At the time of writing, we’re going through a global pandemic. You can’t get much more chaotic than that! But it’s not just lock-downs that cause chaos. Illness, bereavements, changes in circumstances, family issues, any of these can cause your life to suddenly change track and along with it, your business. Sometimes chaos ensues from smaller things like school holidays, problems with suppliers, cashflow challenges – it doesn’t take much to wreck an often fragile routine and leave you feeling a bit lost.
But where does that leave your business? Truthfully, in a bit of a mess. When chaos reigns, we go into coping mode. Our business vision gets shoved out of sight, our ambitious, exciting plans are put on hold and we focus on surviving, on getting by until the chaos goes away. But, sometimes the chaos is long-lived. Whether it’s a Coronavirus lockdown or a long-term illness, a redundancy or an ongoing family situation causing the ‘chaos’, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon, so what can you do?
Revisit Your Vision
When you’re feeling adrift, it’s a great idea to look back at your vision and plans made at a time when you were excitedly focusing on the future. When you’re in coping mode it’s easy to lose sight of why you’re doing this, so tapping into your WHY can help. Even if your business vision feels a million light years away at the moment, know that this situation is temporary. Your vision is on hold, not cancelled.
Do a Brain Dump
It’s hard to focus when your brain is stuffed full of ideas, worries and thoughts. Get a notebook or sheet of paper and write down EVERYTHING taking up space in your head, so you can see what you are dealing with. You can add to it as more thoughts appear. Often, our brain holds on to all sorts of irrelevant stuff so at least you can cross off anything that’s out of your control or doesn’t need to be taking up brain power. Then look at the rest. What can you delegate? What can you schedule for later? What can you do now? Doing this can really help you focus, because you’re not constantly feeling like you are going to forget something. Getting it all out onto paper means it’s visible and tackle-able.
If you can’t write it down, then use a free app like Otter.ai and talk to yourself as you go through your list. It will transcribe everything you say, then you can go through it and start working through your list. Alternatively, try mind mapping your thoughts – I do this a lot. I use MindMeister but there are loads of alternatives if you Google it.
Work Out What Can’t Wait
Do a brain dump of all the things you feel you ‘need’ to do, then list them in priority order. Things that bring in money for your business need to go at the top, so sending invoices, payment reminders/credit control and selling existing stock. You would also include proposals waiting to be written if that’s how your business works, but they need focus and concentration so you may need to see point 7 about managing expectations. Dealing with customer orders or enquiries would also be at the top. Now, just because they can’t wait doesn’t mean YOU have to do them. See if you can find a trusted friend or family member who can act as your second-in-command for a little while. If not, see if you can find a virtual assistant to do a couple of hours work getting you on top of your admin.
One Thing A Day
This is something I default back to regularly, when things aren’t going as planned. The principle is this: No matter how long your to-do list is, pick one thing you are going to get done today. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, it can be something as small as ‘write an email’, ‘post on Instagram’ or ‘come up with an idea for a newsletter’ but crucially, it’s getting your brain into business gear and doing something to move your business forwards. If you manage to do more than one thing, then brilliant! But if all you manage to do is that one thing, that’s brilliant, too. It’s definitely better than doing nothing, if you’re worried about your business. And sometimes, once you tackle one small thing it inspires you to tackle and second, and a third (but sometimes it doesn’t and that’s 100% OK).
This is something I often do when I’m feeling distracted but need to focus. I set an alarm for 45 minute’s time and I aim to get a task completed in that time. Whether it’s writing a blog or recording a video, I tell myself I’m going to get it done before the deadline. I close the door, switch off social media, ask everyone in the house to give me 45 minutes without interruption (yes, I know this might be wishful thinking but it sometimes works!), get my head down and work.
If my mind starts wandering, I quickly get back into ‘focus’ mode because it’s only for a few more minutes and I need to beat the deadline. This has got me through many a blog (like this one) and video class recording that otherwise would have sat on my to-do list for days (and the rest) and even if I don’t get the whole task completed, the process gets me into the flow and usually I just carry on after the alarm dings, until it’s done. Even if I can’t do any more, I’ve still made headway and I can repeat the process again later until I get it done.
Once I’ve done my brain dump I make a list of jobs that only I can do, in order of importance. Then, I break them down into lots of smaller tasks because the chances of me having enough focus in one day, when I’m dealing with other stuff, to do a big task are slim. Little tasks, on the other hand, are much more achievable. I might not be able to plan a whole blog, but I can mind-map it and at least get some structure.
I might not feel like photographing all the stock that needs doing, but I can do one thing or at least, set up a table with some props so I’m ready when I feel like getting the camera out. I might not be able to cope with scheduling a week’s worth of social media but I can come up with ideas for a few days’ worth, then tackle a post or a meme image on Canva when my brain needs a creative job to do. Big tasks always feel overwhelming when you’re already dealing with chaos and the chances are you’re going to struggle to focus on completing them. Tiny tasks, though, add up very quickly and before you know it you’ll have crossed loads off your list.
