If you’re reading this I’m betting you have a secret: I bet your life isn’t what people imagine.
Tell me if this sounds familiar:
Your friends believe you’re living a blissful dream life, free from the shackles of an office or a boss. They imagine that you and your business have swanned off into the moonlight for your happily ever after. They think you’re making great money doing your own thing joyfully every day.
They are probably a teeny bit jealous too!
But that’s not what it feels like to you.
Here’s what really happened.
You went into this business because you loved the idea of getting paid to do your own thing, on your own terms.
You were done with the mind-numbing daily commute to a cubicle, staring out the window, trapped inside on sunny days. You were sick of hiding your personality behind a professional veneer. You didn’t want a boss, you wanted freedom and time for yourself and your family.
So you started your business. And it was so very exciting! This was your moment to make a living on your terms! Everything was going to be wonderful when you were your own boss. No more compromises.
But months or years down the line you realize that reality hasn’t matched the ‘ever after’ fantasy. You’re not loving this nearly as much as everyone thinks.
Are you out of love with your business?
Answer these questions to find out.
- There is more ‘business’ than ‘fun’ in your working day: you are spending way too much time doing admin, planning and marketing. You are sick to death of networking meetings.
- Your work (the sort you really want) isn’t coming nearly easily enough as it should… half your time is spent trying to get the right customers.
- Secretly, (whisper it) you’ve grown to resent some of your clients.
- You’ve grown tired of doing that thing you thought you’d enjoy – it’s lost the ‘buzz’ it once had.
- You spend ages poring over competitors’ websites to see how on earth they manage to have it all – you wish you had a business like theirs.
- You said yes to ‘less than ideal’ pieces of work that were offered to you. The work wasn’t what you wanted to do, but you needed the money and anyway, you’re good at it. It was meant to be a one off but now that sort of work has become your bread and butter and you’ve strayed away from what you really want to do.
- You’re working long hours: too long. Longer than you should for the money you’re getting. You’re starting to resent it but can’t see any other way.
- The starry eyed fantasy of freedom is a distant dream. Your business has become another job – but worse because you can’t just jump ship to another employer.
- You relate to some of the above but you’re not sure there’s much point reading this article – after all it could be worse, lots of people would kill to be in your position, and you do like parts of it – you should be grateful for what you’ve got, right?
Have you said yes to at least two of the above? Then let’s be honest with each other:
You’ve known it for a while now, and right now it’s time to say it for real:
you’re no longer truly in love with your business.
You are not alone.
I speak to a lot of women who feel the same – secretly, in hushed tones, these people with beautiful websites and seemingly enviable ventures confess that behind the smiles and the ‘yes, everything’s great!’ exclamations, all is not rosy in paradise.
But they can’t tell anyone they aren’t blissfully happy – everyone would think they had failed.
Not being in love with your business, as a woman, is a taboo topic (much like ‘not being in love with your husband’ was in the 1950s). That doesn’t make it less real.
It’s even worse if you gave up a good job to take this path. You feel like you shouldn’t complain – it was hard enough explaining to your friends and family why you were taking this risk. To admit this isn’t perfect you would feel strangely like you’re letting them down as well.
Between you and me, let’s try to work this out.
Relationship counselling for you and your business.
The 3 step plan to making your business more ‘you’.
1. Break the rules
Whenever I raise the idea that you can make your business suit you (not the other way around), a common barrier arises: I call it “not in my field” syndrome.
This is where people say “sure I’d like to be able to do x but that just doesn’t work in my field”.
So, for example: “I’d like to be able to not work evenings but I’m a therapist and I can’t ask my clients to leave their jobs for daytime sessions. Not offering evenings just doesn’t work in my field”.
I counter this by asking – who set the rules? Are the rules real, or are they just what most people do?
In response to the example above, I know a therapist who decided he was tired of giving up his evenings (read: his social life) for work so he upped his exclusivity and specialisation, and told all his clients he would only see them for daytime sessions.
He now has a waiting list and works the hours he sets.
There are always ways to spin what you offer into an advantage, not a liability. But that only works if you go into it with confidence not if you’re wavering and apologizing (hint: if you ask for permission to do your thing you probably won’t get it).
What to do instead:
Whenever you think “I can’t have x because that doesn’t work in my field” ask yourself: “what does that rule come from?”
If you’re like most people, your ‘rules’ are probably based on what a few ‘successful’ people in your field do – which in turn is based on what you read on their websites.
