When You Want to Quit (But You're and Entrepreneur So It's Tricky)
One of my favorite clients answers my coaching call question, "how are things going with you and your business?" with, "Well, I didn't try to quit this week, so good!" on the regular (except when she did try to quit that week, which is pretty frequent too).
I have emotionally quit my business about two billion times, only to pick up the next minute, and carry on.
Before we continue with this post, here's a little spoiler alert for you: I will not try to convince you to "keep going! You GOT THIS!" or any similar cheerleading. I will also not try to convince you to throw in the towel. The truth is, when we want to quit (give up, stop doing this, get, what the internet troll-preneurs call "a J-O-B"), there are a lot of ways we can get ourselves unstuck and move forward.
Don't Squelch the Urge to Quit - Get Curious Instead
The urge to give up on something that is otherwise important to us comes from a place inside of us that is trying to tell us something. We usually override this message with the power of our head-brains, because our brains are very bossy, and they think they know everything about everything. Except, they don't. Our bodies are pretty smart in their own right, and that is where the urge to leave or stop doing something comes from, most often.
See, we feel the need to quit before we reckon with it (or crush it to death) in our minds. We feel it in our hearts and our guts. We feel it as resistance. We feel it as fear. As disappointment. As despair. As rage. As a sense that the grass is greener over there (anywhere but here).
These emotions may or may not have wisdom - because we have long taught ourselves to ignore what the body tells us in favor of the cold, hard brain facts (also, ironically, a construct of the head-brain, so...chew on that for a second). We have to relearn to believe our emotions enough to be curious about them. To dig into them for a moment. To sit with the resistance, the fear, the disappointment, the despair, the rage...
Let those emotions flow through you and out of you - and know that these emotions are not you, but rather a way your whole self communicates to you.
Wanting to quit something meaningful starts with the emotional moment of feeling like something doesn't quite fit. Sometimes, that is true. Sometimes, as another client of mine put it, it's "an opportunity to activate [your] resilience." Sometimes, it's indigestion, or crankiness, or frustration about your bank account that simply won't fill all on its own no matter how much you work on your "mindset." You won't know the difference between these things if you don't slow down long enough to ask yourself which it is.
Narrow Down Your Reasons for Wishing You Could Quit (and Consider What You Could Do to Respond)
When your business feels like a daily brick wall head-bashing session, you have some inventory to take into account. Some common reasons why entrepreneurs I know long to escape the grind include:
Problem: They can't regulate the feast and famine cycle of business.
Solution: Take the sage advice of Mike Michalowicz, author of Profit First - where he flips the old equation of business (Revenue - Expenses = Profit) on it's head (Revenue - Profit = Expenses) and focus on profit first. Instead of using your business account like a piggy bank for your life (or worse, not having a business account and running everything through your personal accounts), pay yourself actual money regularly out of your business account. Like...you know, businesses do with payroll and stuff.
For real - check out his work. It's amazeballs. I am in no way affiliated with him, and receive no compensation for this (it's a free no-opt-in-needed PDF that outlines the whole Profit First model, which is a bit more involved than what I described above) - he has no idea who I am - but it will change your life, and I'm into that, so here you go.
Bonus Solution for this one: a lot of us - a lot - undercharge for our services (ahem...*raises hand*). Pricing is a beautiful dance between you and your clientele - and sometimes, we make that dance into a game of leap frog where the clients are always jumping over us, and we are always running ahead to get down on our hands and knees to beg them to please let us allow them to jump over us again and again.
Take a look at your pricing models. Are you undercharging? Are you, conversely, trying to use a "Premium" pricing model but not getting anybody to bite on your premium prices? See if you can tweak your pricing models (not just discounting or begging people to pay something - but also raising prices where you're lower than the market) to meet your clients where they are while also keeping your revenue flowing.
Problem: They make offers but not enough people take them up on it.
Solution: I work mostly with nonprofit consultants, healers, and artists. All of these fine groups of people have two things in common: 1) They are, for the most part, reallllllly uncomfortable about money in general (altruists, every last one of them! Which I love - but altruism doesn't have to mean no money, just so you know, see the "bonus solution" about pricing, above); and 2) They are creatives and independent spirits at heart.
That independent creativity thing is glorious - except when it isolates us from our clients. Sometimes we build an entire, magnificent, beautiful palace of ideas without checking with our people to see if they A) want it B) need it C) understand it D) will pay cash-money for it. So we end up with the most eye-catching things nobody wants to buy.
Creating products and services is something that is best done hand in hand with your people - and not just by asking them what they want or need (they so often don't know)! It's done by identifying a problem, iterating solutions, testing your minimum viable product ideas, measuring your results, and making decisions from there. Don't believe me? Ask Eric Reis, who wrote The Lean Startup (which you need to read right now because it, too, will change your life).
Problem: They're sick of working with clients they don't totally love.
Solution: Stop it. I mean. Just know this - as we say in the Book Yourself Solid® realm, "there are some clients you're meant to serve, and others...not so much." Work with your best clients and your best clients only - ask them for referrals (because they probably know other awesome people), and build your business that way - alongside people you actually care about and adore, who fill you up, and who inspire you.
Problem: They're exhausted.
Solution: We live in a culture that says we are only worth what we produce. This is a huge cultural lie, and it is one I spend most of my days working to unravel - in my own DNA and in the culture. We are valuable and lovable and worthy whether we are working ourselves to death or not (hard preference on "not").
Take. A. Break.
You might feel like if you hop off the hamster wheel, you'll die. And frankly, if you've been running too long and too hard for too much of your life, you'll kind of feel like you're dying, in a way, if you stop. I'm not saying it's easy, but I am saying you will literally destroy yourself if you don't learn to prioritize your own damn life.
