I’ll just say it … sometimes it can outright suck riding the roller coaster of entrepreneurship. And in the past couple of months, I’ve personally had a couple of ups with some big downs and felt the effects of it.
The biggest downs in business most always have to do with two things: people (clients, team members, etc.) and money (sales and cashflow).
For many of us, the situations might look like this … see if this fits your day or week or month:
- A client isn’t happy, in fact, they are angry, complaining, high maintenance and just a Negative Nelly.
- New projects, new work isn’t coming in as fast you like. And it’s got you nervous and anxious.
- Lower cost, more energized (younger), faster, better competition enters and crowds your space.
- You got some bad news, like a prospective client fell through, or a site got hacked and you’re trying to clean it up on a Monday.
- Your computer is slow or broken, causing you delays and frustration and money.
- You’re starting to really loathe some parts of the work you do.
- You’re drowning in work and can’t see the light of day from under it.
- The world seems dark, negative and down (just read the daily headlines) … and if you live in Oklahoma, the world is literally shaking.
I can count all of these as frequent occurrences in my time as an entrepreneur, which is why I wrote about how Life Is An Iceberg.
But despite there being frequent lows in every entrepreneur’s life, I know from experience you can’t let allow yourself to stay there for long.
Barbara Bradley Hagerty writes in her outstanding book, “Life Reimagined”:
“Your thinking is your experience.”
This simple 5-word sentence has been perspective-altering for me. I wish I had carried it with me through the ups and downs of entrepreneurs.
She goes on to write: “Experts believe that 30 to 40 percent of one’s happiness is determined by how a person thinks or acts. That rudder won’t shelter you from a hurricane as you venture across an ocean, but it will absolutely color how much you enjoy the trip.”
Thus, if you only think about and dwell on the negative of business or life, you’re only going to see and feel the dark and doom.
And navigating some of these lows and downs throughout the past 8 years of being a full-time entrepreneur, I want to share some things that have helped me manage the lows and my thinking and experiences in those times.
1. Know You’re Not Alone.
All of us entrepreneurs, at least the honest ones, go through all of these scenarios and more from time to time.
I’ve been a part of an 8-person “forum” group in Oklahoma City since 2011. We meet every month for 3 hours and, at the kickoff of the meeting, we give updates on the last month’s highs and lows. Every single meeting we’ve had, I always have this thought: I’m not alone.
And nearly every time I met a kindred-spirit entrepreneur, this truth is reinforced.
We all go through low times. We all have our downs.
It’s part of the experience, which is why I think entrepreneurship can be one of the toughest, loneliest jobs I’ve had. We’re a rare breed. Most of the people we know and love aren’t entrepreneurs.
But simply knowing others go through the same experiences helps me a lot.
At some point, we’ve all had cashflow issues. We’ve all had down months in sales. We’ve all had team and client conflicts that sucked. We’ve all had competition come in and threaten us.
So please know … you’re not alone.
(I recently partnered with Dr. Sherry Walling to roll out our own version of an entrepreneur peer group we’re calling ZenTribes, check it out!)
2. Acknowledge Your Brain Distorts Things
If you’re like me, when you get bad news, you think the absolute worst.
You go directly to the end of the world as you know it.
Reading “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy” by David D. Burns, M.D. last year helped me understand that my brain distorts things — called Cognitive Distortions — and then to be able to redirect it to positive things.
You can read his full list with Cognitive Distortions with descriptions here. Just wading through that list showed me some misconceptions and lies I’ve told myself throughout the years. And some of them hit deeply home for me as I saw a reflection of my common thinking in several of them.
Although the book was written mostly for those who struggle with chronic depression, I think it has broader application.
For instance, Dr. Burns recommends that when you have a big negative thought or feeling, you start analyzing it through one of the Cognitive Distortions.
So say, a client balks at your project prices and says “No Thanks.”
And you think : “Oh no, the sky is falling. No one wants my services. No one will ever buy from me again. Then I won’t be able to pay my electric bills or house payment. And I’ll have to go back to a 9-5 job. This is the end of my world.”
And that might be an example of the cognitive distortion called “Overgeneralization — You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.”
Just recognizing and admitting the cognitive distortion has been tremendously helpful in the past 6 months I’ve used it to walk back out of the doom and gloom and into the bright light of reality.
As he says in his book, “Feelings aren’t facts.”
When these negative thoughts appear, start untangling your feelings and looking to the actual situation and facts of your situation, knowing your brain distorts things.
3. Reset the Defaults to Hope, Optimism and Confidence.
If you’re like me, your Defaults are usually set to Negativity, Doom and Gloom.
But that’s no way to live … or run a business.
Instead, swap Negativity and Gloom for Hope and Optimism with a large heaping of Boldness.
Start reaffirming all the good things. And the best way to do so is to be grateful for all you are and have.
Reaffirm your belief in yourself, in your work and most importantly, your worth and the value you offer your clients.
