Solstice: On Managing Dark Days

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Today is the darkest day of 2017. Literally: it’s winter solstice in the southern hemisphere.

Solstice, then, seems a fitting time to reflect on the dark days in our business lives. We all have them. They look different for everyone, of course. For startups, they might be working out that someone else has the business name you’ve coveted for years already registered – after you’ve spent thousands on the graphic design. For those in the first few years of trading, it might be spending time organising a payment plan with the ATO, who are scary. Still others of us will have had legal skirmishes, PR problems or issues with recruitment to scale.

No matter the stage of our business development, these challenges set the pulse racing and the eyes dilating. Catastrophising becomes a slippery slope! Make no mistake, however: dark days make businesses. They usually reveal holes in our business systems, and weaknesses in our knowledge. In the moment, of course, these circumstances are galling and even embarrassing. I’m not sure they get ‘easier’ as you develop – but they become something you can think more philosophically about. Here are some lessons I’ve learned about handling ‘solstice’ days in your own business.

  • On Losing Clients

Not all clients are a great fit for your business. Sometimes you’re not a great fit for their business. That’s OK. It may sting to be ‘let go’, but try to look at it philosophically: their exit from your business is an opportunity for a new client of better match to enter. Of course, look back on the work produced and the interactions you’ve had with the client or customer overall – is there anything you can do better next time? Learn any lessons necessary – about pairing yourself to clients more in sync with your offering, or about your category of business, or about customer service – and move on.

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  • On Legal and Tax Matters

Get a lawyer. Get an accountant. As early as you can in your business.

Once you are in a pickle, look to experts for counsel. I’ll bet there’s a way out of the mess you’ve wandered into. (I’m guessing my readership aren’t criminal bastards intentionally running amuck, of course.) Real talk: if you’re not a lawyer or an accountant, you won’t hold much sway when negotiating your way out of whatever matter you’re concerned about. These professionals are worth their weight in golden invoices.

Legal and tax matters are pretty scary, and you may be very freaked out for a while. Keep going. The fear and sense of impending doom will pass. The lesson about what to do next time will remain. Win!

  • On Staff

The smaller your business, the more intimate your relationship with employees, contractors and interns. Your emotional investment – the fact that you really care for the people you employ – can make tough business decisions additionally weighty. There’s no easy way around this one: you’ve got to make decisions about recruiting and letting go predominantly from your gut, your sense of intuition. You are your business, and you know what is best for it today. Trust that, and do the hard thing. The only way out is through.

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Above all, don’t throw in the towel when the darkest day pops up from time to time. Take some deep breaths. Meditate a bit. Get through the day with as much calm and structure as you can. Have a chamomile and a sandwich. Remember that solstice is here, and learn your lessons in the dark. Brighter days are coming. Just keep going, I’m with you all the way.

Images: Breeana Dunbar

Fairfield Amphitheatre, June 2017

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