#RealTalk: Small Businesses are Not Okay

#RealTalk: Small Businesses are Not Okay

I was on a Zoom call with a friend on Tuesday morning and he asked, “How’s your small business doing?”

The only response I could muster was, “It’s brutal right now.”

I went on to explain…

Our clients aren’t paying their bills, because they can’t afford to or they literally don’t have the physical ability to process the payment while working remote.  That has a ripple effect across everything we do as a business AND everyone we do business with.  That means we have no cash coming in to pay our bills because every last dollar we currently have is reserved to pay our people; We want to do everything we can to keep our people and keep paying them.   We’ve applied for the Paycheck Protection Program (no word yet) and a number of grants to help fill the gap.  I’ve taken a pay cut.  Our owner has too. 

Contracts and proposals are getting pushed out from March/April to August, September – and maybe even 2021.  Our pipeline of future business has dried up for the next 4-6 months and all of our business development efforts feel like they are now an upside down dumpster fire.  No one is talking about future business, everyone is just trying to survive.  As a result, every conversation is stalled or dead in the water because no one knows when we’re all going to be able to get “back to business” again.  The next 6 months are a daily “question mark”.

At this point, “it’s brutal” might be an understatement.

I’m a anxious.  I’m stressed.  I’m feverishly working to try to make magic happen while simultaneously paralyzed by fear, sadness, grief, stress, and anxiety.  I’ve worked for small businesses most of my career.  I’ve been an executive leader of small businesses for the last seven. This is the most terrifying and potentially business-ending experience a small business will ever face.  As a leader, this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done and probably ever will.

Small businesses are not okay.  We are not okay.  This is the #realtalk.

In the next 90-days we will see small businesses close forever.  You will see leaders shutter up lifelong dreams, family legacies, and livelihoods after they’ve done everything possible to try and help it survive.  That’s the new reality.

Like my last blog (I Am Not Okay), I don’t have any intelligent business advice or some new grant no one knew to apply for.  I don’t have a work-around for the cumbersome and frustrating PPP process either (I wish I did).  I only have me, a small-business leader standing here with her hand waving in the air saying:

This is really really hard.  I lay awake at night worrying about my people, my job, the company.  I worry and wonder every day if we’ll survive.  I grieve the loss of the meaningful work we’re doing. 

I, then, go deep into the rabbit hole of “what ifs”, too.  What if we have to close?  What will our employees do?  What will our clients do?  What will I do?  How will I find a job in this market?  How will I support my family? Will I find something just as meaningful? 

I work myself into such a ball of anxiety, fear, and stress – that I find myself incapable of doing anything but starting blankly at my computer not knowing what to do next.

I’m guessing some of you feel that way, too.

I hope that helps you feel less alone in this.  If it gives you a way to express what you are feeling, good. If it just lets me stand in solidarity with you as another small business leader and owner – someone who knows how difficult and painful this truly is – I will.   If I can help you or support you or listen to you, please just ask.

Until then, I send you a fist bump and a virtual hug with a heart hopeful to see you when we’re on the other side of this.

I Am Not Okay.

There we were, yelling at each other, standing in the master bathroom. I can’t even recall what it was about, but it was pointless. It was just one, amongst a string of inconsequential disagreements my partner and I have had in the last two weeks. He walked out and I was left standing alone in our bathroom like a statue – frozen, staring blankly, feeling nothing and everything all at once.

I couldn’t fathom walking back downstairs, putting on a happy face, and dealing with the chaos of two kids, three dogs, and a husband who was likely still angry at me. I couldn’t go outside (windy and cold). So I stood there – frozen – only jarred alert by the sound of my two-year-old climbing the stairs yelling, “momma!”

Unable to face what was a mere seconds away, I walked into our master bedroom closet. We have a large closet and in the back corner sits a dark, tiny nook where we typically keep the hamper. I walked back to that corner, pulled the hamper out of the nook, and proceeded to back myself into the nook, sit down, and pull the hamper back in front of the hole.

Seconds later, my son comes running into the closet, expecting to find me, but can’t. He spends a few minutes looking for me, then retreats back downstairs to the chaos. I took a deep breath, plugged my ears to drown out the noise and then…

I cried.

Fourteen days into quarantine and seven days into governor-mandated stay-at-home order – I was feeling the effects of the disruption to life as we know it and the emotional toll a global pandemic can take on a human…this human.

It’s safe to say…I am not okay.

