How to hold your business together when your life is falling apart

Sending BIG love to coach, Corrina Gordon Barnes for writing this for me when I was feeling broken... "...When life throws you a curve ball when you’re in a job, there are certain procedures that help take the strain: maybe you delegate more to colleagues or receive compassionate leave.

But what to do when you’re self-employed? What happens when you have to keep your shit together when something big is happening in your world?

Over the years of being in business, I’ve witnessed my clients deal with massive life stuff - as well as having my own fair share. A parent dies. A friend gets sick. A partner loses their job. A miscarriage. Parents separate. A terrifying diagnosis. A lover leaves.

Here are four survival tactics for when life pulls the rug out from underneath you:

1. Separate your business activities: maintenance versus growth

My background is in teaching. When a teacher goes off sick, the cover teacher is not generally expected to design all-singing, all-dancing lessons. They’re there to keep the classes ticking over and maintain some progression through the curriculum. The classes are typically more textbook-based or involve simple exercises or even watching videos.

What are your bare-bone essential activities that will keep your business ticking over? When the shit hits the fan in your life, switch to this mode in your business. This is the mode you can also use during holidays or when you’re off sick. It probably means you only reply to the most essential email and ignore the rest, trusting people will forgive you. It means your exciting plans to launch a new-look website get put on the back-burner.

By reducing to bare-bones, you keep your business alive whilst maintaining your sanity and honouring your need to retreat. This is the time to pause big growth projects and instead just keep your business alive so that when life calms down (and it will, it will, it will), you’ve got something left to grow.

2. Get very clear on who and what matters most

 Your paying clients are the life-blood of your business. When your world tips on its head, focus any shred of business energy on them. They’re your priority, so that you can maintain the profitability of your venture. A close second come your new inquiries; if you’re able to respond and delay contact with them, to be attentive yet still give yourself some breathing room, do that.

Here’s what doesn’t make your priority list: requests on your time from people who aren’t paying clients and who aren’t direct inquiries. People who want to collaborate, people who want some quick free advice, people who want you to retweet their article. These might be wonderful activities to engage with when you’re back in growth mode, but right now you’re in maintenance mode.

Remember: email requests are just that: requests, not demands. You don’t have to answer any of them. You’re not a public service. You’re a business with paying clients and if someone isn’t paying you, they don’t own a piece of you.

And the clients who are paying you? They might actually expect less of you than you think. We can get into over-giving tendencies and make ourselves too important or indispensable; often clients are hugely compassionate and are more than happy to give you the space and time you need.

3. Get unsocial (and more truly social)

When life is wobbly, you might like to withdraw from social media. Here’s my stance: My purpose of being on social media is to connect and share positivity and so when I’m not in that space, I’d rather not share at all. I might still remain functional, posting a blog post or link to a teleclass, but it’s not part of my business mission to share with everyone what’s happening in my private life. (Those close to me will spot when I’ve gone quiet online and know that all is not well in my world).

I love social media and it’s not my source of comfort. I get that from my Connection practice, from my partner and from my friends - in “real” life. The cuddles, the love, the empathy happen in person and by phone; we meet, we snuggle, I cry on them.

If you like this tactic, please know that later you can translate your experience into something useful for your Tribe. You can draw an amazing learning point out of the rubble if you wish, but do so retrospectively. If you try to do it in the moment, often your community or clients feel the need to come and save you - and that’s not their job.

4. Cry your heart out

I’m a big fan of crying. It’s cathartic, it’s healing, it’s cleansing. And it’s often absolutely necessary.

When life hits a rough patch, I’ve been known to throw myself on the floor and howl between client sessions. I come off the phone and in the 15 minute break, a sound will come out of me that is primal, guttural, angry, despairing.

Then, a few minutes before the phone rings again, I pull it together, knowing I have another valve coming up in 60 minutes when I can let my pain out again.

And here’s the secret: work can become your sanctuary. Your distraction. Your saving grace. You can throw yourself into being fully present for a client, fully engaged in writing, or designing, or creating, and for 60 minutes (or however long it takes) you can forget about your life being in shatters. In coaching, we call this “self-management”: putting your own shit aside so you can be there for your client. And the magic is, not only does it serve your client, it serves you too.

Life can sometimes be entirely shitty. It can feel like it smacks us round the face, grabs our guts and rips us apart - but it doesn’t need to rip your business apart too.

So, go into maintenance mode, focus on who and what matters most, get unsocial (and more truly social) and cry out that beautiful, precious heart of yours. Your business will be waiting for you on the other side - and it also may just help you get through."

© Corrina Gordon-Barnes, 2012