makes us leave everything behind and move on as fast as possible. But from most of the success stories in the world, you will, at one point or the other, fail.
If things are getting tough, take a deep breath, rest, then pick yourself up and move again.
Be kind to yourself
If you were to talk to your friends the way you talk to yourself, would you really have many friends left?
Running a business is hard, and you have to be compassionate with yourself. Be kind, and allow yourself to fail. Know that you’re not the only one who struggles with business, but when you put your best foot forward, everything will be okay.
Start your day with affirmations. Look in the mirror and tell yourself that you are deserving of all good things.
Notice what others say to you that soothes you. It could be anything – a poem, a joke, reassurance…Incorporate what they say into your self talk.
Control the conversation in your head. When you notice negative thoughts consuming you, be quick to redirect your mind towards healthier thoughts.
There’s a great poem that goes “There is freedom waiting for you, On the breezes of the sky, And you ask “What if I fall?” Oh but my darling, What if you fly?”
Small steps forward are still progress
There’s so much pressure to be perfect, yet we all know this is unachievable. Even if you’re making small steps, let them be towards the right direction. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
Look at your progress over a longer period of time, rather than the minute detail. You’ll probably find that looking over a 6 or 12 month period your progress is bigger than you think. Don’t be afraid to take a step back, and move forward in a new direction. With more knowledge of what does work and what doesn’t.
If today all you managed to do was make your bed, that’s fine. Tomorrow, try and wake up to do two hour’s worth of work. Slowly, you’ll find yourself back on track.
Set yourself a deadline
I know a lady who deals with relationship heartbreak only for one week. For that week, she’ll cry and pamper herself and eat all the junk food she can. And once that week is over, she’s over it and ready to get back on track.
We can all pick a lesson from this. Don’t allow yourself to wallow for too long, it can get out of hand. Whenever possible, set a deadline for yourself. Create strategies to work towards this deadline.
So there we have it, sometimes stuff happens that’s outside our control, and this is by no means an exhaustive list! But by acknowledging that fact that by its nature life is full of ups and downs, we can start to prepare ourselves.
I’ve had my fair share of shit thrown at me, both as a business owner and when and in my personal life. I know I’m not alone.
I’ve always got an ear for anyone who needs to talk. Feel free to book a call if you need someone to listen. If you’re dealing with challenges that feel too big, and you need to talk to someone, I’m always here.