What does it look like to protect yourself and your business from it all getting a bit too personal?
The thing about your business is that it’s yours. When things are good they make you look and feel good and, when things are bad, like when customers and clients denigrate or just ignore your product or brand, they make you look and feel bad. It can be annoying being told not to take it personally, it is personal – it’s your business. You are a big part of its USP – you are its YouSP if you like . You are integral to the business but – and it’s a big “but”- the business is not you.
Recognising that your business is personal and yet learning how not to take the swings and roundabouts of business personally is key not just to your own survival and wellbeing but to the survival of the business. Recent stories in the world of tech have alerted us to the danger of businesses that become an extension of the founder; in many cases, not only has the founder been forced out but the business has suffered, leading to job losses and precipitous falls in value.
These stories aren’t just limited to tech companies or large companies, they are a problem across sectors and in much smaller businesses. In fact, they are more of a danger the smaller a business is. When you’ve ploughed hours of blood, sweat and tears – hours of yourself – into raising funds, making and selling your product or service, building up customers and clients, it feels counterintuitive to separate yourself and your self-image from the business. However, finding sustainable ways to do that is vital to the survival and success of your business.
There are a number of ways you can make this vital separation. The first is to ensure that you can do this in success. Yes, you heard me correctly. Getting this separation between you and your business right in the good times will make it easier to survive the tough ones. And, in all the struggles of running or even starting a business, there will be some good times. The launch of new products, the addition of new customers and clients, stellar feedback from people you rate, pitches that go well, increased revenues. And in those times, the personal rush you feel will be the most validating thing in the world. It will seem to justify the risks you took and the money, time and effort you poured in. As your business has any sniffs of success, the temptation to associate how it’s doing with how you’re doing as a person will easily slip into the temptation to associate how it’s doing with who you are as a person. Other people will not help. “Well done you!”, they’ll say encouragingly or, “I hear you’re doing really well!”
This is the time to take pause and to tell both yourself and others, “Well, the business is doing really well right now and I’m glad.” That move from the first to third person, from “I’m doing well” or even “we’re doing well” to “the business is doing well…” or “business is going well…” is key. If you can do that in the good times, if you can celebrate success without internalising it, then you are far more likely to survive the hard times, to be able to step back from failure without internalising it. Even if your business meets a premature end, you’ll be able to say (correctly), “The business failed” rather than “I am a failure.” Making the success or failure of the business less about you will allow you to learn the right lessons and take responsibility where you need to. It will allow you to persevere in the long run, perhaps with this business, but ultimately as a founder and, most importantly, as a vaguely functional human being.