Photo by Mohdammed Ali on Unsplash
I have seen it so many times, and felt it too often myself. You are in the middle of the whirlpool, and your head is barely above the waterline. You are breathing too little air filled with foam and salt and seaweed and your lungs are burning. The panic is rising, your body is flailing, and the one and only thing you are sure of is that you have no idea how to get out of this situation.
This is you, and me, when we are in the middle of the vortex of busy in our business. So many things coming at us and all we can do is that thing that is right in front of our face, or the thing that is screaming the loudest, or the things that we have always done and know best how to do. We are working endlessly and are exhausted and maybe, just maybe, if we put in one more weekend we'll start to see a light at the end of this awful, no-fun tunnel.
My service to you this fine day is to tell you, to promise you, that you can move out of this vortex.
Oh, but how to begin.
1. Well, no problem can be solved without naming it, and that is always the place to start.
I am in the weeds and drowning; I am exhausted and I don't know what to do; I can't figure out my next decision; I am panicking and feel like I'm letting myself, my family and my team down; I am terrified that my business is failing, that I am failing.
While naming where you are, I encourage you to call on the two most important and powerful emotions we have at our disposal: compassion and love. However you describe your situation, try to do it as if you were the most compassionate and loving person you have ever met, and direct those emotions towards yourself.
2. Ask for help. Seek out coaches, mentors, fellow entrepreneurs. Admit you are drowning, even if your ego gets bruised and lashes back at you. There are so very, very few unique situations in business; someone you know will either have been in a similar situation or know someone who has, and can give you some from-the-trenches advice to help you move forward. (Note: do not ask for business advice from friends and family members that are not business experts. From them, ask for general support and love, which is also needed during these times.)
And whether you think of it as your spiritual centre, God, Goddess, the Universe or simply that part of your brain that keeps working on problems when you are sleeping, offer your problem up with outstretched arms and ask for help from a power much greater than your waking mind. It works. I promise.
3. And now comes the really hard part where you have to listen to the answer.
Here are some of the things you may hear:
Regroup so you can have time and space to really evaluate your best next step
The concept of "taking a step back to move forward" may seem disheartening, so I prefer to think of it as regrouping.
Regrouping will mean different things to different businesses, but can look like:
Put some of your products and service on hold, and focus on the few that are really driving revenue in the company
Unless something is directly and clearly related to improving sales or cutting costs, say no--no to every networking opportunity, untried marketing tactic, non-critical report, social media post (both reading and writing), product development meeting, research into new markets, fresh customer service initiative. The entire focus of you and your team (if you have one) shifts to your core business activities
Take all your goals and plans for the year and spread them over a much longer period of time, giving yourself space to achieve each task along the journey
I know that you need to do everything yourself, bootstrap the shit our of your business, that you can't afford good staff and that you have nowhere near enough time to train someone new anyway. I hear this and I feel deep compassion for your suffering and I also know that all those statements are totally, completely untrue. That, my sweet friend, is fear talking. And ego.
I have never--not once--asked an overwhelmed/overworked business owner this question and received "no" for an answer:
If I gave you 10 hours per month for $200, and you focused those 10 hours entirely on revenue generation for your business, could you make that money back?
Ah, of course.
In the part of the world I live in, there are oodles of people that will do jobs you are doing, and hating, right now for $20 per hour: deliveries; prioritizing email; packaging and labeling products; product demos; scheduling social media posts; copy editing; responding to customer emails; writing award applications; your laundry. Pick 10 hours of any of those things and then be disciplined about putting those hours towards sales or production or billable hours or whatever your highest value task is, and you will be way ahead of where you are now. Not easy, but very simple.
Be open to all possibilities
The words you hear when you ask how you can stop drowning in your business may make your stomach clench. Sometimes, the answer you receive is that your business isn't ready to grow, or you need to fire a key staff person, or, perhaps scariest of all, your journey is not to run this business at all anymore.
And if that is the loving message you are hearing, well, now comes the really hard part. Infinitely harder than working hard. You have to decide, because you have perfect free will, if you are going to listen to and act on those words.
It may seem like taking these hard, courageous moves forward will take more energy than you have, or have ever had. But at times like that, I like to think of the example of the first manned rocket to go to the moon. It took 80% of fuel to get into orbit. That is, 80% of the energy was spent in the first 9 minutes of a three-day voyage. It will feel similar when you are swirling in the uncontrolled whirlpool of your business. The effort to do the hard work to get yourself out of the vortex seems Herculean, and terrifying to even think of trying. But remember that if you are willing to be brave and put in that effort, you can go to the moon.