Should you have to excuse yourself for owning a small business in a ’9-5 world’?
It’s 11AM on Tuesday and I am with my client reviewing how far we have progressed with our project. Her phone rings once. She glances at the phone, excuses herself, and answers. Approximately 10 minutes later, she returns and explains that her aunt had to ask her about some recipe and share some gossip about the family. Okay, I think to myself, aunts can be weird, egocentric, and call at strange times to talk about random issues like family and recipes. It’s 12:15PM now and I am getting ready to leave her office… and she gets up to answer yet another call. This time it’s her friend, who had to take her dog in for an operation and now needs a shoulder to cry on, leaving me to find my own way out.
Let’s be honest – we all have one of those days when the world around us needs our presence and we need to make ourselves available. However, it is more often the case that small business owners do not send a clear message to their friends and relatives about their bread-winning job – that is - their environment never learns to respect their time and business. Why?
“Because if I say something, it can come across as rude, insensitive, and interpreted in an unpleasant manner, since everyone around me thinks that I am flexible, that I do not have anyone to report to, and that I can’t be fired” said one of my clients.
When I brought up ‘respect for their business or time’, I noticed that most of my clients shared similar issues with their respective environments. Whenever I tried to provide constructive advice regarding this issue, it felt like I was coaching my clients on how to ask for an excuse because they own a business, because they are semi-lonely warriors in a ‘9 to 5 world’. I guess there are some things that people just don’t feel comfortable talking about, because “you are supposed to have time for your relatives and friends, and respect their needs”. But what about our needs! What about the needs of small business owners? It feels like a Viagra commercial, where an embarrassed man (akin to a small business owner) hears a deep voice from beyond urging him to “talk to your doctor and get some help”. Just as many men never gather enough courage to request Viagra from their doctors, I see that some small business owners never address their ‘lack of respect’ issues and continue to live with them. Don’t you think that WE (small business owners) should have ‘our doctors’ to consult as well?
Let’s look at a two big moments in the life of a small business owner.
The first big moment is when you start your own business, because you either a) had this vision of what you could do, b) you lost your job, or c) you couldn’t get that dream job…or you had whatever other reason for starting a business. You are cutting costs using your home as an office, fighting to get your first clients, and trying to get all the pieces together (e.g., accounting, legal) while people keep asking you “so, did you find a job yet or are you still looking for one?” (I personally get a lot of ‘have babies’ advice as a smart alternative to not working but being (re)productive). You begin to explain your vision to family and friends, but only receive blank stares, a discouraging story about somebody’s neighbor who started a business and lost everything (even a house that he put up for collateral), and even a warning that “if you lose everything, don’t expect me to pay for your kids’ education”, followed by the famous line “why don’t you look for a decent 9-5 job, you don’t need all of this”.
No matter how hard you say that you have already decided to start your business, if you do not have a boss that you can bitch about, coworkers who gossip about you, weekends that are all yours, time-wasting chats with Facebook friends when the supervisor is not watching, Mondays that you hate because your job is starting again – then you are just not part of the majority, so be quiet!
Some good advice for this first big moment is – don’t talk about a business that you are starting right away. Your idea is your ‘baby’; it is very vulnerable and not ready to face discouraging opinions or comments. Be very careful with whom you share your idea or whom you ask for help. Not everybody is a visionary, entrepreneur, or self-starter. Try to talk to people who have walked in your shoes, who have been in similar situations, and who have been successful in overcoming such challenges. Seek people that will not cut your wings, rather help you fly higher.
The second moment happens when you have already warmed up your business and want it to grow. My client inspired me to write this article and raise the ‘Viagra’ issue for small businesses. We are social beings who believe in being there for family and friends. I don’t want to sound like a rebel who propagates a “don’t answer the phone” uprising. I’m simply conveying a ‘talk to your doctor’ policy, that is, talk to someone about unpleasant issues that you might face. If you think that your closest environment is intruding and not respecting the time that you spend on your business – stand up and say that out loud. You are not doing anything wrong by defending the lifestyle that you have chosen, as well as the one that is dictated by being a small business owner.
So, how can you gain (or regain) that lost respect for your time and business? It’s time to teach your environment to “hang up the phone if it rings twice and I don’t answer, because I’m with my client or vendor; if it’s an emergency let it ring”. Tell them about activities that you miss, ones that they do every weekend; tell them about the sacrifices that you have made for your business or let them visit your business and see how many things you have to manage. Let them see you tired! I know too many people that put on smiley faces when they don’t feel like it, because they don’t want to talk about the problems that they are facing with their businesses. The world of small business ownership is not all milk and honey – so don’t transmit the wrong picture, because you will be the one paying the price. This is the time to be open about your business. Your environment will respect you and your business for it.