I was out swimming in the sea the other night (after watching too much Wim Hoffman on YouTube) and there’s one thing that definitely different about nightswimming in the surf (yes, I’m about to state the obvious)
… you have little time to react to the next wave coming at you …
In the dark, it’s hard to tell how big, how fast or even how close that next wave is. And you don’t have a hope of planning for waves beyond that one directly in front of you.
You can probably tell where I’m going with this analogy – running a business can be a bit the same – while you try to be all responsible and grown up with lots of future forecasts and contingency planning – you know as well as I do that the environment we operate in is highly unpredictable. It can change radically, and with little warning. If nothing else, the pandemic has definitely taught us that much!
And, like sets of waves, they can sometimes come in quick succession.
When that happens, it’s very easy, particularly if you are a sole trader, to feel overwhelmed. Here are three tips to help you cope, and stop you calling your old boss to get your job back.
Tip #1 – Have a time out
Time-outs aren’t just for naughty kids; they can be good for grownups too. In a business emergency, remember the wise advice of flight attendants everywhere – put on your own mask before assisting someone else.
Your first priority is to take care of yourself. If you’re in a flap, you’re more likely to make bad decisions. So, take a breath, do a bit of mindfulness, a calming cup of green tea with lemon, some Wim Hoffman breathing exercises, or even a late night beach swim if you’re feeling brave – whatever it takes to just remove yourself from the situation and regain your composure.
Now you’re in a better place, with a clear head and presence of mind, you can move on to step two – review what’s actually happening.
Tip #2 – Take a few minutes to review the situation
This is harder than it sounds. When you’re getting hit by wave after wave you can easily panic and go into scramble mode. Don’t. You’ve got time to consider your situation and think about the best way to handle things, and not just the immediate situation demanding your attention but what’s best in the long term (to possibly minimise the severity or frequency of the current dramas).
Find a nice quiet place, grab a pen and paper, and make some notes:
- Summarise what’s happening.
- Do a quick SWOT analysis – your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
- Why is the situation urgent? Can you buy time to plan your response more?
- Triage – who or what needs attention first?
- Review some of your bigger, overarching goals (either business or personal) so you can make sure your actions align.
After this you should know what your next steps will be.
Tip #3 – Be decisive, but be kind
You’ve cleared your head, sipped your green tea, had your brainstorming session – you’re ready to act. Now’s the time to be decisive. Will you duck that incoming wave, or dive over the top? You might have to be a little bold, and proceed with some calculated risk (if you’re new to running your own business, don’t worry, the process gets easier with time and experience!).
First of all, act with confidence. Even if the other party doesn’t agree, they’ll appreciate your decisiveness. No one likes getting a vague response from a business, a very slow response, or no response at all. It’s also good for your own mental well-being – like that wave you ducked or dived, it’s behind you now and you can focus on the next with a clear slate. There’s nothing worse than having something hanging around in the ‘too hard’ basket – it’s a direct path to burnout and feeling hugely overwhelmed. Take action, and close the file.
Secondly, act with kindness. Even though an emergency response, when it feels like your business is being hit hard, will often put us into ‘fight or flight’ mode, remember it’s not your clients you are fighting. Do that, and your business will definitely be in trouble. Yes, it might seem like clients are the source of your troubles – but you know deep down that without them you wouldn’t have a business at all (see: how to stay grateful).
So, don’t fight your clients (even the difficult ones). If you can make some concessions or do something nice, do it. The benefits of being the nice guy might be greater than you think, and even save you time and grief in the short term.
Keep going, it gets easier
Dealing with waves of challenges is something that gets easier with experience. In the same way experienced paramedics approach an accident scene that would have most of us struggling not to pass out (I always remember the almost cool indifference of my St John first aid instructor, like nothing could fase her), you will learn how to tackle difficult times with a good amount of stoic confidence.
Even when you really aren’t sure of the best way forward, a good fallback plan is to put on a brave face, smile, keep your sense of humour and do your best to care for your clients. There’s no guarantee it will work out perfectly but you’ll pick up some valuable lessons and develop the much needed quality of resilience, or grit, an important attribute for any business owner.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for help – there are plenty of groups, online and offline, business owners can join and swap notes, share ideas or just have a good old-fashioned whinge. It all helps!