I mentioned in my last post that I decided in April to step away from my business. I was feeling completely uninspired, unengaged and exhausted with it all. Every day felt like it was a push, nothing was flowing. This had started to have negative impact on my self-esteem and health. To keep doing things that make you feel bad in yourself and physically unwell is just madness. I decided to stop. Not to give up, but to break from it for a while.
It’s been an interesting month since that happened. I wanted to come on and share what I’ve learnt in that time.
I’m way too impatient
The day after I made the decision to step back, I woke up, made my cup of tea and sat down ready to start again. Even though I’d identified what I was doing wasn’t working for me I was ready to do it again. I told myself it was just the wrong message, if I changed the message everything would get better. And I desperately wanted it to get better, so was going to throw myself back wholeheartedly into the process.
Thankfully, I was able to pause and consider if that was really the smartest idea. I had a week until I went on holiday; maybe I should use that time to look more closely at what hadn’t worked, what I actually wanted and how I felt about everything that had happened. Starting a business is an emotional roller coaster, and the decision to admit publicly it wasn’t working was a tough one. Yet I was ready to move on like it hadn’t happened.
This was a battle every day until holiday. The urge to get up and do the same thing. Which I do believe is the definition of insanity.
This is just one example of a bigger pattern for me. Starting a business is a marathon, not a sprint, especially in this world of online coaching and training. There’s so much competition out there, and it take a lot of consistent, diligent hard work for your business to take off. I could sprout lots of sayings here – Rome wasn’t built in a day etc etc – but won’t (as when I hear sayings like that I discount them even if they’re relevant.)
Instead, I was researching a new way of doing things, getting excited and implementing it in my business, only to give up a week later when I wasn’t seeing the progress I expected. I had a lengthy discussion in my Mastermind group about how long should you keep trying for, when do you except something hasn’t worked. There isn’t an easy answer to this question. But I hadn’t really tried anything long enough to really know.
It felt like 18 months was long enough to try something and prove it hadn’t worked. But I didn’t try one thing, I tried many, many things over that 18 months, with no consistency. Even if something had gained traction I probably wouldn’t have known which thing it was, as I wasn’t consistently doing anything. And you can’t replicate what you don’t know and understand.
I’m now practising my patience, and reflecting and journaling a lot on how it feels to support that process. It’s not sexy or glamourous, but I know it will make the long-term difference to the life and business I’m building.
Listening to other people doesn’t always help
When things stopped going well in my business I started looking for the answers to why that was. Why wasn’t I getting clients? Why weren’t people joining my mailing list? I fell into the knowledge rabbit hole. Googling ‘business coaching’ returns 11 million results. There is so much information out there on how to run an online business, and a great deal of it promises to be the answer you’re looking for.
And every coach offers freebies you can sign up for and endless content you can consume on how to do things. Much of it encourages you to also become someone who put more of the same style content out there! And all that content is often contradictory and wildly different, as there isn’t one way to do things.
Well, when you combine all that free and accessible content with a tendency towards being too impatient, it’s a recipe for disaster. I would try something, not see the promised quick result, so look for the next thing to try. And I stopped listening to what I thought was the right way to do things. I’d tried running the business how I wanted to and it “hadn’t worked” and there would be this plethora of coaches promising me that quickly made their business a success and they could help me do the same. When it didn’t work, I would automatically assume it must be my fault. I obviously hadn’t done it right, understood properly, or must be a general business failure.
Now, not everyone is out there promoting this one size fits all, quick wins style of business coaching. But because it does exist, the people out there offering something more slow and sustainable don’t stand out quite as much. I’d agreed to work with my first business coach once a month, and she was 100% advocating this slow and steady method of working. But I stopped working with her as I was too impatient and found someone offering me what I saw as a quicker process to success. There were too many people out there promising me what I wanted quicker and bigger.
Which leads to another, related lesson – find and invest in your business coaching from day one. I’d waited until I was already in a place of anxiety, looking for the quick fix, which meant there was no way I could’ve taken my time with it. I know look back and wished I’d put that solid base in at the very beginning.
Going forward anything I’m going to do, I’m going to do because it feels right to me. And I’m going to keep doing things that feel good, even if I don’t see any quick wins, and stop doing things that don’t feel good, even if someone assures me it’s the only way to do it.
Planning is key
After I decided not to get up every day and do the same thing on repeat I found myself faced with a big wide open diary. At first, it felt refreshing and uplifting. But as time went on this became a burden. Every morning I was waking up and thinking “what do I do today?” It really got my down. I like being busy, and that feeling of being productive and achieving things (who doesn’t?!?!?) The days go quicker when you have stuff to do.
But trying to create the stuff to do is EXHAUSTING. It created this really horrible cycle for me, where I knew there were so many things I could be doing, but didn’t know which to do, so didn’t decide to do any of them and then felt guilty and depressed for not achieving anything with my day. Then the next day I’d do it again. I got into another ‘do the same thing every day on repeat’, but with a much worse prognosis.
It highlighted to me that although, before the decision to take a break, I’d been busy, I hadn’t been organised. I was still relying on that decision-making process every day. My coach had provided me a list of things to do every day, but I wasn’t consistently doing them. I didn’t have a routine in place at all. My excuse was I’d started my business to have freedom and autonomy, and a routine took away from that. What I realise now is a routine does the opposite, it allows that freedom and autonomy.