Here is a question: who gave those people permission to set the rules?
- Who gave them permission to determine what you think you’re ‘supposed’ to do in your business? (the services you offer, the language you use, what you charge…)
- Who gave them permission to dictate (even unknowingly) how you live your life? (the hours you work, how you do it…)
The answer, honey is that you did. Not some giant committee in the sky: you. Every time you look at another business’ offering and think ‘well they say x so I should too’ or ‘but they don’t do y so I can’t’ or ‘I can’t charge more than z because that’s what most people charge’ then you give that stranger permission to determine your business, your life, your happiness.
If you have ever let someone else’s norms set your business parameters then you have created yourself another boss – but this time it’s worse because that boss probably doesn’t know you exist.
So: what rules have been holding you back, and are they really rules or just ‘what most people do’? What would happen if you challenged that today?
2. Start from you.
We’ve talked about how to get around the ‘norms’ that are holding you back… but where are you planning to head when you get around them?
You already know there’s no point saying “I want to start a business”, then buying blank business cards, renting an anonymous office, sitting down in your new chair, and hoping to ‘get a business going’… with NO IDEA what that business might actually be or what you might sell!
That would just be silly.
You know that already. I know you wouldn’t set out aimlessly when it comes to the ‘serious’ parts of your business. But I’m betting you would when it comes to creating your own happiness.
Somehow, we do-it-all women subconsciously think that while it’s good to plan for business growth, it’s frivolous to spend time planning and building your business to give you the life and fulfillment you want.
Here’s another perspective:
you know those people with the dream businesses and lifestyles that you’d love (in an ideal world?).
- Those people in your field who have specialized in that sexy creative niche that you’d love to be in (but it doesn’t seem ‘realistic’ for you)?
- The ones who travel the world doing something that is usually ‘location bound’? And who love their work?
- The ‘lucky ones’ who seem to work the hours they want and not be enslaved to the whims of clients and customers?
Those people didn’t just wake up one day with all that, they decided what they wanted THEN they shaped their business to get there. They made some hard and scary decisions and said ‘no’ to ‘good enough’ to get the ‘great’.
What they have now did not just happen. In every case I know of they planned and worked for their own happiness, just as seriously as you’d do it for anything else.
A personal example:
when I started out coaching (in a slightly different field to the one I’m in now) I quit my job and was delighted at the idea of being in charge of my time… but suddenly I found myself without any evenings. All my clients were in jobs and wanted to see me in the evenings. Plus, I wasn’t totally in love with the niche I was working with. Of course I felt I had to say yes to these clients – otherwise I’d be broke (and feel rather mean for saying no).
Within 6 months my social life had gone splat – I couldn’t ever find time to see my friends or family.
Plus I was burning out. Every evening was full and I’d go home late, tired, and a bit frustrated. Because ‘everyone’ wanted face to face sessions it was harder to take a holiday now than when I had a job! Plus I didn’t feel I was earning enough for the hours I put in. This wasn’t the dream.
So I had to make a tough decision: continue like this, or say ‘no’ to this schedule… and ‘no’ to the vast majority of the sorts of clients I was working with and ‘no’ to the way I was earning money.
As you might guess, I chose the latter. I stopped doing individual coaching, I stopped doing face to face work: instead I clumped together my clients into groups, upped my prices, niched into something I was really passionate about, launched my first ‘group coaching programme’ and ran group coaching one evening a week. Over the phone.
In one swoop my location and time issues got sorted. I could work from anywhere in the world and had 6 out of 7 evenings free.
Plus, because I set my prices based on what I actually wanted to earn for my time (and clumped the work into group sessions) I ended up earning more while working less.
Now that sounds like a glib story. So I really want to point out that this was not an obvious solution at the time – I agonized over it for ages in fact! You see, at the time others said ‘if you don’t work like everyone else, then no one will come to you’. No one was running this sort of business in my field in the UK.
However, it did work – but not by luck.
It is very possible to make this sort of counterintuitive change if you follow these three steps (which I’ve used time and time again to make my business suit me more and more, and to help others do the same)
- a) Know what you want and create a plan to get it (and don’t compromise your plan because it seems impossible right now).
- b) Stop asking for permission – if I’d asked my clients if this was ok they’d have said ‘no’. But a whole bunch of new ones said ‘yes’. If I’d spent my time ‘researching’ whether this was possible, then I’d have got a ‘no’ (no one else thought it would work!). You’re the only one who can give yourself this permission.
