It’s been a while since I’ve written a Biz Ladies article, although I feel like I’ve been writing miniature articles in my head for the past year now. One turned into a longer essay and another into a radio show (which is what happens to most of them these days), but one of them has been kicking around for a while and I decided to turn it into something written today instead.
January is always a time of renewed energy, effort and excitement, but it doesn’t mean that it comes without hurdles. I feel so fortunate to know so many wonderful people starting new businesses right now or trying to reinvent their existing business into something for the changing market. Whether you’re a new business owner or someone growing an existing practice, one thing unites us all: into all business lives, a little rain must fall.
Over the past decade I’ve learned a lot about pushing through tough business times. Some lessons have been harder to learn than others, but I always come back to a simple system of pushing through any hard time. So today I’m going to share the process I use to assess, analyze and break through work hurdles. They may all feel like mountains at the start, but with a little effort, deep breathing and practical thinking, most mountains can be chipped away to reveal only small stumbling blocks we need to step over. xo, grace
Click through for the full post after the jump!
1. Unpack and Identify the Real Problem
I find the most helpful part of getting through any problem is actually identifying what’s happening. What may seem like the end of the world, may end up being only a few small errors that can be fixed with a phone call. Taking the time to talk out the issue, separate emotion from reality, and get a clear view of the hurdle should always be the first thing any business owner does.
Here’s a great example. We recently had dinner with two friends who run a fantastic food business. When they were starting out they had their first big order and found that their packaging run arrived from overseas with incorrect information on it. [Insert normal reaction to panic]. After taking a moment to freak out, they realized they didn’t have time to do another overseas order, so they made some quick stickers they could place on top of the incorrect packaging. Was it their ideal situation? No. But after staying up until the wee hours of the morning to re-sticker their packaging, the problem was solved and they could meet their shipping deadline. Crisis averted.
I find that most often, that initial sense of panic is what does us all in. It’s hard to weed through all the feelings, fear and anger that come with a problem and see through to the kernel of what actually needs to be solved. The shorter you can make the time between identifying a problem and making a plan for a solution (ie: decreasing the amount of time you panic), the faster you’ll be able to sail through problems and save yourself from extra stress and grey hair.
*I find that this step is best achieved by talking through the problem with a friend. You get to let all your feelings and emotions out (within reason) and the real problem makes itself known after talking for a bit.
2. Put it in Perspective + Have Your Feelings
Once you’ve identified your problem (My employee quit, my server crashed, we didn’t as many orders as we need, etc.), you can tackle the task of putting things in perspective. The reason this is important is that it allows you to start building in some emotional muscle memory for dealing with stress. If, over time, your mind and body learn to identify a problem and quickly put it into a hierarchy of what is really urgent and crucial for your business, the more efficient you’ll be at solving it and not losing time away from your other work responsibilities.
I always ask myself a few questions:
-Does this immediately affect the health or wealth of my team or business in a major way?
-Does this immediately affect the way my customer/reader/client interacts with my business in a major way?
If the answer is NO to both of these questions, I allow myself to relax a bit. Sometimes things that seems scary are, in fact, only minor hurdles. If those don’t immediately impact your business in a major way, there is no reason to drop every single one of your current obligations to panic.
Once you’ve placed your problem in the hierarchy of what’s important to your business, you can give yourself an appropriate amount of time to feel your feelings. This sounds touchy-feely and a little silly, but I think it’s crucial to allow yourself time to feel disappointed, upset, sad, angry or scared. Those emotions are important to feel, understand and inform your future decisions. If you feel terrible after a business interaction, remembering and really feeling that reaction is an important way to deter yourself from making that mistake or decision again. If you bury your feelings and ignore them, they’ll only build up to become worse over time. So release the valve a bit and let yourself blow off some steam so you can move on to make more level-headed decisions.
*The thing to remember with allowing yourself time to be upset is to allow yourself only as much time as the problem is urgent. Is this a small hiccup? Give yourself an hour or two, go for a walk, and then get back to it. Is this a problem that will require months of work and change? You might be upset for a few weeks, it’s ok. But don’t let that upset set you back even further. Major changes and major difficulties come with major feelings. But don’t let minor bumps and hurdles turn into weeks and months of setback- if they can be fixed quickly, they can be experienced and processed quickly, too.
3. Talk Out the Worst Case Scenario
I used to be paralyzed by the idea of a worst case scenario until I started seeing a therapist a few years ago. I started talking to someone to deal with personal struggles, but found it helped my business life just as profoundly. One of the things I learned was to run toward that big fear, talk it out and take the power away from it.
