How do you manage the inevitable pendulum swings of running your own business? Do you jump on for the ride, relishing the exhilaration or find it exhausting? Or does it depend on the day?
“The highs are higher and the lows are lower,” said one ex-colleague, comparing our itinerant work at the time to a similar but more regular job he’d done. The highs are higher and the lows are lower is also definitely true about running your own business/being freelance compared to working for someone else. And it’s truer than ever as we continue to navigate global and personal upheaval and uncertainty.
When it comes to running your own business, the euphoria of finding new customers, clients and investors one day can easily swing to the despondency of a partnership that doesn’t materialise, cancelled orders or a phone that doesn’t ring the next day. It’s basically a pendulum and it’s easy to feel like the dangling metal balls in the middle of one of those 1980s corporate desk toys (a Newton’s Cradle?) being bashed by the swinging metal balls either side.
The thing about the balls in the middle of the Newton’s Cradle is that they always – somehow – stay still so, given that it’s hard to do business effectively while lurching from one emotional state to another, what does it look like to keep some level of equilibrium while running your own thing in the midst of the pendulum?
The first thing is to expect it. Knowing that running your own business is going to be a rollercoaster helps you not to be shocked as the pendulum swings from side to side.
The second is to embrace it – one of the best things about running your own business is the variety it involves – if you want the same old, same old, the regular and routine, this is not the life for you.
The third thing is to learn to evaluate it – to seek to respond rather than react to the swings. Chiseled above the door to Centre Court at the All England Tennis Club (which hosts the Wimbledon Tennis Championships) are words from Rudyard Kipling’s poem If encouraging the players who walk through to that door to “meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same” . The key word here is “treat”. The poem doesn’t suggest you feel the same on a good day as on a bad, that is impossible unless you’re a robot, but that you seek to to treat both a good day and a bad in similar ways.
We can’t choose how we feel – at least initially – but we can choose how we respond to situations. It doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate the win – the new customer, the big contract – or be disappointed by the lost sale or the dip in profit but that we do both in the context of the bigger picture. The Wisdom Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible puts it like this:
When times are good, be happy;
but when times are bad, consider this:
God has made the one
as well as the other.
Therefore, no one can discover
anything about their future. (Ecclesiastes 7:14)
Whether or not you believe in God, you know as a founder that good and bad times will come for your business, and that, however intense they seem at the time, ultimately they do not tell you the whole truth or the whole future about the business and so there’s no need to respond to them at the time as though they do – with extreme exhilaration or existential despair.
Learning this will not only be good for you and your business but for everyone you impact, your customers and clients, your suppliers and stakeholders, anyone you work with, not to mention those who matter to you in your personal life.
In the Portobello Business Centre in London, there is a helpful sign behind the reception desk which reads, “Your mood should not dictate your manners”. Managing the pendulum swing will minimise the mood swings that come with it and make for a more stable and productive business by way of a more stable and productive you.