I’ve left the house twice in the last 14 days. I cried leaving the grocery store. I cried because I miss feeling normal. I cried because I’m grateful for grocery store employees bravely stocking shelves and working checkout lines. I cried at the realization that this is how people in war-torn countries feel every day. They feel insecure. They feel unsafe. They feel afraid.

The honest truth is, I’m scared. I’m tired. I’m stressed. I’m bored. I’m stir-crazy. I’m exhausted. I’m sad. I’m worried. I can’t sleep. I can’t focus. I’m grateful for the time with my family – and I really want to just be alone all at the same time. I fall asleep fast and then I lie awake for hours thinking of everything that this pandemic means for me, my family, my career, my community, our country, the world. I’m a walking oxymoron and a ticking time-bomb. Yesterday I exploded.

I sat in my closet, crying, for likely an hour, hidden away from my family so well my dogs couldn’t even find me. When I reemerged, I still felt like a shell of myself.

I am not okay. You don’t have to be either.

This blog isn’t going to give you any tips. It’s not going to give you some quippy, hope-filled quote or a picture of a beach. It’s just going to tell you that I’m falling apart a little bit – and if me falling apart gives you permission to fall apart a little too, let it. Maybe it gives you permission to not be okay, too. If all of that makes you feel a little more “normal” and allows me to stand in grief, fear, or sadness with you – I will.

This might be one of the most difficult things we go through collectively in our lifetime. We can collectively sit in the discomfort, fear, and pain together, too. It’s okay to not be okay right now.

I’m not okay. That’s the real talk for this #QuarantineMonday.

Part Two: Reframing the Conversation Around Competition


This is part of a five part series focused on reframing the conversation around competition and comparison among women. We recommend you start by reading Part One: Catfight!

In Part One of this series, we talked about how changing the conversation for women around competition and comparison starts by first, living more honestly. Here’s a recap of the five things we can do to reframe the conversation around competition.

Changing the Conversation Around Competition:

  • One: Live More Honestly
  • Two: Focus on Personal Goals
  • Three: Check Yourself
  • Four: Support Each Other
  • Five: Speak Up and Out

Two: Focus on Personal Goals

Jealousy.

We all have it. We’re all human.

Some of us are better at managing the little green monster than others, but for all of us, he shows up from time to time. Jealousy often rears its ugly head when we see a woman achieving the things that we want for ourselves. Then, jealousy invites his friends “self-doubt” and “comparison” to the party. It’s a recipe for disaster.

In those moments, we often put those women on the “opposite team”. They become the enemy, the adversary. They have what we want – they’ve achieved what we’re chasing, and as a result they are now a competitor. Herein lies the heart of the problem – so much of what makes competition unhealthy is that it revolves around trying to “beat” another woman.

The problem is, we don’t even know what she’s chasing.

In almost every scenario, we’re not playing the same game, we’re not chasing the same dream, and we’re not working for the same outcome. It may look and feel similar, but it’s not the same. We can remove the unhealthy competition when we focus on our goals – not the achievements of other woman. Our focus should be on how we “beat” who we were yesterday, last week, or last year.

Runners are a great example of a mindset where we focus on our personal goals – and not the success or advancement of others.

My love affair with running started over 10 years ago. I woke up one morning and decided I wanted to be a runner – no kidding. When I hit the streets the first time, it was agony. I could barely run a couple of blocks, let alone a couple of miles. Yet, every day, I’d hit the road and try to just run a little bit farther than I did the day before. Next thing I knew, I could run 3 miles. My goal then became, “How can I run 3 miles faster?” After that – how I could run longer races – a 10K, then a half marathon. I became obsessed with running longer races and faster times. Nine half marathons and more running shoes than I can count – here I am – a runner.

Here’s the thing about my running journey – it was never about anyone but me. Never once in my on-again-off-again-back-on-again relationship with running did I focus on “beating” anyone but myself, my time, my distance, the run before. I was focused on my personal goals. My friends successes – longer races and better times – only drove me to work harder on me.

We have to stop trying to “beat” each other – and focus on continuing to “beat” ourselves. We have to keep focused on our own goals.

Now What?

Set the Big Goals: Put the target on the wall and set your big, audacious, someday kind of dream. Want to be a CEO? Say it out loud to yourself. Want to own a business? Write that down. Know the dream YOU are chasing. Don’t be afraid to name it. What’s my big crazy dream? Writing a best-selling book. Crazy right?

