Making Space for More Compassion in My Business

MaggieGentry talks about compassion in business and how she believes it can be a valuable asset for any creative entrepreneur.

My hope for June was to see a return to some sort of normal. By the end of May, I had just completed a period of hustle as I launched Own Your Why: Self-Paced, and I was ready to greet June with a season of rest. And by rest, I mean not create anything new for my business. I wanted to sit with the current structure and systems, and reflect on what felt off or might need adjusting. My intention was to try to evaluate how I can take what I've already built and make it successful rather than completely switching gears and starting from scratch. I wanted to add in time to my schedule to sit, and listen, and journal, and think. I wanted to give myself plenty of space to let my mind wander. 

Without the added pressure of trying to finish something by a certain a deadline, I got into a pretty cool groove. And with some of my bandwidth back, there was something that kept bubbling up in my thoughts. I feel as though all too often we are told to separate emotions from business. We are told that smart and successful business owners are especially skilled as they remove emotion to make the tough decisions based solely on the facts. We are taught to look at the numbers, draw a conclusion, and proceed. 

But this has never felt quite right to me. How is it that someone who is a human (an inherently emotional being) can make decisions void of emotions that impact other people (and other emotional beings), whether they be employees or customers? 

And as the month came to a close, I looked at the card I pulled for my Year Ahead Spread for my biz, and was pleasantly surprised to see what was before me. 

My card for July: Father of Cups

The Father of Cups represents emotional balance and control; he is diplomatic and open-minded. It is a card that demonstrates to us how in times of stress, we must pull from our well of compassion to better see the impact of all who are involved. It encourages us to use the quiet force of emotional stability and mental clarity to bring others together and to create a path forward that is cognizant of the impact of everyone involved.

Compassion, like empathy, are two emotions that I feel are chastised for being "weak emotions" and are grossly underutilized in business. And because of that, I see a lot of fellow businesses and business owners suffer. You want to know why? Because they lose sight of the reason we're in business in the first place: To serve others. 

As solopreneurs, we rack our brains trying to determine what we did wrong. Why did that badass Insta post not get the recognition it deserved? Why am I not booking the clients with my awesome new offering? Why does it feel like I cannot gain traction and steady growth?

And sure, maybe there are some slight improvements on our end. But what if instead of asking ourselves what we did wrong, we go to our customers and ask them what it is that they need? Also, as we conduct business, instead of always thinking of how we think it should go, next time, let's put ourselves in our customer's shoes.

So how do we do that? Here are the ways I believe we can all add more compassion into our businesses:

1. Listen, I mean truly listen, to your customers

[Insert the cheesy line here about we have two ears and only one mouth, so we should listen more than we speak.] But no really, give it a try. Create an avenue for you to connect with your customers. If you don't have a brick & mortar or have another outlet to connect with your customers IRL, it can be hard to get that extremely valuable feedback from an honest conversation. If you're an e-commerce shop, aim to participate in a few pop-up markets so that you can see what customers are gravitating towards and what questions they ask about your products. If you're a service-based business, create a fun & free service to connect with your audience. That could be a webinar, private Facebook group, complimentary 1-on-1 video calls, etc.

The most important part of these conversations and observations is that you actively listen. Aim to connect human to human. Despite whatever a sales coach might tell you, I think it's more impactful to not turn these opportunities into sales pitches, but rather let the conversation go as it will. If someone likes you and is ready to buy, they'll ask you the necessary questions to take the next step. If they aren't ready and you try to push them, then you leave them with that bad car salesman feeling, and that is absolutely not how you want them remembering you.

When you connect in this more compassionate way, not only are you opening up the dialogue for a more honest conversation, but you'll uncover so many more true insights than you would if someone is feeling pressured to answer your force-fed sales questions. And yes, the lead time might take a lot longer this way. It may be months or even a year before you hear back from someone, but if you left them with the good feeling of being someone who cared about their problem, they will come back to you. And I can guarantee that with this tactic of letting them come to you in their own time, you'll never leave a customer with buyer's remorse.

How I'm applying this in my business: I am making more of an effort to promote the Virtual Office Hours that I host every week! These are 30-minute, 1-on-1 video chats where we can discuss anything you want. Have some burning marketing questions you'd like feedback on ASAP? Cool, let's do that. Feel like you need another small business ally to celebrate wins and commiserate challenges with? Oh yeah, I love chatting about that, too. Want to swap cat photos and be crazy cat ladies together? I am SO down! Whether it's personal or biz-related, it doesn't matter. I would really love to chat, so sign up for a spot above. And I promise to do a better job of reminding you that these are available to you.

