If you own a business, work for yourself or are an entrepreneur, one thing is for certain: You will encounter a low. It can be devastating financially and emotionally. Even tougher to swallow is that businesses are more likely to fail in their fifth year than their first, suggesting that even if you make it past the startup phase, the going gets tough even further down the line.
I recently encountered the first crash in my freelance writing business after several successful years. I was taking on too much work, had family stress to deal with (my husband and I were buying and selling a house), and many of my client relationships were dissolving. Almost overnight, my income was gone, and the loss of confidence in myself became the biggest obstacle of all. I considered ditching it all and getting a “real” job, and then learned the hard way that a business setback doesn't mean your business has to end. In fact, mine became an opportunity for growth.
Here are some of the strategies that helped me recover myself — and my business.
TAKE A BREAK TO RETHINK YOUR GOALS
When my business first started floundering, I did what I had always done: work harder and take on more clients. But it was like throwing bricks at an already-solid wall. My business needed to change, and so did I.
So I took a drastic step and just stopped. I stopped chasing clients and I stopped working around the clock. It was time to let my business breathe, because sometimes, we need to step back to figure out where to go next.
“My business needed to change, and so did I.”
I did things on my week-long business break that I hadn’t let myself do in years. I watched a movie with my kids without working on my computer the whole time. I read a book just for fun. I even took a spontaneous overnight trip with my husband. My break helped me see that, more than anything, I needed to re-learn how to make my business a part of my life and not have it come before everything else.
HIRE A BUSINESS COACH WHO CAN BOTH SUPPORT AND CHALLENGE YOU
I've always thought of a business coach as something only “big” business owners would use. But as my business continued to tank and I fell further into despair about failing, I figured it was worth a shot.
I did a lot of research before choosing a coach I felt I could connect with. Choosing a compatible business coach is so important, because 1) they are expensive, 2) it could become a life-long relationship and 3) personalities matter. I asked around in several online business groups I'm in, got recommendations, and did a few free primary consultations to see if we were a good fit (most coaches offer this).
Although it was a pricey investment, my coach turned out to be an incredible resource to help me sort through my own emotions and move forward. She had some background in writing and was a mom, so she got me on that level. But more than that, she was well-versed in dealing with the type of person I am: high-achieving and goal-oriented. She knew how I operated and how I would try to hide my flaws.
Because I am my business, the difficulty of managing my own guilt and feelings of failure held me back from succeeding, and I needed an outside party to guide me.
She made me face the hard questions: Why was I forcing myself to make more money than our family needed at the time? What was I trying to prove? She broke down the absurd goals I had set for myself and helped me realize that I was confusing money with success and happiness in life.
REDEFINE WHAT SUCCESS LOOKS LIKE FOR YOUR BUSINESS
Entrepreneurs set high standards for themselves. I set a goal of making a high-for-me monthly income for no other reason other than because I wanted a challenge. But when I failed at reaching that number over and over, it took months before I could accept that working with a lower goal didn’t mean that I was failing.
I realized that I could reframe it as an opportunity to scale my business in different ways. Instead of churning out as much work as possible to make the most money, I wanted to take on more meaningful work I could feel good about. I stopped writing about celebrities and instead sought out profiles of women making a difference through their businesses. I launched a new project that gives back to moms after a miscarriage. And I finally started the novel I'd been planning to write for four years.
I took time to think about what I really loved about my work as a writer and settled on four main areas of copywriting, medical writing, finance writing and heartfelt parenting essays. And can you guess what happened when I set the goal of taking on more work I actually loved? I landed jobs in all four areas, and my days were suddenly filled to the brim with intentional work I enjoyed doing.
Today, while I’m still not totally out of the “low” in my entrepreneurial journey, I’m happy to report that I’m once again in a positive place. Instead of feeling like I’ve fallen into a hole I can never climb out of, I’m learning to enjoy the climb back up to the top with an income that feels steady under my feet. Most importantly, I’m having fun rebuilding my business from a new perspective.