Set the Goals to Get There: Now that you’ve named the big, audacious dream, how are you going to get there? What are some possible steps you could chase? This is NOT a 5-year or 10-year plan. I repeat, this is not a 5-year plan. Those things become fiction five seconds after you write them. Give yourself lots of options and understand all the different ways you could get to the big dream, but don’t script your life. We have to understand how we can get closer to our dream, but also understand that the outcome is more important than the way in which we get there.

For example: If I want to write a best-selling book, I should probably write.a.book (I have before but with other people). I should probably know what it takes to be a best-seller, I should probably have a topic to write about, I should probably have a publisher, I should probably know how to get a publisher, and I should probably start writing. Do I have a distinct plan for each of these? No. Do I know what I need to do right now, today, tomorrow, next week to get closer? Yes. I have thoughts on a lot of these steps and what I might do get achieve them, but I’m not married to any of it until it’s time to put my attention there. That way if the steps get rearranged or I have to make changes, it feels like a course correction and not a failure. You get the idea: set some goals to get to the big, audacious goal, but write them down in pencil, not pen.

Focus on Your Outcome: Stay focused on our outcome – not someone else’s – and don’t be afraid to edit, adapt, and adjust your path. I know lots of people who’ve written books. I see books hit the best-seller’s list all the time. I can’t let those things drive me to compete with those authors and and I can’t let their success make me question my ability to achieve my own. Focus on your outcome. Incrementally get there day-by-day.

Learn from Other Success: I find it much easier to treat those who have achieved goals similar to mine as teachers with valuable insight to offer. As a runner, I found myself wanting to run with people who were faster than me – to push me. I’d ask them how they’re training and I’d read everything I could from the world’s best runners. Don’t let your ego or jealously get in the way of you learning from those who’ve already walked a path similar to yours or achieved things you want to achieve. More often than not, they want to share their lessons, insights, and secrets with you.

We have to learn to set goals for ourselves, but not just the big “someday” kind of dreams, we have to know what goals will get us there. I knew very quickly that I couldn’t just walk out my front door and run a marathon. I started with incremental goals to get me there – a mile, a 5K, etc. I probably will never run a marathon, but I never really wanted to. I just wanted to run. I stayed focused on my goal, celebrated my successes along the way, and learned from others who already had the successes I was chasing.

It was never about anything other than my goals. It was never about anyone other than me. We have to use this mindset as we chase our big, audacious dreams. We have to remember that every woman is out there every day chasing a dream that is distinctly our own. The more we compete with ourselves, in the pursuit of our dreams, the less we have to compete with each other.

Stay tuned for Part 3 later this week: Check Yourself.

Learn more about the movement inspiring girls and women to shut down unhealthy comparison and competition called Stand Beside Her by visiting http://www.standbesideher.org/  I’m proud to support and advocate for this movement.

until we break more glass…

Catfight! Reframing the Conversation Around Competition and Comparison Among Women.

Part 1 of 5.

I could spew data for days about competition among women. We could talk about all of the reasons why women see competition negatively, why when we compete with each other it’s seen as catty, how hostile competition is a mask for insecurity, and on and on and on. I could waste a bunch of time with the data but it would only reinforce what we already know.

Competition is seen negatively by most women and when we compete it’s seen as catty by everyone else around us. And these realities around competition and how women perceive it starts a at a very young age.

Instead, I’d rather spend my time talking about how we can change the conversation around competition and comparison. I’d rather talk about how we can instill healthy ideas of competition in girls and women. I’d rather solve problems instead of ruminating over them.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be highlighting, in-depth, the five things we can do to change the conversation around competition and comparison as part of my advocacy work for the Stand Beside Her Movement. One-by-one, we’ll unpack the problem and identify what we can do both individually and collectively to shift the conversation around competition.

Changing the Conversation Around Competition:

  • One: Live More Honestly
  • Two: Focus on Personal Goals
  • Three: Check Yourself
  • Four: Support Each Other
  • Five: Speak Up and Out

Let’s start this week with number One: Live More Honestly.

One: Live More Honestly

The rise of social media exposure at a younger and younger age has amplified the issue of comparison among women and girls. We display our “highlight reel” instead of our struggles, failures, and less-than-perfect selves. Do I post pictures of my kids at their cutest, me at my skinniest [looking], and the fabulous moments of my life more often than the photos of me looking frumpy, with a messy house and dirty kids? Yes. Should I? Maybe and maybe not. This isn’t about what you post on social media and it IS about what you post on social media – at the same time.

Changing the conversation around competition and comparison among women and girls requires us to live more honestly.

