George’s well-worn hands toil with an uncooperative computer terminal. Like a prisoner in solitary confinement, his sad expression offers a window into his depleted energy. His wife is ringing his cell as it is almost 6 p.m. and his daughter’s school play starts at 7 p.m. He doesn’t want to answer it. Not an office guy, he forced himself to learn how to use the computer and QuickBooks. Payroll must be ready by tomorrow and the computer keeps flashing a network error. The computer tech won’t answer. His office administrator has been out with the flu and can’t be reached for help. Finally, he gets up and heads hurriedly home so he won’t miss his daughter’s performance.
It’s been a bad week. Jose, one of his long-term employees, quit for an outrageous pay increase some desperate contractor offered, plus he took his helper with him. The Jones’s job has turned into a nightmare. The customer is just crazy picky and nothing seems to please. It’s already 50 percent over budget. Cash is tight because a large commercial job has not paid yet. All George is told is that it’s being processed. Family life is not very good as he comes home late and falls asleep on the sofa. He wonders what’s gone wrong and remembers back 12 years ago how excited he was to start his own business. He loved working in the field with his crews. The joy of building things and being his own boss. Why isn’t business fun anymore? He’s never felt lonelier. It feels like no one is on his side.
I have been running networking groups for contractors for 27 years and have learned a lot through the process. In the beginning, contractors join because they want to make more money; they stay because they need someone on their side. Running a business can be a lonely proposition. Getting too close to employees and customers can backfire. Your friends don’t understand and when they bitch about their boss you’re wondering if that’s what employees say about you. So how do you break this isolation and move forward? Here are some simple steps that might help.
Develop hobbies and activities outside of work.
Something as simple as riding a bike or taking a walk with a partner once a week. Better yet, do something social such as play volleyball or poker with a group of friends and enjoy the social interaction. Make sure it’s something you enjoy.
Nothing like physical activity to help you sleep at night and keep you emotionally keen. Possibly working in the field provided such exercise but now you’re not physically working and need to still get that exercise.
Stop hoping your spouse and friends will get it.
Unless you own a business it’s hard to understand what owning a business really entails. Find some business friends to talk with now and then. Consider joining a businessperson peer group.
Upgrade your organization with dependable people.
A good office manager that manages details can make a huge difference. Upgrading means you may have to pay a little more but it will be worth it to have someone to help take the details and stress away.
Slow your growth.
Consider raising prices and doing less volume. Growth is not always your friend, it requires more people, more cash and more leads. Grow, grow, grow is not easy in a contracting business that requires skilled craftspeople.
Feel hopeless? You may be depressed.
Seek professional help. One of the issues with depression is that it happens to you so slowly. Stress has a way of slowly boiling you. Throw a frog into a pot of boiling water and the frog will immediately jump out. Put a frog in regular water and gradually bring it to a boil and you have a boiled frog. Possibly, your frog is boiled and you don’t even know it.
Learn to delegate.
Some contractors are control freaks and as the business grows they can longer keep their fingers in everything. You can’t do everything. Determine what you can delegate and hold people responsible to get it done.
Stop enabling people.
Don’t be the fixer. Don’t let everyone give you their monkeys and walk around all day carrying them. Be careful of filling your business with friends and family, particularly family members who struggle to perform in other jobs and life. Your business is your golden calf. Don’t slaughter it, as everyone will lose. If your 27-year-old son can’t keep a job, you’re not helping by having him come work for you.
There’s no doubt that running a business can be a lonely proposition but don’t make it worse by isolating yourself. Talk to others about it. You only get one earthly life, figure out how to enjoy it.