How do you do that? By dragging those fears and concerns out into the light of day where they’re much less terrifying. Let’s say you have a fear that if you ask your employees to work harder or differently that they’ll all quit and leave. (A common fear I hear from small business owners who are afraid to ask for what they really want). Talk that scenario out. Let’s say you DO ask for what you need and all your employees DO walk out and quit together in one day. Terrible, right? But could you deal with it? YES. If you’ve hired people before, you can do it again. But this time you’ll get a chance to learn from past hiring mistakes, create a clearer set of expectations and rules with your team and have a fresh start to be a firmer and more effective leader. Will it be tough to work quickly and find new people? Of course, but maybe this struggle will lead to you building in a teaching system for new employees that prevents you from ever having to build from the ground up again. Total result? Some temporary hard work and long hours that ultimately lead to a stronger, more effective team AND boss. Was that so scary? If you’ve gotten this far, you can probably get through the reality of your “worst case” scenarios.
Bottom line: air out all of your fears and doubts. They’re usually less terrifying than you think, and when you make them less of a mountain and more of a molehill, you will have more confidence to get through problems.
4. Make a Short-Term Plan of Attack
Now that you’ve identified your problem, put it in perspective and let yourself have some time to feel your emotions about the issue, it’s time to make a plan. No problem deserves to run your life and business forever. The best way to avoid that is to break your solution into small, doable tasks.
I like to think of these as daily to-do lists for one week. Most non-life-threatening problems can be tackled on a daily and weekly basis. So don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to solve a big problem in just a few days. Break your goals into one week.
I like to use apps like Everest to break things into small tasks, but even a simple written list will do. If your goal is to get your website traffic back on track, give yourself three weeks to enact and see change. For example:
Week One: Meet with your team and brainstorm changes you can make and who will be responsible for each action. Each day talk with, or consider, a different facet of your business and brainstorm actions you can take to improve the traffic driven to each one. By the end of the week you will have a list of ideas and tasks to undertake.
Week Two: Each day put one plan into action. Whether it’s adding a new column, using social media more or setting up a Pinterest page to share recipes from your website, put your ideas into action and limit them to small daily tasks so you’re not totally overwhelmed.
Week Three: Spend one day analyzing numbers, another analyzing social media feedback to your changes and another day taking a poll with readers or client to see how the changes are going over with them. Spend your last day revising plans based on feedback and continue forward with new ideas based on the first few weeks of planning.
If you break things down into small steps, it gives you a chance to course-correct, get feedback and not spend too much time pursuing one overall solution that may not work. Keep your steps small and simple and you’ll be more likely to come up with a solution that is both effective and realistic.
5. Seek Trusted Council
No business is an island- and no one business person has all the answers. I find that even when I think I have a great solution to a problem, it’s good to run it by people I trust. Chances are they will have some valuable input or they may spot a hole in my plan that could save me a lot of time and effort.
Most of the time, I think simple peer and fellow business-owner feedback is all you need here. BUT if you’re dealing with a MAJOR problem (one that threatens the immediate health or wealth of your team and business), it’s worth making this trusted council someone who you hire or consult with on a higher professional level.
For example, if your problem requires a solution that involves legal work, taxes, paperwork or bookkeeping that feels over your head, simply running it by a friend or fellow business owner may not be the best solution. If you’ve assessed and ranked this problem as significant for your business, consider investing in advice, feedback and consulting that are coming from a place of professional expertise. Sometimes business hurdles DO require a financial investment to solve, but hopefully if you have a good adviser, they’re an investment that prevents further (and bigger) financial problems down the road.
6. Adjust Your Plan and Repeat Steps 4 + 5
If you’ve gotten this far with a problem, you’re going to be feeling less panicked and more like you have a plan of action. Now is the time to put your plan and advice into practice and then adjust.
Adjustments are going to be part of ANY solution and the sooner you learn to cut yourself a little business slack, you’ll feel better about making short-term plans and learning to course correct as you go along. If your problem was a problem in the first place, it probably means there’s a bit of a learning curve to new lesson to adjust to. So it will go without saying that if you didn’t have the perfect answer to start with, your solution might need a little adjusting too. Sometimes that adjustment also has to do with a marketplace change, too- not just your own needs.
For example, you may have a perfectly good plan to deal with a need to increase your website traffic, but after the first two months of enacting new plans, you realize the web is now moving in a different direction (ie: toward video and away from static images). Give yourself the time, flexibility and slack you need to adjust your solution to allow for these outside changes you couldn’t have necessarily predicted.
The bottom line: any good solution is one that is practical, flexible and allows you to track small changes. We’re all working in a changing online and business landscape that requires some quick changes and adaptations. So just allow yourself the room to make mistakes, learn from them and come up with solutions that are real, adaptable and easy to put into action.
Best of luck to everyone with all the 2014 business hurdles (hopefully small ones!) that will come our way.