Riding the Rails of the Small Business Rollercoaster
Turning the other cheek…Kevin Garber says starting his media agency was the most stressful undertaking of his life. Kevin Garber runs a boutique online media agency and says running his small business is the most stressful pursuit he’s taken on in his life. But a shift in his thinking – helped along by a business coach – has brought more profit, and enjoyment, to his business. “Starting and running a small business is extremely stressful. I’d probably rate it, besides any existential challenges, as the most difficult thing I’ve ever done,” Garber says.
Sometimes doing the work you get paid to do can be the least stressful part of small business, says Garber, who has been building up his business Melon Media for almost a decade. “The human element is where all the real stresses come in – managing the dynamics of the team, getting the best out of your team, and more importantly managing yourself,” Garber says.
“It is a marathon – you need to manage your energy levels – and dealing with the very regular and unpredictable challenges that come out of nowhere, whether it be staff suddenly leaving, clients suddenly leaving. Even the business growing positively in ways that you never predicted can cause stress and challenges.”
After a few years riding the rollercoaster solo, Garber decided to enlist the support of a business coach. “As a small business owner it’s quite lonely at the top. Executives in large businesses have teams of advisors and steering committees. I think sometimes the stress comes from just making all the decisions alone,” he says. “There’s a sense in small business that success is about going it alone, and making it alone, and that’s a total fallacy. People need to collaborate more, ask for more help, work together more. I’m surprised at the number of business owners that don’t have support or mechanisms that help carry them.”
With the support of his business coach he became aware that his thoughts were affecting his emotions, stress and energy levels. “A lot of business owners are only driven by fear, and a lot of those thoughts can make the day to day quite unpleasant,” Garber says. “Even though those thoughts can be the impetus for momentum and drive, to work from the position of fear is a lot less fun than working from a position of empowerment.”
As well as enjoying his role more, it has flowed through to a more profitable business, Garber says. “It has allowed me to take sensible risks and not get paralysed by any of the stresses of those risks. I now manage five, six staff, we are involved in some incredibly exciting initiatives, we have a product that’s really successful in the States and I generally wouldn’t say I live a stressed existence. A lot is due to getting the thoughts and perspectives right.” Garber meets with his business coach, Meiron Lees, once a week, or more regularly if the business is going through a period of change.
Lees is founder of corporate and business coaching and training group InnerCents and authored the book D-Stress: Building Resilience in Challenging Times. A large part of Lees’ work is focused on providing clients with the tools for stress management. “When I’m working with small business owners what they think is stressing them out is often not the cause. As soon as you put the cause external from yourself, you put yourself in victim mode because you can’t control it,” Lees says. “The question is interpretation of our challenges. We have not been taught how to interpret our challenges in an optimistic way. The crucial point is to learn how to think and therefore how to self-manage.”
Lees began the research, which led to him writing the book, to address his own concerns. “The book came out of my own realisation that I lacked an essential life skill myself – I wasn’t resilient and I was allowing the external world to rule my emotional world. The quality of my day depended on what other people did – my day was good if I had received nice emails or was getting sales, or whatever it was, all externally dependent,” Lees said. “But my day was not good if things weren’t going well. And I realised I was not controlling that. I realised I would be on a roller-coaster for the rest of my life.”
The book D-Stress focuses on techniques to manage stress – such as focusing on each day and reframing thoughts – and how to become more resilient as a business owner and to increase the resilience of your business and your staff. “A lot of SMEs see there’s not a way out, they feel trapped. They are not seeing the opportunities that can arise and therefore they are stuck in a little bit of a helpless position waiting for things to turn. I think that’s the wrong thinking, it’s out of your control. Instead, say, ’what do we need to do with our own business?’,” Lees says. “Living each day as an opportunity to develop an understanding of yourself makes life an exciting adventure.”
How to de-stress your business
Keep your negative thoughts from creating pessimism and find a new way of interpreting your challenging situations. Evaluate the things you can and can’t control and take the actions you believe will deliver your expected results.
Be confident about your strategic plan
Get smart about the “how to” to achieve your results and know what could derail your strategic plan upfront so that you can plan for its eventuality.
Become solution focused
Remind yourself of the problem your business helps its customers resolve and align your key activities to most effectively resolve them.
Get the right people doing the right things
Know the strengths of each of your employees and use their talents to help make your business grow and become more efficient.
Deliver exceptional value
Know your customers business well so that you can deliver an exceptional value proposition. Show your clients how your solution will best achieve their results.