Ah, Christmas! So many expectations, so much stress.
Usual suspects include “make peace with warring family members, cook like Nigella, organise catch-ups with all friends, close and distant, finish garden, get a haircut, shop like the clappers, give to charity, be nice to your children, be upbeat and joyous, in line with the Christmas spirit” – enough to make any normal person see double.
Add to this cacophony the particular stressors (and joys) of being self-employed, and you have a short recipe for deep stress that threatens to permeate the whole holiday period.
So in the spirit of Festivus, and because I like to make all the mistakes (multiple times, just to be sure) so that you don’t have to, here’s my guide for giving and receiving in your business this holiday season.
Give to yourself first
My clients tend to be generous-minded, open-hearted, sensitive, community-oriented people, who don’t hesitate to respond to others’ needs.
The problem with givers is that they become depleted. And depleted people get sick more often, are prone to depression and anxiety, and struggle to support themselves and their loved ones over the long term because they put profit well behind service.
You cannot be useful to others if you’re not taking care of yourself. Let me repeat: too many years of taking care of your clients’ and community’s needs at the expense of your own will leave you stressed, resentful, emotionally depleted, and poor. In which case, you may as well get a job because there’s little point in taking on all the stress and insecurity of running your own business if it’s not giving you financial, creative and emotional satisfaction.
Set your business boundaries
You’re taking time off, right? Right? Then tell people that. Give your clients, staff and other stakeholders notice that your business will be closed (tell them today if you haven’t already). Don’t accept rushed or ‘emergency work’ that’s motivated by your fear that if you reinforce your terms, you’ll never see this prospect again.
After setting boundaries, comes the difficult part – enforcing them. If need be, turn the phone off. Don’t respond to text messages or other messages sent via social media. Turn on your email auto-responder that states you’re unavailable and will be in contact on the date you return to the desk. But don’t feel bad if others don’t respect this. Don’t respond to hassling.
Look for opportunities to give more by win-win situations
When contemplating what to buy for friends, family and clients this year, look to other businesses that you want to support – the businesses of your colleagues, friends and local community.
I’m not a fan of the ‘shop local’ movement because it can encourage parochialism at the expense of competitiveness and continuous improvement. I don’t buy from a local business just because they’re local but if they’re awesome as well as local.
Who’s your mafia? What business owners do you want to support? And who can you gift their goods or services to so that one gift gives to multiple people. Try buying an hour’s social media strategy session, gifting a massage, paying for a graphic design job or copywriting, or purchasing a course for someone.
Ask and receive – feedback and testimonials
Before you dive into creating Your Next Big Thing, in the heady surge of rejuvenated creativity while you lay pool- or beach-side, stop. You need to do a year-end review. And that includes reviewing your client feedback, surveys and any other information you’ve collected from clients and prospects.
What has worked? What hasn’t worked as well as it could or should? What are your clients trying to tell you that they need? What aren’t they saying that’s right there, hidden between the lines? What do you need to ask more questions about?
Reviewing your feedback and surveys is also a great opportunity to ask for testimonials – these will (should?) be evident. Email people, thank them for their kind feedback, and ask if you can use their words in your marketing materials. Always attribute a full name, preferably include a photo of the individual, and don’t forget to edit their feedback to make it punchy, powerful and relevant.
Sleep on it
Dealing with problems and making decisions is imperative in business. However there’s no decision that important that it can’t be made tomorrow.
The importance of sleep cannot be overestimated, especially when you’re self-employed.
When dealing with problems or issues in your business (or personal life), state your agenda and ask others to state their agendas. Tell people as clearly as possible what you want and need from them and ask them to do the same. And remember, you don’t have to provide what they want and need if it doesn’t fit your agenda. You can agree to disagree and remain friends (and clients). You don’t need to win all jobs (and arguments) and be friends with everyone.
This one’s a doozy – and not something that comes naturally to me. In fact, I wasted way too much time when I was new to business trying to do everything by myself. Business became far more fun, successful and profitable when I started asking for help, outsourcing work and hiring people who were better than me.
There’s no shame in asking for an introduction, opportunity, referral, testimonial or favour. Just do it with class and decorum. And for the love of all things holy, don’t ask to pick someone’s brain.
Get off the treadmill
One of the joyous parts about the new year period is our opportunity to begin anew. We can stop doing things that aren’t working and do more of what we enjoy, we’re good at, we’re appreciated for, and we’re creating the most positive impact.
And while I’m a huge fan of consistency in order to build your brand and grow your professional reputation, equally, it’s important to consider whether you’re continuing with certain things because your clients have come to expect it, it’s familiar and easy, rather than highly profitable, impactful, strategic towards your greater goal, and highly enjoyable.
This Christmas, new year period, when you’re sipping your eggnog, champagne, or hot tea, consider whether you’re on a treadmill heading in a direction you’re not ultimately that keen on, or whether there’s a parallel path that’s perhaps less travelled, but potentially rich in possibility. And get more sleep.