For this, I look to another excellent book called “The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem.”
In it, Nathaniel Branden offers some life-altering affirmations for building self-esteem, like:
- “I am of high value to myself.”
- “If someone I like does not return my feeling, it may be disappointing or even painful, but is is not a reflection on my personal worth.”
- “No other individual or group has the power to determine how I will think and feel about myself.”
- “If I persevere, and if my goals are realistic, I am competent to achieve them.”
- “If my goals are rational, I deserve to succeed at what I attempt.”
- “I can rise again from defeat.”
And I might add specifically for freelancers and web designers:
- “My services are of high value to myself … and others. I’m proud of what I offer my clients and the world.”
- “My skills and services help people, and that gives me purpose and fulfillment.”
- “My services help others grow their businesses and organizations online.”
- “I am continually honing my skills, building great relationships, delivering on my promises, offering excellent work, and deserve to be paid well for it.”
What this does is start getting back to the core and foundation. As I’ve employed these type of affirmations when I hit a low, I start to feel better and more confident again.
And if you’re having a hard time getting to those affirmations … go quickly to gratitude.
Be thankful for everything in your life and business. List every blessing out. List the fact that you are breathing currently and alive. Then go on to list other things like being thankful for all the work and clients you’ve had in the past, naming specific clients and projects that you were proud of.
Be thankful for the past kind compliments and encouragements your clients have given you.
And then dwell on those things.
4. Be Lucky and See Opportunity
I am lucky. I’ve been very lucky. And I’m OK with that.
In fact, I want to be MORE lucky.
Shawn Achor in his book “The Happiness Advantage” shares a research study about luck that changed my attitude altogether.
In the study, participants were asked if they would label themselves as “lucky” or “unlucky.”
Then they were asked to count all the photographs in a newspaper and timed by how long it took.
“Those who claimed to be lucky took mere seconds to accomplish this task, while the unlucky ones took an average of two minutes,” writes Achor.
Why such a difference?
On the second page of the newspaper was a large message that read: “Stop counting, there are 43 photos in this newspaper.”
Achor says: “When our brains constantly scan for and focus on the positive, we profit from three of the most important tools available to us: happiness, gratitude and optimism.”
We choose what we see.
For years, I carried around a fortune cookie that read: “You will be unusually successful in business.” Yes, it was a goofy fortune cookie message, but I wanted it to be true in my life.
So I kept it in my wallet to see every day. And finally, in 2008, I realized that dream and reality by starting iThemes and in our definition of success we’ve enjoyed since then.
YES — I know I’ve had a huge amount of luck to be here today (starting in WordPress when I did, meeting my partners who helped me get started and countless other things) … but I combined that good fortune with hard work and seeking to do right and good by people.
So now, I boldly consider myself lucky.
I want to focus and dwell on the positives so that I see and am more open to opportunities.
And here’s something I do on occasion to help with that … with the affirmations and thoughts listed above in mind, I then start imagining that there is a big group of people in the world who are moving along, closer and closer, to becoming my client or customer.
I start thinking in detail about them. They have a set of needs that our products and services offer. They yearn for them. They would pay well for them. In fact, they would pay a premium for what we do.
I start feeling that the dam is going to break anytime now and for whatever reason, it just hasn’t yet. But the best is yet to come.
New, bigger deals will come to me. Deals will close. Projects will start AND finish. Catalytic moments, like better product messaging or a new feature set will get launched, will happen and the flood will come to us.
And that I and our business represent one gigantic magnet for it all. These new customers will be instinctively drawn to us, down different paths, with many others pointing the way to us.
I think about all our work being the seeds that need consistent watering and to keep being faithful to water those seeds so they grow as the harvest will come.
When we set sales goals, I envision the amounts. I see those amounts being deposited into our accounts. Sometimes I’ve looked at our bank accounts and seen the numbers being represented there.
Then I break the big numbers down by customers, sales per day and month, and I start to dwell on that as our new reality. And believe it by repetition.
I want to see all of this in vivid details so I start realizing that soon, with time and watering, it’ll be our reality.
Think you are lucky and envision your prosperous near future.
5. Now, Get Back to Working Your Tail Off.
You have work to do.
The big disclaimer to the last section is this: I don’t expect things to simply fall in my lap without work … I HUSTLE for them.
So: Get back to work for all these things, believing them to be true and that the missing ingredient is your hustle.
Don’t just wait for someone to knock on your door … go knocking. And sometimes doors take a little nudge to get them open.
Take the negative energy you’re experiencing and use it for maximum effort applied to the things that matter.
Do something positive and productive today.
Be faithful in doing the work. Keep planting and watering those seeds.
But then … be bold and make it rain.
Envision your prosperous future. Dwell in it. Wallow in it. Remind yourself it is real. And then go make it real by your effort.
Peter Drucker said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it. “
NOW … Get back to work creating your future, with positivity, optimism, hope and gratitude.
And be ready for a big up swing.