Running an Internet business is much more difficult when you have money or time pressures. It is not always clear what is going on in your mind. This post is all about how to maintain perspective in business and also why it is so hard for founders especially to do so.
This post could have been entitled “How the suffragettes helped me to see clearly”.
There is currently a thought-provoking work of art in Birmingham New Street station. If you go there, you can’t miss it… just look at the floor:
On the floor is a massive mural of photographs of women. Every one of them is interesting in its own right… but after a while of looking at them, you start to wonder whether you are (quite literally) seeing the whole picture. How important is that “helicopter view”? If you go up the escalators to the second level, it becomes entirely clear:
When you see the artwork from this perspective, it is a great image of Hilda Burkitt, one of the country’s leading suffragettes… but from this perspective, it is totally impossible to see the individual people that make up this incredible portrait.
Business Owners Take Heed
Setting up a business on the Internet is relatively easy, compared to the real world, once you know the tricks and tips to get up and running without risking everything. So all too often, founders find themselves at the coal face of the day-to-day running of the business and can rapidly forget the bigger picture. Alternatively, they refuse to get involved in the detail and forget that there are real people, with real lives and real problems at the coal face.
The bad news is that it is pretty well impossible for our minds to operate in both spaces at once. If we are looking at the big picture, we are probably not “getting the job done”. That means (in a small business or in a start-up) that we are not earning any money!
You may be able to live on dreams and dreams alone, but in my experience, the family needs something rather more material in nature! So there is a tendency to panic and dive right into the other mindset. You start being the book-keeper, the web designer, the salesperson, the programmer and the supply chain manager… all on your own. This way you can feed the family, but you cannot grow. You will eventually forget the bigger dream and concentrate on the material wealth, only to find that in 5 years others around you were able to run past you, like a juggernaut, leaving you to say “I couldn’t compete when the giant company came along”.
Our hopes and fears are different, as individuals, depending on the perspective we are currently examining our business from. At the coal face, you are (or should be) worried about whether the user or customer is happy. Whether you are helping THEM to sleep better at night. Doing your job, at this level, helps you to put food on the table. It helps you to not only pay for that holiday, but enjoy it when you take it because you know you have earned it… not just in money, but because you have helped other people along the way,
But when we are at the helicopter view, we become paranoid that we cannot make payroll, that we cannot pay the rent. So we can see how to change the world, but not now to feed ourselves!
This problem is not without considerable science behind it, going right back to the grandfather of social science, Maslow.
Maslow’s Pyramid (a VERY quick recap)
We have to be at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
(self-actualization) when we are in helicopter mode, but we have to be in the third layer of Maslow’s pyramid (Love/Belonging) when we are in the trenches. To be in any other frame of mind in either situation is not at all optimal for your business! In helicopter mode, if you are in the “self-esteem” frame of mind, you are really more interested in what other people think of YOU than what they think of the real world problem you are (or should be) trying to solve for other people in your business.
If you let Imposter Syndrome take over too much, or if you let fear get in the way, then you will drop (as we all do from time to time) down to the yellow or orange areas and when you do that whilst trying to run a business, then the red zone will quickly come calling, as sure as night follows day.
Similarly – you MUST be in the yellow zone if you are at the coal face. This is the point at which you are doing the role you shoul be doing, for the right reasons…. for your family, for your customers, for the people that can make you feel secure enough to stay above the orange zone… but if you start to aspire up the ladder, you’ll start questioning your day-to-day role. In questioning it, you lose the coal face perspective and once again, the business becomes sub-optimal.
Mentally Face up to this Paradox
Knowing that you cannot be effective in both roles at the same time is key to avoiding too much anxiety in business. It isn’t easy though. You need to be able to consciously work out what role you are currently doing for your business and then shut out the needs of the other role. That’s hard to do, and this is why we can feel elated one day on business and deflated, scared and depressed the next. But those that survive the day two of anxiety and move today three… actually DOING something with your dreams… have a much higher likelihood of success than those that fall at the fear hurdle. It doesn’t, however, prepare you for the cycles of elation and dread that will face you in business.
So with that in mind, here are some “coping strategies” that may help get you alternate between the “helicopter mode” and the “Coal Face mode”
1: Find a workspace away from home
Even though I have a home office, I find it impossible to get into the correct frame of mind consistently. The dog starts yelping, or a child comes home from school. I suddenly feel the urge to go shopping or I simply get distracted by a knock of the door from the Amazon delivery guy. Home is great for being in helicopter mode. You can dream, you can maybe even discuss things with your family, but you cannot give the customers the attention they deserve. You cannot make your product or program that system, or even write your best blog content.
2: Make use of your Diary
Consciously divide your time into Helicopter time and Coalface time. Try not to let the two activities overlap too much. You can see why above. Knowing that dreamers aren’t do-ers and do-ers aren’t dreamers will help you be both… just not at the same time.
3: Consider a part time job
(This one is a little controversial and not for all.)
If you invest all of your waking hours into your business, you might in-fact be increasing your chance of failure instead of increasing your chance of success. If you have external funding, this will not apply, but if you are bootstrapping your business, then the overriding need for the lower parts of the pyramid to be satisfied will lead to short-term planning of your business goals. You need to be fed and loved to be a great visionary leader, but you don’t need to be a great visionary to be fed, you just need to know where the next meal (or pay-check) is coming from. Strangely enough, you can still do your visionary work on your own business, whilst driving an Uber or whatever you do for the part-time role, this is because the two roles are not dependent upon each other.
I have done this several times in my life. Indeed, there was a time when I was filling out spreadsheets for Whitbread earning less than the people I employed at my murder mystery company! To the outside, that might seem strange, but it satisfied my material needs, thus allowing me time to look at the helicopter view.
4: Conquer a Mountain
Why not set yourself a physical challenge every year? Cycle the country/state or climb the highest mountain. Something that will take time to achieve. Whilst you are training, or indeed whilst you are walking up the mountain, you are in helicopter mode. The research that says physical exercise helps your mental health is overwhelming.
5: Find a Mentor
Lastly, running a business at the coal face and in the boardroom at the same time can be exhausting and terrifying. As Hilda has shown us above, we cannot see the wood for the trees. It isn’t just a state of mind, it is often physically impossible to manage both things well at the same time. A mentor or business partner can help to provide the balance. The Ying to your Yang.