Emotionally Balanced Founders

On a very icy, cold and early Janaury morning I joined a networking group called @startups_mcr to share some of the things I have learnt and observed about balancing the emotional pressure of starting a business. This is a huge subject, so I shared a little that I had noted in my nine years of business ownership but also through supporting countless clients through the problems they’ve encountered in running and growing their own enterprises.

Why is the issue of our emotions so important in starting a business?

  • Founders throw their heart and soul into a business. They often refer to it as their ‘baby’ and are keenly attached to it. So, when the business goes through ups and downs (and this can be multiple ups and downs in just one day!) so does the owner. Unchecked this can damage our emotional state and knock us off balance.

  • For me business is essentially a competitive environment (even when done ethically and with values). Customers choose a supplier and why they do that can have nothing to do with a business being ‘good’, it can be for many other factors such as price, personality, colours, feelings, timings, and so on. Indeed, external forces can destroy sound businesses or disrupt their model (think of what happened to all the suppliers to the large contractor Carillon last year) through no fault of the owner. That means good businesses, and good business owners, will experience unfairness during their entrepreneurial adventures.

  • And the statistics tells us that only 4 in every 10 start-ups make it to their 5th birthday [for the record Know+Do is about to turn 9]. Most also stay very small, e.g. 65k of the 100k businesses in Greater Manchester employ less than 5 people; meaning the owners / founders are mostly intimately involved in the everyday delivery of their businesses and the strategy, they are working hard and jugging many duties.

So, I summarised how to consider all this through the 6 S’s of balance:

  1. Self. Do not measure yourself against others or take their yardstick for success. Know your own measure, understand yourself and recognise your abilities and weaknesses. If you don’t do this others will create the terms by which they define your success and this will change with the trends, fashions and the fancies of others.

  2. Share. I started a business with a colleague (@rammers02) and valued greatly how we complement each other in skill sets, personality and expectations. When one of us is facing a challenge the other is most likely to be found seeking how to turn it into an opportunity. So, I recommend finding those with whom you can share your business journey. And not just at a cursory level but sharing deeply and with knowledge. A mentor can offer this, as could others starting out on a similar path. Sharing with those who can empathise and not just sympathise helps greatly.

  3. Smile. In amongst all the problems of your business venture should be fun. You need to want to give everything to it and if it does not make you smile to think of the business then something is out of balance. Setting core values can help with this, they allow you to apply clear thinking and set standards that satisfy you from the outset. Looking for the joy in your work gives you a reward.

  4. Sleep. Get enough sleep! Busy as you will be, sleep gives you clear thinking and gives your mind time to process the day. Skip on sleep for too long and you will make bad deals. Even the then Director of the FBI, James Comey, promoted sleep to all his employees (see his story in the book, ‘A Higher Loyalty’). Sufficient rest reduces your chances of making mistakes.

  5. Self-Worth. If the business is everything in your life you will be tied far too closely to the company for your own good, and that of your colleagues. If your identity does not extend beyond the company you will one day find yourself lacking in self-worth and unable to find the objective view when you need; as what happens to the business will literally be happening to you at the same time. I’d recommend seeking out and investing in things that make you interesting and give you validation, such as skills, knowledge, experience, love, satisfaction, belief, hobbies or friendships.

  6. Skin. A founder has ‘skin in the game’, you are taking a risk with your reputation, your time and probably your money. That little bit of fear or worry can be healthy, it stops you settling for less and getting too comfortable. It forces you to think about improvement and change, to always be striving for the next deal even when you’ve just secured one today. It can mark you as different to an employee and is, when kept in check, a motivating force.

These are just my starting points for the discussion; each founder’s experience is intensely personal. You will have your own views dependent upon your experience and situation. I’d be interested to know how other kept their balance in the early start-up phase. What worked for you and why? Let me know in the comments section below or contact me on bernard@knowanddo.com / @berneeclarke