Here's the thing: The loneliness of business

The loneliness of businessEvery Friday I post a “here’s the thing” blog. “Here’s the thing” is something my mum (and many other wise people) like to say when they’re about to make a good point. Hopefully these posts are also good points.

I want to start off by saying: this is not an easy thing to write about, mostly because I’m really feeling the effects of it right now. This week I’ve been fighting off a cold, and as I write this from my bed on Friday morning, I can tell you that I’ve now stopped fighting. I’m run down and a bit poorly.

And I’ve been feeling a bit sorry for myself.

Looking after myself and trying not to do too much (so that whatever’s got me run down would quietly, you know, piss off) has meant that I’ve been inside on my own for a lot of this week. Which has meant even less human interaction than usual. And that has really hit home.

Working by yourself is lonely. Running a small business is lonely.

How many times have I heard that from small business owners? And I understood, I really did. But now that I’m nearly two months in and working on my own, I understand more.

I like my own company. I dislike pretending to like people I don’t (as discussed last week). I like my clients, I like my work. But I’m human, and as humans we crave the company of others. Not always real life company, even – sometimes we just want someone to say, “well done”, or “I feel the same”, or “do you want a cup of tea?” (I’ve somehow become completely overwhelmed with gratitude every time someone else makes me a cup of tea. It’s a rare occurrence these days, and feels so thoughtful!)

And I think in a recapitulation of the “comparison is the thief of joy” theme, sometimes it’s easy to imagine that other people don’t feel as lonely as we do. That they’re over there, never feeling insecure, totally fine working by themselves, and completely self-sufficient.

Well. I wager that that’s not true. No man is an island, and neither are we.

So here’s the thing:

Before we all try to rush and fix it by seeking acknowledgement on social media or hustling for attention from our nearest and dearest, how about we accept that this feeling of loneliness is human? That we are having a completely normal, truthful, authentic reaction to our situation.

And then let’s think about the feedback we really want, the authentic, truthful, maybe painful honesty that would make us feel seen and heard. Who can give you that? Where’s your community?

When was the last time someone really understood you and your current challenges and successes? Remember that feeling. Sometimes that’s enough.

And in the style of those cheesy posters, how about, seeing as you’re here, you take what you need from me:

  • You’re doing your best
  • Well done, you did a great job getting through Father’s Day/summer holidays/the year so far
  • You’re offering something unique in the world
  • You’re not alone
  • I know just how you feel
  • I hear you. I see you.

And if you need more, I’m right here. Or here. Or here.

Here's the thing: Authenticity in business

authenticityEvery Friday I post a “here’s the thing” blog. “Here’s the thing” is something my mum (and many other wise people) like to say when they’re about to make a good point. Hopefully these posts are also good points.

Earlier this week, I tweeted about authenticity, asking whether it was something anyone thought about. That tweet came up after I chose it as my word for the week this week, because I needed the reminder that being authentic is important to me as a person, and to my work and business.

But what does that mean? Well, for me, it means working with clients I really connect with – I don’t have to pretend to like them or their products or their businesses: I actually do like them. It means being real, and that means being honest about what I can and can’t do, or about the fact that I’m also a flawed human being who sometimes puts off doing the washing up for way too long.

Being real, being honest, being true to who I am – that’s really important.

And I know from working with some incredibly talented, ambitious and skilful clients that authenticity is something that’s valued by the small creative business community. Authenticity is somehow implicitly linked to the practice of being creative and selling your craft.

How do you sell your products without being “salesy”? How do you talk about yourself and your business up without appearing arrogant or pushy? How do you present the best of yourself, without appearing fake, but also without revealing a bit too much? How do you stay true to your craft, passion, talent, without selling out in the name of money, popularity or competition?

Is your ambition authentic to your craft, or will you go after anything in the quest for more sales? I get asked a lot whether a particular brand can expand into a new product area or market. The answer is almost always yes, but does it still feel authentically like you, like an extension of your brand? That’s the thing that can be challenging, but ultimately makes you feel like your business is still your business.

At a basic level, the idea of a false conversation with someone, or pretending to be someone I’m not, makes me want to tear my hair out. Actually, it makes me lose enthusiasm, passion, energy just thinking about it. Bleurgh!

So here’s the thing:

To grow your business in a way that’s sustainable and stable, it needs to include authenticity. It needs you to be honest about what’s imperfect, what’s real and what’s not.

If being authentic feels important to you, work out what that means. What makes you feel most like you? What makes your business feel like your business, and not someone else’s? What’s so unique to your brand that you can’t do without it?

And an important note: being authentic doesn’t mean you share every single thought you have on social media. It doesn’t mean you purposefully hurt someone because you don’t like them. It means saying no, steadily and surely, and walking away from the things that don’t resonate.

This week, in all the crazy school holidays, Christmas planning and general life, I hope you’re able to find a moment to think about authenticity and the part it plays in your business.

Here's the thing: Winter is coming

Print by ToffeeCoffeeCake on Etsy
by ToffeeCoffeeCake on Etsy

Every Friday I post a “here’s the thing” blog. “Here’s the thing” is something my mum (and many other wise people) like to say when they’re about to make a good point. Hopefully these posts are also good points.

Do you watch Game of Thrones? Or have you read the books?

I have a love-hate relationship with the TV show. Except it’s more like a mildly-enjoy-it-when-something-less-terrible-happens-HATE relationship. I mostly sit there hiding from the TV.

I mean, it’s violent, desolate and has horrific treatment of women. And everyone else. But it did have Sean Bean being all nice and northern for a bit. And today is Yorkshire Day (woohoo!) so a good time to celebrate my fellow northerners.


ANYWAY, I digress.

Game of Thrones has given us something that feels apt – a foreboding and doom-filled adage they’ve coined so well: Winter is coming.

Because when you sell online, winter is always coming. Christmas always looms. And the first of August only really means one thing – you’ve got about a month to get it together.

And I mean that in the nicest, kindest way. Christmas is a huge opportunity for small creative businesses to make the bulk of their annual trade, to get their name out there, and to grow. It’s a time when we all get warm and fuzzy about our family and friends, we want to do something a bit special, and – more and more – we want to find lovely, personal, unique gifts to give.

You have that. You can provide. You can get people through the winter!

But are you prepared? While Christmas can bump your business up a couple of levels, it can also overwhelm and take it out of you. I’ve heard it from loads of small business owners over the years: they don’t want to do another Christmas like that. They really struggled to keep it together. They’re still recovering.

Now is the time to get your survival plan together. You need to fortify your own Wall to keep the white walkers out. (Okay, Game of Thrones analogies end here.)

So here’s the thing:

Start your own Christmas survival handbook. Get a notebook or start an Evernote list or whatever works for you, and start writing down your processes and contingency plans.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Write down how you make, package and post every item, with all the variables. This will help you to clarify your process for yourself, but will also help you train someone else if you need to.
  • Calmly, maybe with tea and cake, list out your worst case scenarios. What will you do? What’s your equivalent of an emergency evacuation plan in case of fire? Step 1: don’t panic. Step 2: update customers, and so on.
  • Research and list some alternative suppliers. When you rely on other people, you never know what might happen. Even if no one makes exactly what you need, you might find yourself offering something slightly different if necessary.

I know I’ll be writing way more about Christmas planning and preparation. And I’m going to run a supportive e-course in the Christmas months – more about that soon.

But right now, today, while we’re in the middle of a glorious summer, it feels like the right time to just nudge towards having a survival plan for Christmas…


Let's Stay in Touch

I send monthly notes of encouragement, plus occasional extras about upcoming courses, events or opportunities. I’d be honoured to be invited into your email inbox.