2. Consider the process from their end

Some of the common complaints I hear from fellow biz friends are: 

  • My Instagram engagement has gone to shit
  • I'm so annoyed that that one client has yet to sign her contract / pay her invoice
  • I can't believe I keep getting the same dumb questions

And of course, I have some of those same thoughts, too, and I actively try to spin it around to think of what's possibly going on from the other side: 

  • The algorithm strikes again! Sadly, it will continue to be harder and harder for your content to be seen organically, and if you don't have the budget to advertise regularly (even $10/month can make a difference!), then it's time you change your behavior. Instead of simply publishing your content and assuming everyone will flock to it, try dedicating a few minutes every day to seek out new connections. Head over to a hashtag that is relevant for your business, and find three accounts that you like the work they're sharing. Like 3 of their photos and leave a genuine comment on at least one photo. If you can do that every day (Like 3 photos and leave 1 comment on 3 new accounts every day), you'll be amazed at how quickly your network will grow. And even if your follower growth has stagnated, that's OK. Think about the last time you cleaned up your follower list. You're aiming to protect your own Insta feed with content that you value most, and that's what they are doing, too. So the people who have stuck around are those that MOST want to hear from you. Cherish them. Value them. Nurture those relationships.
  • Waiting for invoices/contract signatures? Oh yeah. This can send my heart palpitations on high speed! I need that signed contract so that I can plan out my next two weeks, and I need to know if it's happening so I can check my income projections because that will determine if I can pay to have someone help me with that thing. Even writing this makes me blood pressure rise a little. So when I find myself getting to that point, I have to remind myself: Let's take a breath Maggie. You sent that on a Friday afternoon, so I likely can't expect to hear anything until maybe Tuesday. I've got time, so don't worry yet. And we never know what's going on with our clients. Maybe it was a tough week and the email was accidentally lost. Maybe they had a personal emergency, and they simply haven't been at their computer. So instead of working myself up each time, and thinking they're being amazingly inconsiderate, I've added new reminders in Dubsado (my client management system) so that I don't even have to think about it. Out of site; out of mind. And if it's been a little too long, I see that as a sign to reach out and make sure they're OK versus demanding money, only to find out they've been offline due to a family member falling ill. What's that Brene Brown quote about assuming that everyone is doing the best they can? It does change your perspective considerably!
  • If you're annoyed at the questions you're getting, remember that you are the only one who is as closely tied to your business, and maybe things aren't as clear as you think they are. How might you describe them in a new a different way that might lead to more understanding? If you're getting the same questions over and over, do you have an FAQ section you can point them to? And if you've done all that and still find yourself annoyed, remember that we are all over-inundated with information. How can you shift that interaction from being annoyed at what they didn't read/see to one of gratitude for them stopping to engage with your content enough to even ask the question? In today's day and age, it's a miracle if someone even truly looks at your content rather than simply glances and double taps. 

3. Give yourself time to rest

How can we be loving and compassionate when we're running on empty and ridiculously tired? Bottom line: we can't. 

When you are first starting your business, it feels like you need to be at all the things to meet as many people as possible. Do all the things to increase your reach as much as possible. Work all the time because any minute spent not working is a minute you are losing from potentially gaining another client/sale.

And it. is. exhausting. 

This is how I was operating for the first year of my business, and now I'm actively finding those moments of rest. The hubs and I have agreed to go screen-free after 9pm every night, so I'm getting better sleep and reading more. Being more physically rested and mentally stimulated has overall resulted in a happier me. I'm adding in break blocks to move my body and even scheduling time to do whatever the heck I'm feeling in the moment. 

If you are consistently in production mode, you aren't giving yourself the time for the very valuable reflection period when a lot of insights can be gained. Oftentimes in those moments of reflection, you may notice that a slight tweak to your existing offering is all that is needed to knock it out of the park instead of an entire overhaul. Maybe you realize you've been aiming to reach the wrong crowd, so a minor adjustment will make all the difference. Just like an athlete builds in rest days to help rebuild the muscle that was broken down during a strenuous work out, we must also give our brains adequate periods of rest. 

We're taking a vacation in a couple of weeks - our first in over two years - and I am beyond PUMPED! I even decided not to take my laptop. Crazy! I know.

4. Create strong boundaries

Finally, I'll close with my favorite quote from Brené Brown in her latest book Rising Strong,

"Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They're compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment."

A lot of the inner work I've been doing has revolved around establishing and sticking to the boundaries I create. I still have a lot of work to do, but I have found an unexpected power in standing firm on my boundaries. I was all too often falling into that resentment category by saying yes to work that didn't excite me, or saying yes to too many social activities when I knew I needed that night to recharge on my own. 

Last month I started to track my energy at the end of the day. I would go back through each activity and make a note of how it made me feel once completed: either it left me energetically depleted or energetically rejuvenated. I used to be nervous about stacking my meetings, but I found a 30-minute buffer between clients is what I need to ensure I can wrap up anything we talked about while still fresh on my mind and then switch gears to the next person. Stacking my meetings also allows me to have longer chunks of time to focus on bigger projects, and having that longer, uninterrupted session makes for a more efficient use of my time so that I can get in the zone and stay there for those particular tasks that pertain to my biz.

Next up this month to help me create even stronger boundaries: I'm going to take the time to trace back how/when I first met all of my clients so that I can see which activities have been the most fruitful for me so that I know what activities to focus on more going forward. Having this info will help me feel more confident in saying no to things that don't serve me, while getting excited about saying yes to those that do.

Oh, and for all the ladies out there, I recently learned about the My Flo app from watching this Hormones 101 video with Alisa Vitti. In addition to working around the moon phases, I'm also learning about how my own cycle impacts the work I should be doing.

So there you have it. That's how I'm planning to make more space for compassion in my business. What are some techniques you have tried? Do you agree that compassion can be an asset for growing your business?