We have to live more honestly and we have to share our whole story more openly. I look at some professional women and think, “Man I wish I was at their level. I wish I had what they have.” What I don’t see, is what it took for them to get there – the struggles, the tears, the grit, the sacrifice. I only see the outcome.

It’s like a before and after photo of a weight loss journey. We look at these side-by-side photos and can visually recognize the results. We see the outcome of the hard work, but what we don’t see is what happened in-between those two photos for that individual to get there. As it turns out, what happens in the space between those two pictures is what is truly important to understand – not just the outcome. If we did know, it would likely make the success even more impressive.

The path to success (however we personally define it) is messy, complicated, and hard. We have to be more honest about that. We can’t just show the before and after “photos” – it gives people incomplete data. The space between where we started and our success is what is most important to openly share.

We can strive for what other women have. We can desire to be like other women, too, but what we can’t do is compare ourselves or our journeys to partial data. When we live more honestly it helps women and girls see that the “dream” is attainable, but it’s hard work. It doesn’t come easy or naturally – and anyone who says it does…well I call BS.

I’m certain that women look at my career and what I have achieved and want it. I have a cool job and I’ve had a ton of really cool experiences. They might be chasing a similar dream to me. What I haven’t always done a great job of was sharing the sacrifices, the struggles, the mistakes, the hard work, and the grit it has taken me to get here. I don’t talk openly about the important friendships that withered away while I was chasing a career. I don’t talk about the birthday parties, the funerals, the weddings, and the important life moments I “passed” on to say “yes” to work. I don’t talk about the loneliness I felt. I don’t talk about the failures and what I learned from them.

Yet, had I shared this part of my journey more openly, I hypothesize that it would be less about “beating me” and more about learning from my experiences. It would be less about getting to MY outcome and more about getting to their own. It would be less about beating me and more about all of us winning. It would be less about competing with each other and more about helping each other succeed.

Now What?

So what do we do with this? Here’s some ideas to get started now.

  • Be intentional about what you put online – I know you’ve likely heard that 1,000,000 times, however we have to consider the precedent we’re setting for other woman. Don’t be afraid to share the less-than-perfect parts of your stories more publicly. It allows others to avoid your mistakes or navigate difficulties with more ease.
  • Ask other woman about their challenges – We all have them and most women will share that stuff when asked one-on-one. Don’t be afraid to ask women to share the struggles and challenges they faced on their journey to success.
  • Travel your own path“One who walks in another’s path, leaves no footprints.” You have to travel your own path, one that is your own. Make decisions for you and the outcome you’re chasing.
  • Share it – At every opportunity, pass along the wisdom you’ve gained. Things are unnecessarily competitive when women don’t openly share the formula to success. Don’t hoard the lessons, share them.

In retrospect, throughout much of my early career, I was so focused on making sure it looked like I had it all figured out, that I was qualified, confident, and had everything “under control”. That hasn’t helped a single woman who’s come after me. Living more honestly and sharing our journey more openly allows us to begin to shift the competition and comparison that often rears its ugly head while we’re chasing our dreams. We have to share more openly, live more honestly, and give advice more freely to end the unhealthy competition. Doing so more than anything, helps the women who come behind us succeed – and succeed more authentically.

Learn more about the movement inspiring girls and women to shut down unhealthy comparison and competition called Stand Beside Her by visiting http://www.standbesideher.org/ . I’m proud to support and advocate for this movement.

until we break more glass…

Be the Driver of Your Annual Review: Four Things to Do Now.

Regardless of the process your boss or your organization uses to evaluate performance, you can and should be the driver of your annual performance evaluation. As a young professional, I was always a passive participant in my annual reviews. I would sit down and wait for the feedback. I would cross my fingers for a raise. I didn’t do my homework and I didn’t set myself up for success in those conversations. As a result, it’s no surprise that I always left disappointed with overwhelming feelings that my supervisor “missed stuff”.

I didn’t drive the conversations in my annual review. I simply participated. As a result, I likely missed some opportunities to learn, grow, and advance. We have to be our own best advocates and we CANNOT be passive participants on our career journeys.

It’s time to put yourself in the driver seat of your annual performance evaluation. Below are the four things you can do to ensure success in your annual review.

One: Log Your Successes and Accomplishments

Your boss isn’t responsible for logging everything you have accomplished within the year. If you assume that they know all the work you’ve been doing to accomplish your goals, advance the business objectives, and ensure success – you’re dead wrong. Supervisors and managers generally only record the stuff you’ve done REALLY well (on occasion) and when you’ve screwed up. Their memory is spotty at best. If you’re relying on their memory for a raise, promotion, or more responsibility – stop.

