This is a statement I’m hearing more and more from the people who contact me for mentoring advice. In many cases these are people who are perfectly capable and have been running their business for some years already. There’s just something that’s happening in the creative business world at the moment, which is making these bright, talented people doubt their business skills.
Do you ever feel like you don’t know what you’re doing? Was there a time when you felt confident in your abilities and lit-up by your passion for your business? A time when you felt invincible and unstoppable. Do you remember how that felt? It might have been a few years ago, or last week, but once you hit an overwhelming period that sharp focus you once possessed feels like a lifetime ago.
Sometimes it can seem that the world, and the market, around you is moving at a speed you just can’t keep up with. There are new platforms, new software, new voices and new techniques that pop up every day, and with every new thing you feel you need to master, you start feeling more and more like you’re scrambling to keep up with the times.
I was just watching Caitlin Bacher on Periscope last night talking about the mistakes people make when asking for advice in Facebook groups, and how acting ‘shifty’, whether intentionally or accidentally, can permanently damage your reputation online. It got me thinking how much running your business has changed as our ways of communicating have evolved hand in hand with the internet. While the online world has given us a lot bigger market to play in, it’s also exposing us in ways that would have been incomprehensible even just 10 years ago.
Everything you do as a business owner these days leaves marks. From a consumers point of view that transparency is, of course, a great thing. But for someone trying to find their way through a maze of information and marketing methods, that same transparency can leave you feeling very vulnerable and afraid of taking any wrong steps.
Unfortunately, at the same time taking wrong steps is a crucial part of growing, both as a person and as a business owner. There is just no way anyone can promise to give you a perfect formula that will absolutely make you successful in a mistake-proof way, without you having to try a few different routes and failing at a couple of different ideas. And yet, everywhere you look you see promises of ‘easy success’ and ‘fool-proof formulas’. The easier it feels to jump in, the bigger the overwhelm later on when you realise nothing worthwhile comes easy.
These two things combined, the transparency of running a business in a world that is online, and the inherent need for making mistakes in order to grow, can leave you feeling rather paralysed.
If you’re feeling like you don’t know what you’re doing right now, here’s what I want you to do next.
1. Go back and look at the work you’re most proud of
Sometimes it’s good to remind yourself of your talent, and why you running a business is a great service to those who hire you. Go through your old portfolio or blog posts to remind yourself how you used to feel, and why the work you do matters. You might even realise that you are much better right now than you were at a time that in your mind feels like your most successful period. Chances are you have grown since then, both in talent and in knowledge, so you are actually a lot stronger right now than you ever were.
2. Read through your favourite feedback from clients
You know, the people who really matter to your business. Find thank you emails that really touched you (I know you have them marked and archived, I sure do) and re-read them. Leaf through the cards you might have gotten and saved. Reply to some, not to sell anything, but just to catch up and see how they are doing. It’s amazing to get to feel like you’ve played a small positive part in someone else’s life, and keeping in touch once in a while makes you feel more like a part of a bigger purpose.
3. Refresh your business plan
The quickest way to regain a sense of control over your business is to actually take that control back yourself. Instead of hiding your head in the sand, hoping that someone will feed you that vital piece of information that will make all the difference, be proactive and face the challenge of knowing your business, your market, and your goals thoroughly. You can use the free business plan template to do that, or if you want more support, I talk you through the whole process in the 30-day Business Plan Refresh course. If you think refreshing your plan sounds boring, you have definitely forgotten how exciting planning for the future of your business can be. It's not just about filling in a necessary document, it's more about taking control of where you want to be heading.
4. Take a break from new information
Yes, even from this blog… I know, I’ll be sad to not see you for a while either, but I trust that you’ll be back with a refreshed focus. It’s just that in this age of information overload, it’s way too easy to slip into consumer mode, where you just take on more and more information, hoping that some of it will stick, without actually taking any action. So set yourself a time limit, perhaps a week, or even a month, where you don’t consume any new information, but instead start implementing all the things you have crammed into your head and on your Evernote. I’ll be here when you get back.
5. Write down your goals
Go back and read last week’s post about goal-setting and download the worksheet to help you with setting attainable goals. I can’t stress how important this is, especially at times when you are feeling like you’re grappling in the dark. I'm currently taking my own advice and setting goals and targets for next year. This year has been about big transitions for me, which has meant having to be patient with myself and with the things I want to be doing. But I feel like next year will be the year where all the groundwork for many things, and not just business related goals, will start to kick into gear. And the clearer my goals and strategy gets, the more excited I get about the things to come.
6. Take a step back
Sometimes, you just need to reset yourself completely. Remember that, even though it might feel like it, running a lifestyle business is not a race to the top. Don’t put the pressure on yourself of competing against how someone else is doing, or fearing that you’ll be viewed as a failure if you take a slower route on your journey. There are only two things that keep us blindly banging our heads against the wall when what we should be doing is to take a step back and reassess. Those two things are financial pressure and pride.
If you’re feeling under financial pressure, see if you can generate enough of an income in some other way, perhaps even by cutting down your expenditure, in order to give you more breathing space. If you feel like you have to keep ploughing on into the unknown because your pride would take a hit and you’d feel like you ‘gave up’ otherwise, have a word with yourself. You have one life, and what you do with it should matter to you, not what other people think you’re doing with it.
7. Audit your strengths & weaknesses
One of the quickest ways to start feeling like you don’t know what you’re doing is trying to execute a blueprint or a strategy based on someone else’s strengths and weaknesses. Taking on board new information is not in itself a bad thing, not at all. Where it can start contributing to you feeling lost, is if you consume a lot of information based on the success of someone with inherently different strengths to yours. Even that is fine, if you are aware of your own weaknesses, and put a plan in place to overcome them. But if you are just dreaming of running a business in a way that someone else is doing it, without having a clear grasp of why that plan might not work for you, of course you are going to feel like there’s something wrong with you.
Taking stock of your own strengths & weaknesses is a great way to put yourself back in the driving seat. Once you are fully aware of all the amazing things you bring to your business, you can start thinking of innovative ways of leveraging your strengths. And once you honestly admit your weaknesses to yourself, you can either put an action plan in place to overcome them, or stop following blueprints that don’t take your particular handicaps into consideration.
I made this little worksheet for you to help you with identifying your strengths & weaknesses. Hopefully, it will help you to start feeling more in control of your own business again.
As an Inspire Your Inbox subscriber, you can download this worksheet from The Library.
(Hint: you can sign up in the green box at the top of this page, or if you're already a subscriber, you'll find the password at the bottom of every email).