“My business seems to be successful,” said the new entrepreneur, “but when do I get to quit worrying about enough work coming in?” Jo Ann is an accomplished marketer, with 20 years of experience under her belt and an MBA, not to mention gorgeous and personable. She left her post as VP/CMO at a venerable brand to start her own marketing consultancy.
“Never,” was all I could tell her. In my years of running my own companies, I’ve been able to come to a strange peace with that fact, but some days it requires a certain amount of zen not to completely freak out.
I gave her my rock climbing metaphor. When I was just starting my first ad agency, I asked that same question of my friend Bill, a wildly successful illustrator who has run his own business for decades. Bill’s personality is about as low stress as mine is high, and I would never peg him for a worrier. (One night at some industry event, I remarked to Bill that it had been a gorgeous afternoon. He agreed, and revealed that he’d turned down a job to do a Newsweek cover that afternoon so he could go hiking instead. I was impressed, but he laughed and said, “I’m thinking I made the wrong decision.”) Bill told me the same thing I told Jo Ann: never.
Bill said he still worries all the time, but he doesn’t view worry as a negative. He suggested I try to enjoy the fear, the same way I enjoy the fear inherent to rock climbing. “Think of it as exciting,” he said. “It’s scary, but it’s kind of fun.”
Here are my four best tips for maintaining perspective:
1. Redefine worry. Worry can be useful, if it wakes you up in the middle of the night with the realization that you won’t be able to make payroll unless you collect that big receivable that’s running late. Worry can make you get up the next morning and get your client on the phone to help push that invoice through their accounting department and get you a check. Instead of telling yourself that you’re worried, maybe you’re actually just “aware.”
2. Remember how much is in your control. Although you can’t control the economy or a potential client’s budget cuts, you can control your efforts. During slow times, ramp up your networking, your outreach, your marketing. In your own business, you truly have more control over your success than you would working for a large company.
3. Give seeds time to grow. For the sort of professional services many small businesses are selling, the sales process can stretch out for years. If you don’t get a piece of business you pitch today, that doesn’t mean you won’t win some work from that client somewhere down the road. At Tribe, we got our first project from UPS a full two years after I’d sent an introductory letter to a heavyweight there. He’d kept that letter in his files until he had a need for us. Similar story with our Chick-fil-A clients. Life is long.
4. Don’t slack off in good times. When a small business is busy, it’s usually all hands on deck to get the work done. It’s very difficult to come up for air long enough to formulate any sort of marketing efforts. Just don’t let your business development machine grind to a complete halt. Keep pitching. Stay visible. Be in touch.
I’m sure some of you out there have tips to add to that list. How do you deal with the relentless need to keep drumming up business?