We have to be our own best advocates and we have to be tracking daily the successes and accomplishments we’ve made throughout the year. Start a Success Journal (read the blog about success journals here).

If you’re headed into an annual review and haven’t been logging your accomplishments and successes all year, here’s what you need to build a list of:

  • What you have done in the last year to achieve the outcomes outlined in your job description.
  • What you have done in the last year to help your team, division, or department achieve its annual goals.
  • What you have personally done to advance to business objectives of the organization.
  • What you have done to help your boss achieve their goals.
  • What additional responsibilities you have taken on or job functions you have performed in the last year that are outside you job responsibilities (and that you have not been additionally compensated for).

This list should represent tangible things you have done, outlined with as much specificity as possible. No list is too long and no thing is too little. Once you start logging accomplishments and successes daily, this list will be easy to compile annually, but if you’re just getting started, focus on listing as much as you can think of from the year – then edit/combine the list accordingly.

Two: Know Your Areas of Improvement.

No human is perfect and no employee should ever leave a performance evaluation without places where they can improve. Don’t leave the list of “improvement areas” up to your supervisor or manager. Make the list for them. Don’t just own your mistakes, come with the solutions, too. Reflect on what you should have/would have done differently and what you learned from those mistakes. Showing up as a problem-solver makes your boss’s job a heck of a lot easier. They’ll appreciate that you came to the table not only with an awareness of where you can improve, but with solutions to do so.

Use that conversation to focus on areas you where would like to grow or places you know you need additional training or support in. When you focus on these things, it helps make your case for more professional development, access to more important meetings/people, and opportunities to learn and grow in the next year – not just punitive action for some mistakes you made in the past.

Three: Share the Data in Advance.

Send you successes/achievements and your areas of growth well in advance of the meeting. In most cases, managers and supervisors are given a set amount of dollars during the budget period for raises for the whole team. By the time they get to the performance evaluation meeting with you, they’ve already made decisions about who gets how much. If that’s the first time your supervisor is seeing information about accomplishments, don’t expect a merit-based raise or promotion. You’ll likely get less than you want – and definitely less than you deserve.

Sharing the data in advance also allows you to frame the conversation at your annual review. It sets the foundation with your supervisor where they already understand your contributions over the last year. As a result, you spend your time talking about what’s next for you, your role, your career, instead of what happened over the last year. The conversation becomes future-focused, instead of a “review of past work”.

If you’ve got a performance evaluation coming up soon, send the data ASAP. It’s never too late for you boss to make decisions about compensation, benefits, or perks that they can use to reward the good work you’ve done.

Four: Ask for What You Want.

Always, always, always ask for what you want. The worst that can happen is that they say “No.”

Do you want more money? How much more do you want? What are some other ways beyond salary that you could be compensated? Sometimes, employers are strapped with salary dollars, but they may have other creative ways that they can compensate you like bonus money, more vacation, etc.

Do you want more training or professional development? What training or development do you want? What’s the financial implications and cost of those opportunities? What will you gain from them? How will they help you better achieve the business outcomes?

Do you want more responsbility or a promotion? What job functions or responsibilities would you add? Why do you believe you’re prepared for those? What job functions/responsibilities would you remove as a result of these new tasks? What would your job description be?

Don’t just walk into your performance evaluation with a list of demands. Again, bosses love problem-solvers who make their jobs easier. If there are things that you want, ask for them, but come with the data, the options, and the information to make the case for those things as well.

What Happens if I Do All of This Work and Get Nothing?

It’s entirely possible that you could do all of this work and get no where with you manager/supervisor. If that happens, ask specifically for what you can do in the next year to position yourself for a better review, more money, or more responsibility. Ask them what their priorities are and how you can help achieve them. If they are able to clearly outline what you need to do, get it in writing or send a follow-up email to that fact – and then spend the next year working to achieve those things. Ask for quarterly or monthly check-ins to make sure your on track. Remember, success isn’t measured by you – success is measured by your manager and company leadership. Use their measuring stick to determine the work you should be doing.

You might not get immediate answers to your requests, especially if its the first time your boss is hearing it. Don’t get frustrated when the answer is “I don’t know,” or “I need to think about that/check on that.” Give a little grace and ask for a deadline to get decisions on your requests.

Either way, you have to be the driver of your annual performance evaluation. Don’t be a passive participant – take ownership over the experience and make it work for you.

Until we break more glass…