Pete’s story is one that needs to be told. What happens when you hit rock bottom in this business? When what you know and believe in just isn’t working out? I wrote a guest blog for AdviserVoice recently which tells the story of one such person.
I want to share the story of Peter. But his story is so raw and personal that Peter is not his real name.
I’m not telling Peter’s story because he is a model coaching client, and has reached amazing heights of success thanks to Elixir, but because I believe Peter’s story is being played out right now in the lives of many many business owners and people in this profession…and yet it’s not openly talked about. In fact he urged me to share it with others so that perhaps anyone in his situation won’t feel quite so isolated.
When Pete started his business a few years back, he was filled with excitement, passion, and a little apprehension about taking the monumental leap to back himself and start his own business.
To most people, Peter is an exceptional practitioner. He is kind, technically proficient, well respected, and it looks like he runs a great business. He’s got it all going on.
And yet the past eighteen months have been some of the most difficult of his life. After running a successful business for many years, Peter finally realised that he simply wasn’t making any money. He felt like he was doing a great job; the clients he was working with loved what he was doing; he enjoyed working with them. But there came a time when his credit cards were maxed out, and he had to extend his payment arrangement with the ATO yet again. He could no longer delude himself by thinking if he just kept servicing his clients and doing a good job the market would turn around and business would pick up. In the cold hard light of day…Pete realised that he was paying more to his staff and his landlord than he was earning personally.
The more I talk to people about what’s really happening in their life and their business (rather than just the surface-level ” things are going great” conversations many people have)…I discover that Pete’s story is not unusual, and there are in fact many people who are struggling in business who keep up a façade and do not share their real situation, for obvious reasons.
It’s a common experience for those in the first few years of business, madly building cashflow until they reach critical mass. It can also happen when a young business has finally reached profitability and the principals then get comfortable. And it’s happening to mature businesses, now struggling to remain relevant with their old business model, and finding declining revenues and increasing costs have long gone beyond eating into their profit margin and are now eroding their basic ‘ salary’.
It can be disheartening – even soul-destroying to come to the realisation that your dream of running this fantastic business where you take great care of people and really make a difference in their lives…isn’t working. It’s all good to be able to say that you’re your own boss, you run your business on your own terms, you’re completely independent and you don’t have to promote someone else’s agenda…but all of that is meaningless if you can’t earn a great living from it.
It can be hard enough to admit it to yourself let alone anyone else…that this grand dream of yours isn’t quite as brilliant as you first thought. And it can be incredibly lonely – you feel like you’re the only one in this position – you can’t tell your staff, certainly not your clients. Burying your head in the sand won’t help. I’ve been there myself. I’ve been through times at Elixir where I’ve paid more to others than I’ve earned myself, and I’ve put everything on the line to run this business. I know what it feels like to just wish I had even one dollar for everyone who told me what a great business I had and what fabulous things we were doing in the market. I also know that you can be even prouder of what you develop, coming through adversity, facing it head-on and triumphantly coming out the other side a little road-weary but smarter, more resilient, and aware of what’s going on in your business.
One way to look at it is that without such a difficult time, you could just continue on with a mediocre business and ‘ get by’, instead of building something you can be truly proud of, and that creates an enduring legacy of financial freedom in return for your passion and dedication. That’s how Pete chooses to view it. “You know, even when I was in the depths of it – when I had those heart-wrenching calls from my wife when the credit card was declined at the grocery checkout…even then I knew that if it hadn’t got to this point, I might have just continued on doing what I was doing, and just getting by. Instead I chose to confront my reality, and after I decided that yes, this really WAS what I wanted to do with my life, it gave me the enforced impetus to change a few things – and now I am so thankful that I did.”
“I’ve now paid off my tax debt, I can see that I won’t need to enter into another payment arrangement with the ATO for my BAS, and I am physically happier in myself and my life. It sounds ironic, but by physically stepping out of the business more frequently and keeping an honest eye on it, I am enjoying my work in the business even more – I’m working with clients that I love, doing work I really enjoy, and I’m being financially rewarded for it. I’m not so naive as to think that there will only be happy days ahead, but I do know that when I am faced with difficult times in the business, I will see it coming sooner, I’ll be much quicker to take evasive action, and I will approach all things with a more open mind. I can already see more opportunities and new ideas than I was ever able to recognise in the past. It’s been a really tough time – and I’m glad I went through it. Really glad I’m out the other side – but glad I went through it nonetheless.”
When you’re worried about whether there’ll be funds in your account to pay wages let alone pay off your credit card bill…and the added humiliation that you’re someone in authority helping other people to get control and manage their finances; it can be easy to feel like a fraud. The fact is, that for many advisers, they’ve been so focused on ensuring their clients’ affairs are looked after, that they’ve neglected their own. It’s not that they’re not “a good business person”, much less a good adviser, they’ve just allowed their attention to shift from it for perhaps too long. If a plumber has leaky taps, does that mean he’s no good at plumbing?
When Pete got to his rock-bottom, the next thing he did was really confronting. He re-examined why he was in business in the first place, then reconnected with his initial purpose and drive – and accepted that perhaps the first iteration of his business wasn’t the best option. He had the fortitude to call things as they really were, and the difficult acceptance that what he was doing needed to change. In Pete’s case, I was incredibly moved to hear that some of our articles and free content helped give him motivation and ideas at what was a very lonely time.
“What did I learn from that time? I will never outsource (or ignore) the management of my cashflow again. I will never let myself get so busy (or distracted) that I don’t stop and check how we are tracking against my goals for the business. And I will never allow a year to go by that I don’t refresh my business plan and re-focus on what we’ll be doing in the business. I’m really happy that I’ve also now rebuilt to the point where I can invest in external advice to help me with these commitments and give advice from arm’s length.”
So if you’re in that place, how do you get beyond it?
Like Pete did, first admit you have a problem, then face that problem head-on. Re-examine your own motivations and if you really do want to make this thing work, figure out how to re-position and change the way you’re doing things. Look for different, innovative ways to get your service out to the right clients. It might be a slight shift in your target market? Perhaps you need to start charging differently, create a new service offer? It may be that you have the wrong people in the wrong roles? For some it might even be that you’re not cut out for this gig after all (or any more)…and there’s no shame in that either!
It may be that your business model is flawed; or perhaps you just need a slight deviation in direction to remove the blockages. Or it may just be a matter of time – that your brand and reputation are slowly gathering momentum because of all of your hard work and it’s just about to pay off – in which case you just need some more patience, and energy to keep doing what you’re doing, because any day now the flood gates will open (or the trickle will at least become a flow).
It’s been said before by (I’m sure) many people far cleverer than I…but show me a business person who has been through tough conditions…who has been to the brink (and even beyond it) and I will show you a more resilient, more humble, more agile, and often more successful business owner than one who has only ever traded in good conditions.
If you can get through the tough times – whether that be by yourself, by reading inspiring stories and business ideas of others, by simply changing tack, or by getting in some external assistance…you will be stronger, better, faster, and ultimately more successful. Both as a business owner and as a person.