Think of it like the Profit First for the rest of your life. Don't think, "how can I build my business" exclusively - think, "What do I want my life to be like?" And go from there. When thinking of this, I usually frame it in four life-quadrants: My People (how do I want to experience and contribute to my relationships, connections, family, friends); My Body (how do I want to feel in my body - emotionally, spiritually, physically); My Environment (how do I want to feel in my environment - workspaces, home space, etc); The Work Of My Hands (how do I want to feel about my work, what do I want to accomplish in my work, and why do I care so much about that accomplishment).
The thing is, there is no "your business" without "YOU" in it. So, care about yourself. Try it. You'll get used to it, eventually, I promise.
Problem: They think they've applied all the "rules" of business, but it isn't working.
Solution: A) Business rules are not one size fits all - you have to figure out which ones actually work for you, and which don't.
B) Most of us do a good bit of hiding when it comes to doing business. For instance, another Book Yourself Solid® bit of wisdom is found in the Six Core Self-Promotion Strategies. The three I most often see my clients doing (and, once again, I am guilty of the same) with varying degrees of success, are Speaking, Writing, and Web strategies. Those are the go-to things. Content marketing is soooo sexy! and time consuming! and expensive! and it is a total long-game. Not that you shouldn't do it, but you should know it's more like a retirement-style investment in a conservative index fund and not like a winning the lottery kind of strategy.
The funny thing about Speaking, Writing, and Web is that, under Book Yourself Solid® lore, they are the three "optional" strategies. What's "mandatory?" Networking (my clients: "what!"), Direct Outreach (my clients: "no! Please, God, no!"), and Referral (my clients: "well, ok, but do I have to ask people I know to send other people they know to me???"). The thing about Networking, Direct Outreach, and Referral that gets us all riled up and terrified, is that there are no screens between us and the real, human, people we are engaging. Business rules that start with scale but don't account for the human relationships part - I mean, in the trenches, sleeves rolled up, let's get coffee IRL kinds of relationships - will not get you to the lasting, sustainable, viable business you want.
And it will also leave you feeling really lonely...which brings me to the last thing:
Problem: They are lonely as hell.
Solution: Quick shout out to the Networking, Direct Outreach, and Referral methods of Self-Promotion, because that will actually start to close the isolation gap pretty dang fast...but there's more.
As entrepreneurs who are most often hacking away at our work on our own, or with a small team of subcontractors or VAs or what have you, we often feel like we're the only ones out there struggling. We see our colleagues and peers living large on social media. They're on another podcast? They had another blog featured by so and so? They must be raking in the clients and the cash right now!
But that's not really happening for most people - most real people, who aren't internet celebs. Most people live the roller-coaster just like you. Most people want to quit, like, 90% of the time, just like you. Most people look at your social media and are like, "Damn, they're killing it!" just like you do with them.
You're not alone. You're not the only one who is struggling. And to be honest about that, I think saying this out loud more often is probably a good thing. It may mess with that magical thinking thing where you create your own reality and can only think positive thoughts (y'all, I am ALL FOR magick, but not the kind that blames your honesty for your problems)...but it will help all of us feel less alone - and that works as a kind of rocket fuel, for some reason. Maybe it's solidarity. Maybe it's not feeling like a failure and the only one who can't crack the code...whatever it is, it helps to know you're not alone.
What? You Want Me to Wrap This Blog Post Up Now? It's Getting Too Long?
Ok. So you want to quit.
That's ok. Quitting is OK. Not quitting is OK.
Doing nothing about it and trying the same things that aren't working again and again are not OK. That's self-torture, and I don't know what you're into in your free time, but in business, that approach simply won't work. Get still, feel through it, make decisions about how you want your life to be, and iterate forward. It might take some time. It will DEFINITELY take some of you making direct connections to people (not just on Facebook, buddy), and it will be alright.
When I get to the end of my business rope, I always think of Michael Scott, of the American version of The Office, when he started the Michael Scott Paper Company. His company goes broke (remember the undercharging thing????? Remember??), and he's in negotiations to sell to Dunder-Mifflin, his alma mater. His former boss is incredulous about the offer good old Michael is offering, and says, "Your company cannot be worth that much!"
Michael responds with the song of my soul, "Our company is worth NOTHING...if tomorrow, my company goes under, I will just start another paper company, and then another, and another, and another. I have no shortage of company names." (watch the clip below to see it in action - start at 1:55 to see what I'm talking about)...
And this is how I personally feel about being an entrepreneur. I don't even care all the time what I do, how I do it, what my company name is (and I own so many domains I could just pop up another website tomorrow and start all over again)...I just know I'll keep trying and keep trying and trying and trying, probably forever. Somehow, I just have to keep going. Sometimes, I quit things. I quit markets. I quit business lines. I quit a lot of stuff...but I keep going, because that's in my blood.
What's in your blood? Entrepreneurship is the best! But it is also the worst. It's one of those things that's rarely just...meh.
So, keep going, quit, just decide: what do you want your life to be like, and is this the way to get there or not? If not, what is?
Sarai Johnson is the best-selling author of a few books, the founder of Lean Nonprofit, and Sarai-Johnson.com, and a transformative speaker, and coach. She helps audacious souls bring their sacred work to life in the world without burning out or selling out, and currently works with nonprofit consultants, healers, and artists to help them make more money so they can go about the business of changing the world for the better. Sarai is a Book Yourself Solid® Certified Coach, GrowthWheel® Certified Business Advisor, Certified Cognitive Behavioral Group Facilitator and 200-RYT Yoga Instructor.
Check out the upcoming Book Yourself Solid® for Nonprofit Consultants coaching cohort program launching in August 2018 here (and if it's after August 2018, still check it out, because she is always iterating and evolving, per her advice in this blog). Learn more about Sarai's work here, here, and here.