Both yours and those of other people. When everyone is going through chaos, it’s easy to manage expectations – nobody expects very much! However, when you’re going through your own, personal chaos it’s different.
Let’s start with YOUR expectations. When you’re dealing with other stuff, it’s hard to focus on anything to do with your business. Worry and stress are big distractors and however much you know it doesn’t help to worry, that doesn’t stop you doing it! You are going to find it difficult to concentrate, which means you will struggle with things like pricing, writing blogs, proposals and even product descriptions on your website. You’ll feel uninspired when it comes to social media. You’ll probably feel flat as a pancake when you sit down and tackle a business job that you would usually fly through. That is why you need to manage your expectations of what you can realistically tackle, while being kind to yourself and realising this is a totally normal reaction.
The ‘one thing a day’ method in this list can really help at times like these. So can giving yourself permission to have some dedicated time off where you allow yourself to rest, or do the gardening, or read a non-business book or watch a box set. Giving yourself permission and time to switch off is a great antidote to the usual ‘stare at your phone or computer for hours wondering what to do’ state we often find ourselves in. An enforced break from the business can often help you get a little bit of enthusiasm back, especially as our brain has a habit of throwing amazing ideas at us when we’re not in a position to do anything about them.
Now, let’s tackle other people’s expectations – the best way to handle them is to COMMUNICATE. I know you might not feel like it but it will help. I don’t mean get on the phone and ring around, or post your personal story on Facebook – not at all. I just mean let people know how things are working at the moment and what they can expect. If you’re not sending out orders for the next few weeks, say that on your social media and online shop. No need to go into details. If you’re only managing to answer emails twice a week, let people know on your website and order page, add an ‘out-of-office’ type autoresponder to your emails saying you ‘only answer emails on a Tuesday and Thursday at the moment so please be patient.’ If your chaotic situation hit when you had a full order book then maybe recruit a friend or hire a virtual assistant for a couple of hours to see if people want to rebook/reschedule, get a refund or choose some other option.
Most problems occur when businesses go quiet and shut down as the owner goes into ‘hiding’ while they try to cope with whatever is going on in their life. While you’re coping, the rest of the world just sees you have disappeared along with their money or booking and that’s when the nasty messages and emails can appear. Best nip it in the bud and give them a bare outline ‘we’re coping with a family situation at the moment but we will be in touch within 10 days to let you know what is happening with your order. If it’s urgent please text ____ (a friend’s phone) and we’ll do our best to help’
Look After You
Know that this lack of focus and feeling of distraction are totally normal when chaos reigns. Do not beat yourself up because you’re not ‘coping’. You are coping better than you think. When the world around you feels like it’s falling apart and your ‘normal’ seems to have run off into the sunset, never to be seen again, remind yourself that this situation will end. It’s temporary, even if you don’t know for how long. You might need to rewrite your business plan at some point. You’ll probably have to reassess your targets (I’ve had to do that a few times over the last couple of years). You will undoubtedly spend lots of time feeling like you’ll never get this back on track, like your brain is incapable of doing what you need it to do (yes, I’ve had that too) – that’s to be expected. What you CAN do, though, is be kind to yourself. Give yourself time because it’s going to take time to adjust, to find your new temporary way of working and to get help. Even though you feel like you’ve been catapulted into a new, unreal world, the rest of the world is carrying on around you, dealing with their own stuff – just remember to manage their expectations so they know what to expect.
In the context of this Coronavirus pandemic, nobody is expecting much from you I promise. If you can keep the business going, then great! If you shut it down temporarily, then great! There is no ‘right way’ to do this, you have to do what is right for you. I’ve seen some amazing business ideas spring up from this. I’ve seen struggling businesses suddenly unable to deal with demand (our local food stalls in the neglected covered market and local butchers and bakers are now doing deliveries and they are barely keeping up with orders!). I’ve seen amazing business owners close down for the foreseeable because they can’t find a way to make it work right now. Everyone is taking this differently. Some people are inspired and full of beans. Others feel down and deflated. You are where you are and you’re doing your best. Come into my free Facebook group if you need moral support or just to hang out online with people who ‘get’ it.
Once this pandemic is over and we get back to some kind of ‘normal’ you can pick up where you left off. The world will be waiting for you so don’t give up hope, we need your awesome business!
Oh, by the way, I have a one week £1 trial on my Brilliant Business Academy at the moment. It’s my special membership where you get access to over 50 classes and courses, plus monthly group business clinic calls and weekly guided brainstorms, where I put one business into the spotlight and help you get past a block or see a way forward. It’s my favourite place to be! Why not come over and give it a try?
After a week it’s just £17.50 per month and I remind you your trial is ending, so you don’t get caught out. If you need one thing to help you get past your blocks, learn the marketing stuff you need, get access to a fab business coach (me) and network with other amazing, ambitious and kind small business owners then it’s perfect for you.
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Claire Mitchell is a best-selling author of the Awesome Marketing Planner and founder of The Girls Mean Business, a mum and business owner. She has been featured in Marie-Claire, The Guardian, Closer Magazine, Essentials, The Huffington Post and on the BBC.