Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Entrepreneur's Response To: 'How's Business?'

I attended a conference last week for The Newfoundland and Labrador Organization for Women Entrepreneurs.  It was a wonderful opportunity to network with other business owners and listen to some fabulous speakers share their insights on business topics.  And it was an opportunity to practice answering the question, 'How's business?'

Have you ever wondered if your answer to that question was helping or hindering you?

I recently realized I do not like that question and my answer often made me feel icky - so it was hindering me.  In my mindfulness practice, I am learning to manage the highs and lows in life and business.  One of the mindful leadership traits I practice is poise - and, let's be honest, I'm still practicing!  When someone asks the question, 'How's business?' I've struggled with the answer.

At times business is fabulous and I want to scream from the mountaintops that I'm making it!  Some big contract just came through... my week is full of clients... I exceeded a goal... etc.  And then at times business is slow, I'm marketing and developing and making connections - or sometimes not.  Maybe I didn't win a contract or maybe my week has no revenue generating activities.  At those times I'd like to tell the person asking me the question how tough everything is.

But I don't do that either.  Anymore.

Entrepreneurs, especially those in their first few years of business, often have extreme highs and lows.  The excitement of securing a large contract in an industry you've been targeting for a year is as thrilling as not having any revenue generating activity on the books for a week (or two or three) is devastating.  To be able to go home at night and live happily means being able to manage the extremes.

Most entrepreneurs consciously choose this path.  We enter it knowing the struggles and chaos facing us.  We know 80% of businesses fail in the first two years - and many of us have already been one of those statistics.  We know we likely won't have a regular salary for a year or two or three.  And we know we are passionate and want to lead the way with a concept or service or product and not follow someone else's idea.  It's part of who we are.  But it doesn't mean we know how to manage it all.

Entrepreneurs often feel alone.  They do not want to let others know they are struggling in business in fear of losing potential clients, contracts, or employees.  They feel responsible for their employees' lives.  They feel responsible for ensuring enough money comes into the family to put food on the table.  When something fails in business, they take it on as a personal failure.  Entrepreneurs feel the weight of the world on their shoulders.

When an entrepreneur can bring mindful leadership into their business and work, they can alleviate the weight.  Of course, meditation as a daily practice will help anyone feel less stressed and more energetic.  However, it's the minor adjustments of the mind throughout the day that will make a powerful impact on how an entrepreneur feels about business.

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, acceptance is one of the attitudinal factors for mindfulness.  As an entrepreneur, accepting that a low in business gives you an opportunity to take care of something will allow you to see the low in a different light.  For me, I see the slow times in business as an opportunity to tweak, develop, and take care of me on a personal level.  It has taken some time to accept these slow times as, not only needed, but enjoyable.  For other businesses, the slow times can present an opportunity to implement a new process, evaluate customer service, or build team cohesiveness.  Interestingly, when diving into these development activities, sales often rise as a result.

Another attitudinal factor for mindfulness is letting go.  Entrepreneurs want to be 'successful'.  We want our businesses to thrive.  We are either passionate about what we offer or are passionate about business itself - or both.  When we are succeeding in business, we want to hold on to it.... we want it to last forever.... we want to continue to grow and thrive and have fabulous work cultures.  But it never works that way.  Things change.  The environment changes.  People change.  Demands change.  And business must go through these changes in order to thrive again.  When entrepreneurs can let go of the need to hold onto the pleasure from the high times, it is easier to flow into transition times or low times.  And this takes poise.  A mindful leader will be able to celebrate successes without needing them for validation for personal success and be mindful that today's success does not guarantee tomorrow's.  A mindful leader and entrepreneur will be as happy and content with the success as with the failure because he/she will let go of the pleasant or unpleasant feelings and know that all that really matters is this moment, and this moment is truly beautiful.

All of this takes practice - a lot of practice.  It does not mean we don't work hard to succeed or have a thriving business.  It means we can accept where we are, take action, and not cling to business success as a factor for happiness.  It means entrepreneurs can stop feeling the weight of the world and start loving the moments.  It's OK.  And it will make business even better.

So when people now ask, "How's business?"  I'm practicing the response, "I love it."  That is the truth.  And I'm just like any entrepreneur who is learning to manage the highs and lows that come with being a passionate entrepreneur.