You Control the Conversation

As owner of a business, you often have to have difficult conversations with people. Sometimes it’s a team member whose work has fallen short lately. Sometimes it’s a client who has written in to express their dissatisfaction with how a project is going. Sometimes it’s a customer who bought a product that has broken or failed them unexpectedly. Sometimes it’s an employee who has violated your trust and put your business at financial risk.

These conversations can turn your stomach. Ideally, you’d never have to have them or avoid them completely, and most of your thoughts leading up to the moment involve scenarios of what could go wrong rather than what could go right.

But this is what I’ve learned from having these conversations and being in these different positions (more than once in the past): you control the conversation.

That doesn’t mean you speak the whole time or dominate the room. Rather, you can bring energy and presence that can shift the situation from dreaded to enlightening. Here’s how to start:

1. Arrive with your learning spirit. Something may have gone wrong. That doesn’t mean you need to beat yourself or someone else up for the mistake. Failures are only failures if you learn nothing from them and they don’t move you forward.

2. Listen. Whether it’s a client or customer that needs to vent, or a team member that needs to share what happened, take the time to ask questions and really listen to the response. We all want to be seen and heard, and taking this time to gather information can break down false beliefs you may have constructed leading up to the meeting or call.

3. Admit where you’re wrong. Even when I had an employee indirectly steal money from me, I was still able to admit where I wasn’t clear or boundaried enough. I saw what I needed to change going forward to prevent this situation from happening again. If you can own your part of the situation, you can let it go.

4. Propose ways forward. I never arrive in a meeting with a preconceived notion of how to solve a potential problem. Rather through listening, I discover different paths forward and share those possibilities, so together we can decide on how best to take the next steps. Sometimes, that means ending a relationship but most often it means a deepening of the relationship and new standards and expectations being set so we can be successful together.

5. Continue to check in. With yourself most importantly as you need to ask yourself how changes are working for you and if further modifications may be needed. But you also should be checking in regularly with your team or following up with your client or customer. This helps ensure lessons you’ve learned really take hold and brings the situation to a full and satisfying resolution or continues to strengthen the relationship.

This is the start of the shift.

Falling Apart to Fall in Love

Sometimes everything needs to fall apart to be put back together in the right way.

That’s what I’ve been telling myself this past week.

Most people think I totally have it put together: successful business, living in a great area, new podcast, great friends. Honestly, I don’t know what “together” is sometimes. Here’s what I do know:

The past three months have been simultaneously both difficult and glorious. I’ve pushed myself into uncomfortable places and lived through some of my worst-case scenarios, and been made better for them. I launched a new podcast with a dear friend that I’m incredibly excited about. I’ve connected with new people and discovered that my tribe is even larger than I’ve previously known. I had a sponsor for a new project within 48 hours of starting to work on it. I fell in love unexpectedly and fully and deeply with an incredible guy.

This week’s challenge: I learned that my business has been operating at a loss for the last three months and may not survive if changes aren’t made.

And the changes aren’t easy ones. I’m starting by cutting my salary — I feel as owner and leader it’s my responsibility to take the first hit. But there are still difficult decisions to be made and I’m working through figuring out how to take care of my team while ensuring that this business is sustainable for all of us.

Truthfully, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this. I’ve stood on stage and gushed about how amazing my business has been with all its growth. “Successful” has become part of how I’ve defined myself in the past few years.

But somehow along the way I’ve lost hold on what success really means. It’s not more money every year, or more employees, or more clients. It’s care and love and boundaries on my time so I’m not working 90 hour weeks. I’ve made some decisions that haven’t been the best ones, tried some experiments that have failed, been taken advantage of by people who only sought personal gain. And now it’s time to remember all the good I’ve done and that has come of this to reset it and start fresh again.

So while I was a little heartbroken to get the news this week, I’m choosing to see this as an opportunity to change things, rediscover the magic, and fall in love with this business again.

The Right to Change Your Mind: In Business

I was recently faced with this question: Do I have the right to change my mind after I have said yes and started in on a project or venture with a partner?

Promises are a sticky subject, and the answer to such questions isn’t always as simple as “well, you said yes and promised to do it so now you have to…forever.”

