To be successful in business you need to be strong, and rest assured your strength will be tested often. The ways you will be challenged as will vary over time, but from my experience the biggest challenges have always come from people, not circumstances, and we need the strength of character to be able to hold our own when these issues arise.
I remember getting a school report many years ago (and I mean many), where the comment from the principal was "Andrew is very good natured, but at the same time he has the strength of character and self respect to put an end to situations where he is being taken advantage of. This skill will serve him well later in life".
I was about 10 at the time and I didn't really understand what it meant, yet the words from the principal have stayed with me for 40 years and I think about his words often, especially when I'm in a hard situation where I feel that I am being taken advantage of.
Now being taken advantage of sounds very melodramatic and 'victimish', but what it meant back in my school days was other kids being other kids, peer group pressure, stuff like that. Move the timeline to today, in business, it can mean a range of things. It can mean people not delivering on their promise as a supplier or a business partner, staff members not doing what they should be doing, people trying to bully you or pressure you to buy something, possibly competitors, even family and friends who don't support you fully for their own reasons.
Of course it's easy to say "be strong" or "have the strength of character", but what does that really look like and how do we actually do it? I have five strategies that help me to be strong when I need to be:
1. Think about the long term cost of not taking action right now.
For example sticking with a supplier who continually lets you down. Their failure to deliver threatens your relationship with some of your own clients because you have become unreliable. In this situation I make a point of giving the supplier the chance to take action and rectify the situation, especially if I've been working with them for a long time. But I do work on the three strikes rule, no matter how long we've been working together. If they jeopardize any of my client relationships three times, that's it - it's over.
2. Accept that some relationships need to end.
Over time you may find that people who once supported you and your business, no longer support you. This might be family, it might be friends, it might be customers. We have to accept that this will happen and we need to be OK with it. This might sound cold, but as you grow and develop, and your business does the same, you might leave a few people behind. It's their choice to keep up, but if they don't, that's OK too. As sad as it may be at times, we do have to accept that it is healthy for some relationships to end, especially those that are actually no longer healthy. And whilst they may not actually end, they may diminish, and that's ok as well.
3. Ask yourself this question "what is really going to change?".
Often we live in hope that a situation or a person is going to change. But what evidence have you got to support this? Have you been in a similar situation that has changed and become better? Or are you really just living in hope? Are they going through a tough patch, or is this the new norm? What evidence have you got to support either assumption? The bottom line is that if nothing is going to change, the sooner you accept that and take action, the better.
4. Get better at having hard conversations.
No one really enjoys having tough conversations, especially ones that are likely to end a relationship of some sort. But if you run a business, and the success or failure of the business is in your hands, you need to be able to have hard conversations, regardless of the outcomes. The longer we put these hard conversations off, the harder they actually become. We normally wait until we are so frustrated that everything we wanted to say in a calm manner, ends up being blurted out in anger. It's much better if we can take the emotion out of hard conversations, deal in facts and have the "talk" before a situation gets out of hand.
5. Never forget what it has taken for you to get to this point in your life.
How much time, energy, money, courage, risk and sheer hard work has it taken for you to get to this point in your life and in your business? My guess is that it's taken a great deal. Remember this when you find yourself in a tough situation. How much do you risk if you don't take action right here right now? You have earned the right to say no to people, to put an end to situations and relationships that no longer serve you. You've done the hard yards and you need to protect what you've built. It doesn't mean you're going to become a monster, but it does mean you respect yourself enough to take action when you need to, to put an end to anything that is no longer working for you.
If you struggle with standing up for yourself in your business, don't worry you are not alone. Try these strategies to help you get better at it. Don't worry, you won't become a bad person, but you will feel a lot more self respect for being strong enough to stand up to people that are taking advantage of you, and that's a very good end result.