Firstly, when you’re your own boss, you get to pick your own routine. If you only want to work mornings you can. Or if you want Fridays off you can have them. By actually deciding that, rather than seeing how you feel on the day, it removes some of the cognitive load you face, and guilt from not working on your business. You know when you will be in business mode, and therefore can enjoy not being there when you’re not.
Secondly, as your own boss you can change your routine whenever you feel like it. Got PMS and want to take a day to watch TV? Go for it. Is the sun shining and you want to go to the park with your children rather than sit on your laptop? That’s fine. At least you know you can get up the next day and get back to the routine, or you can see a way to make the lost time up on a different day. When you’re employed, and have set working hours, it isn’t that easy to just decide to do things like that.
This lack of routine had so many negative consequences on me. As I said above, lack of routine leads to so much guilt when you’re not working on your business. It meant my boundaries just disappeared, as I didn’t know where I wanted them to maintain them from. The constant decision-making was exhausting, meaning at the end of the day I really didn’t want to do anything else with my life. It gave me an easy out of doing some of the less nice but more essential things in life (diet and exercise??? Pah!! I was too busy with the business.) It also meant I really didn’t achieve much of anything. I spent too much time on the ‘busy work’ and not enough time on the things that made the real traction in the business.
I’ve had so many ideas for free resources, paid training programmes, group coaching programmes and one to one offerings. They’ve not gone anywhere as I haven’t planned for them. I’ve tinkered on each of them here and there, but nothing consistently. I have a stack of books to read, all relevant to my business, all of which I’m sure will help me grow and develop more, but most of them are half read.
I understand now why so many business owners use things like Trello and Asana to manage their work. I didn’t think I needed to, as it was just me, but without a clear plan and deadlines it’s too easy to not actually do anything meaningful. You still need deadlines, even if they’re only self-imposed ones. And a plan of attack for all the things you want to achieve so you don’t get overwhelmed by the possibilities.
I’ve now got the routine in place, and the plan is next on my list.
Personal life impacts business more than I expected
When I trained as a coach I was working in a consultancy job which was causing me a lot of stress and anguish. I was so unhappy, and couldn’t see a way out. I was also struggling to get the coaching business off the ground. I had a few clients, but not enough energy to commit to the business development. Dave lovingly offered to shoulder the finances so I could leave the job and focus on building the business. Now all the advice out there will tell you to not quit your day job until your coaching business is established, so we knew it wouldn’t be easy. We discussed it, and were confident we could make it work.
At the same time as making this decision, we also moved out of London to Oxfordshire. We made these two massive changes at once, and I couldn’t have prepared for the impact that would’ve had on the business.
For a start, it took away my support network. I’d trained in London, and the coaching school I trained with are great at putting on events. This meant I would regularly see and talk to other people in the same boat. I could still attend these events, but it was a hell of a lot harder now. And at the time it didn’t feel like a priority so I stopped going. It made visiting my friends much harder, as I was that bit further away from them. I’d regularly meet a couple of friends in London for dinner, but it started getting harder to coordinate that with all the extra travel.
The move also hugely changed the relationship Dave and I had. I felt so guilty that he was going to work and I was at home. The fact I was working on my business didn’t change that, probably because I had no plan therefore no evidence of what I was achieving! This got even worse when we got the dog, as I was home looking after a cute puppy and he was having an unpleasant time at work at that point. I also felt I had to do more around the house because I was there. I became a great little housewife, but that just bred resentment, as I’m so not that person!
Add to this mix the fact we approach money so differently and it led to many difficult conversations and arguments. It was the hardest time we’ve ever had in our relationship. And it really impacted on the quality of the work in my business. Things I wanted to spend money on for the business became a question and debate. The pressure to make it a success grew, as the feelings of burden and resentment grew. I lost myself in the process of trying to find my business.
This knocked onto my health. Moving out of London and leaving consulting was meant to reduce my stress, but it simply replaced it with a different kind. I started to experience a lot of pain in my body which impacted how much I could exercise. This meant I had less energy and resilience, less to invest in the business. And as the time passed, more pressure to make it work. It was no wonder I ended up so exhausted in the end.
Dave and I regularly talk about how different this might have been had we only changed one thing at a time. If I’d looked for a different, less stressful job to provide some income while I started the business, or we’d stayed in London rather than moving at the same time. This experience has reminded me how blessed I am to have such a supportive and honest partner. Sure, we’ve had some pretty horrible conversations, but we have both grown as people and as a couple from this. There hasn’t been anything we can’t talk about, and have resolved everything together. It has made as stronger together. And it’s reminded me how important it is to voice how you’re feeling before it escalates.
I’ve not been practicing what I preach
This is very linked to the above point. If I’d been focusing on what I needed, prioritising it and expressing that to Dave I don’t think I would’ve got to the point where my health was suffering and I’d withdrawn from my social support network. Because I was stressed and feeling pressured I completely let my boundaries slip, working up to 12 hours a day, spending a lot of it on social media, which isn’t good for your emotional health! I basically ended up doing all the things I want to help people to NOT do.
Now I’ve recognised it I’m slowly putting these things back in place. I’ve got my routine to help with boundaries, which includes clear exercise sessions to focus on my health. I’m connecting to my needs more regularly and only move forward in a way that feels good to me.