A terrifying diagnosis. The break-up of a relationship. An operation, an accident, a death.
Life can knock us for six. When you’re in a job and life throws you a curve ball, there are often certain procedures that help take the strain: maybe you delegate certain projects to colleagues or receive compassionate leave.
But what to do when you’re self-employed? What happens when you feel you have to keep it all together by yourself, but something big is happening in your world?
Over the years of being in business, I’ve witnessed my clients deal with massive life shocks and upheavals – as well as having my own fair share.
Here are four survival tactics I’ve discovered for when life pulls the rug out from underneath you.
1. Separate your business activities: maintenance versus growth
My background is in teaching. When a school teacher goes off sick, the cover teacher is not generally expected to design all-singing, all-dancing lessons. They’re there to keep the classes ticking over and maintain some progression through the curriculum. The classes are typically more textbook-based, involve simple exercises or even watching videos.
What are the bare-bone essential activities that will keep your business ticking over? When the proverbial hits the fan, switch to this mode in your business.
This is the mode you can also use during holidays or when you’re unwell. It probably means you only reply to the most essential email and ignore the rest, trusting people will forgive you. It means your exciting plans to change your website header or set up a Pinterest account get put on the back-burner.
By reducing to bare-bones, you keep your business alive whilst maintaining your sanity and honouring your need to retreat. This is the time to pause big growth projects and instead just keep your business alive so that when life calms down (and it will, it will, it will), you’ve got something left to grow.
2. Get very clear on who and what matters most
Your paying clients are the life-blood of your business. When your world tips on its head, focus any shred of business energy on them. They’re your priority, so that you can maintain the profitability of your venture. A close second come your new inquiries; if necessary, respond simply to acknowledge receipt and ask for a little time to respond properly. Be attentive yet still give yourself breathing room.
Here’s what doesn’t make your priority list: requests on your time from people who aren’t paying clients and who aren’t direct inquiries. People who want to collaborate, people who want some quick free advice, people who want you to retweet their article. Some of these might be wonderful activities to engage with when you’re back in growth mode, but right now you’re in survival mode.
Remember: email requests are just that: requests, not demands. You don’t have to answer any of them. You’re not a public service. You’re a business with paying clients and if someone isn’t paying you, they don’t own a piece of your time.
And the clients who are paying you? They might actually expect less of you than you think. Many of us tend to over-give and make ourselves too important or indispensable; often clients are hugely compassionate and are more than happy to give you the space and time you need.
3. Get unsocial (and more truly social)
When life is wobbly, you might like to withdraw from social media. Here’s my stance: My purpose in being on social media is to connect and share positivity and so when I’m not in that space, I’d rather not share at all. I might still remain functional, posting a blog post or link to a webinar, but it’s not part of my business mission to share with everyone what’s happening in my private life. (Those close to me will spot when I’ve gone quiet online and know that all is not well in my world.)
I love social media and it’s not my source of comfort. I get that from my daily practice, and from my partner and friends in “real” life. The cuddles, the love, the empathy happen in person and by phone; we meet, we snuggle, I cry on them.
You might find you can later translate your experience into something useful for your Tribe. You can draw an amazing learning point out of the rubble if you wish, but do so retrospectively. If you try to do it in the moment, often your community or clients will feel the need to come and save you – and that’s not their job.
4. Cry your heart out
I’m a big fan of crying. It’s cathartic, it’s healing, it’s cleansing. And it’s often absolutely necessary.
During one particularly rough patch, I developed the tactic of lying on my bedroom floor between client sessions and howling. I’d come off the phone from one person and in the 15 minute break before the next, I’d release a sound that was primal, guttural, angry, despairing.
Then, a few minutes before the phone rang again, I’d pull it together with a deep, full breath, knowing I had another valve coming up in 60 minutes when I could let it all out again.
And here’s the secret: work can become your sanctuary. Your distraction. Your saving grace. You can throw yourself into being fully present for a client, fully engaged in writing, or designing, or creating, and for an hour (or however long it takes) you can forget about your life being in pieces. In coaching, we call this “self-management”: putting your own stuff aside so you can be there for your client. And the magic is: not only does it serve your client, it serves you too.
Life can sometimes be entirely shitty. It can feel like it smacks us round the face, grabs our guts and rips us apart – but it doesn’t need to rip your business apart too.
So, go into maintenance mode, focus on who and what matters most, get unsocial (and more truly social) and cry out that beautiful, precious heart of yours. Your business will be waiting for you on the other side – and it also may just help you get through.
Over to you
What gets you through the toughest times? I’d love to know the mindset shifts and practical actions you’ve taken – or are taking right now – to keep your business together while life is falling apart. Others will, I’m sure, benefit greatly from hearing your experiences, so leave a comment below.
P.S. PASS IT ON
Loved this post? Then use the icons below to tweet it, share it on Facebook and send it to specific friends via email.
And leave your email at the top or bottom of this page to be first to hear about more articles like this.
© Corrina Gordon-Barnes 2014
Top photo credit: uriolat / Foter / Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0)
Second photo credit: Alyssa L. Miller / Foter / Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0)
Bottom photo credit: crosathorian / Foter / Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0)