- c) Shout out the customer benefit in your new offer or way of working. In the example above, this only worked for me because I made my group offer very desirable – I highlighted how a group gives you support individual sessions don’t, how you’d get further and get better results without even leaving home. The magic comes when you show your people how your new offer is an advantage to them, rather than a compromise.
The first step is to clarify your direction:
what would YOU want your life to look like?
If that question seems overwhelming then break it down into categories – for example the four categories of time, lifestyle, type of clients, main activities.
By the way, this might seem frivolous but until you’re clear on what you want, you’ve got nothing to shoot for aside from another year of the same.
3. Shout it out loud
Now you are thinking about breaking the rules, being your own leader and getting your ‘ideal’ clear I’m going to challenge you to some out of the box action.
Warning: this is a challenge so only read on if you’re ok with straight talking!
There’s something you’re not saying. I don’t know what it is but I know it’s in there. Because every person I meet (who is no longer in love with their business) is holding back from saying what they really want to say about their field.
There is a natural tendency to think that our message: what we really want to say and see – is not good enough. We often think that if we just said what we really wanted then we’d lose all our clients. We tend to think that we should be different from who we really are. So we keep quiet about how we really feel.
Problem with this is – most people think the same thing. Most people tell themselves they need to inhabit the safe middle ground. Most people water down their message so much that it becomes indecipherable from everyone else’s.
What happens then is Sameness Syndrome – you water down your message, so you end up not really standing out (except to people who have worked with you before).
Many people in that position struggle to get enough (of the right) customers – suddenly you’re always ‘competing’ rather than having people flock to you. Keeping your head down doing things you think you ‘should’ isn’t just bad for you, it’s bad for your business.
But the biggest problem (the one that’s impacting on your business-love) is that this strategy is leaving you unhappy.
When you mask your true voice, tone it down, and inhabit the middle ground – because that’s what you think you ‘should’ do – then your customers expect you and your business to be something you’re not.
They expect you to offer something that doesn’t feel 100% ‘you’.
That’s when a lot of people start falling out of love with their business.
Here’s how to test if you have fallen into this trap:
- Write out your ‘rant’.
What would you REALLY love to say to your people? What would you like to shout out there if only you wouldn’t lose business? What do you think is missing from the heart of how your field works? It’s ok, this is just for your eyes. Take a moment to do it now.
- What makes you (the real you) 1% different to other businesses in your field?
Think about this not in business speak but in reality – what do you know you bring that differs even 1% from most people?
- Now, look at your website.
Go on, pull it up right now (even if you say ‘it’s not ready yet’, do it just between you and me).
Tell me: can you see the passion and message you just wrote down in point 1, as clear as day on the front page?
Would someone reading the ‘about’ page have as strong a reaction as if they met you and talked for 5 minutes?
Is this really reflecting ‘you’ in all your realness?
If you have a blog: does it shout out what you really feel?
If you’re like 90% of unhappy business owners it doesn’t.
You know what most unhappy business owners’ websites look like?
A tiny variation on most of their competitors’ websites. Ripe with industry buzz words and things they think they ‘should’ include. (But hey the logo’s nice!)
Of course this might not be you. Maybe your website and materials and ‘official line’ are totally you. Maybe, your friends would pick your stuff out of a line-up. Maybe, people say “I’ve never seen someone say things quite like you do!” and you’re happy all the time. But if that was the case then I don’t think you’d be reading this right now.
The discrepancy between ‘you’ and ‘the you that runs your business’ is the reason you’re still reading the article:
Is it really a surprise that you’re not in love, when the real you has been evicted from the heart of your business?
Is it really a surprise that you’re competing for business when the real you is hidden behind the shiny veneer?
You’re not just building a business: you’re building a life…
So, where are YOU in your business?
You built the business. You’re damn good at what you do too. But somewhere along the way most of ‘you’ got left behind.
There are two of you in this relationship, honey – let’s give you a voice and bring back the love.
About the Author: Marianne Cantwell runs Free Range Humans. She helps women create and tweak their business to fit their personality and lifestyle, while growing their profits. A self confessed geek on both marketing and happiness, Marianne is combining these two usually very different topics into a book about free range businesses, (to be published in 2012). For more tips on breaking the rules and making your business work for you (not the other way around), subscribe to her blog and Friday ‘love letter’ at http://www.free-range-humans.com (and follow her on Twitter @freerangehumans)