A bit of background: In addition to my main business, Alchemy+Aim, I also have two side partnerships with designer friends, both of whom I adore working with.

I’ve been working for the past several months to put more systems into place to reclaim some free time and create space for myself for my next big project (coming in January, says our plan). In that time, I’ve really been asking myself what do I want to stay doing and what do I want to delegate or give up. As a result, I’ve been forced to confront what the future of these partnerships will be and how involved I want to be with them going forward. Do I delegate or just get out?

Delegating a task is much easier to do than giving up an activity. Way easier.

No hurt feeling, or sad faces, or disappointed friends.

Hello, my name is Brandi and I’m people pleaser who hates disappointing people.

I’ve considered at different times giving up one or even both of these partnerships, asking myself if the work we’re doing is truly serving me, our businesses, the world.

But how do you change your mind and say no when you’re right there in the middle?

How can you be true to yourself and what you need to grow, and accept you may disappoint others in the process?

For me, the thought of altering course can bring up a lot of emotions and thoughts around failing people. I often think as much about their potential emotions around the situation as I do about my own. It makes a decision messier.

So what do I do? I start with what I want, because the only reaction I can be sure of is my own.

It has been crucial and incredibly empowering for me to learn how to own my desires and wants and needs.

Saying no creates space for new possibilities to emerge, often ones that are much better fits than what currently exists. And sometimes saying no allows the venture to transform into something even better, because you were willing to admit that its current state wasn’t working.

So my solution boils down to answering the question, “How can this endeavor evolved to serve both of us partners better as we grow?”

In one case, I think it means letting go. In the other, it means delegating the work and watching it become something even better.

Four Questions to Ask Yourself If You Need To Change Your Mind
  1. What do I really want / need / desire in my life that’s leading me to question my involvement?
  2. Is this project still serving everyone involved, or does it need to change?
  3. What are some possibilities of transformation for this project that would allow my needs to be met?
  4. What would my ideal outcome be if anything were possible?

When was the last time you gave yourself permission to change your mind?

How to be an entrepreneur and date someone who’s not

A lot happened in August. I drove down to Asheville twice for mastermind retreats. I’m still processing losing my beloved Marty (and helping my other cats through their grief too). I discovered that I’m building an empire with my business. And I started dating someone.

This someone — we’ll use his first initial of G for now — is not an entrepreneur. He has a job he loves that has a solid pension and lots of vacation time. He has plans and dreams and the drive to potentially move into another position. But he is not an entrepreneur.

How is he ever going to understand this business thing I’m doing?

Having my own business has meant late nights and long hours and vacations that aren’t really vacations because I need to answer emails. Now, I’m getting some great systems into place to help things run smoothly (and help them run without me around sometimes), but I’m not there yet. I still have to give up a Sunday here and there to push forward with some projects and position myself to handle the influx of new clients and emails and projects.

I think G is already beginning to understand that he’s not only dating me but also in a relationship with my business. I’ve had to disappoint him once already and miss a friend’s party because I needed to work an extra day and make progress with some projects I had already promised myself to.

This is just reality for me: I love what I do, and while it’s not all I am, it’s important to me.

So how am I handling all of this? (And keeping this guy who doesn’t quite understand the entrepreneur thing around?)

  1. I’m drawing boundaries. When I’m off and spending time with him, I’m off. No emails or calls. Just us.
  2. I’m putting systems into place so when I’m off, my brilliant team is handling things.
  3. I talk about what’s happening, what I’m doing, and why it’s so important to him. He may not be in it, but I can share my excitement and challenges with him.
I love my business, but I am so much more than my business.

I’m more than a website developer or business owner or entrepreneur. I’m bigger than that. And creating space to nurture all the relationships in my life is key to my health and happiness.

And I’m pretty sure G and I will figure out the rest along the way.

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Jane Reaction

(logo and original branding) is a graphic design and art director who works with with small businesses and creative entrepreneurs, creating cohesive and interesting brands and websites.

Carrie Coleman

(photography) is a wedding photographer, whose goal is to capture the visual expression of a couple's love through timeless, organic images. She is based in Charlottesville, Virginia.