“Frustration is commonly the difference between what you would like to be and what you are willing to sacrifice to become what you would like to be.” - Unknown
Show me a business owner who hasn’t felt frustrated and I’ll show you someone who is only a few hours into running their business. All business owners know what it feels like to experience many degrees of frustration: from the small, mildly irritating, won’t destroy your weekend frustrations to the turn-off-the-lights, head in your hands, nowhere to hide frustrations. A recent article from Business Insider highlighted the work of psychologist Albert Ellis, a practitioner whose findings have been as heavily scrutinized as nearly any psychologist to date. And there is a beautifully simple thesis that runs through his work around frustrations: it’s not the actual event that frustrates someone, it’s the expectations surrounding it. In other words, it’s not that getting stuck on a conference call that runs well past 5 p.m. is frustrating. Rather, you are carrying an expectation that you should be able to leave the office at 5 p.m.. Or you think that people ought to respect the agenda and timeframe that are set for a meeting. It’s the shoulds and the oughts that cause the real frustration.
I found this shift in thinking quite powerful on a personal level, and it immediately got me thinking of all the business frustrations an owner faces on a daily basis. There’s too much competition in my local market these days. Or There’s never enough time in the day. Or better yet, I can’t seem to get my employees to care like I do. And while Ellis’ work would suggest that you adjust your expectations to eliminate the discomfort of them not being met, there’s another approach to the frustrations of a business owner that don’t sacrifice the owner’s expectations. Surrendering your expectations about getting stuck in traffic is one thing, but it’s dangerous to apply that principle to running a business. It’s perfectly OK—and arguably incredibly important—for a business owner to be clear about their expectations. In my last post, I talked about how a business owner who lacks clear goals has a much harder time seeing trends emerge. Employees don’t know what they are fighting for without them. Managers don’t understand the context in which to make decisions. If this is starting to feel chaotic… that’s exactly right.
When owners present business frustrations, they so often begin as outward-facing. They’re aimed at the employees, the customers, the competitors. And as long as they sit facing that outward direction, it’s hard for the owner to feel anything but helpless. After all, what can you do but sit back and be frustrated at the local politicians who are changing the rules of the game on you? Or not being able to turn your customers into repeat buyers? Not a lot, as long as those frustrations remain outward-facing. But what if most of the frustrations you face as an owner aren’t really a factor of something happening to you? What if the challenges you face as an owner are really your own challenges that you’ve yet to overcome? What if there’s actually a lot you can do and the keys to solving many of these challenges for your business are sitting at your desk every day?
When you start transforming outward-facing, or even self-focused frustrations, into systems solutions, it’s like finding the skeleton key that unlocks every challenge your business faces. Let’s look at a simple example:
Owner: It takes so much effort to attract new customers, but we never develop loyalty. The customers don’t come back for repeat purchases.
Coach: Why do you think that’s happening?
Owner: I don’t know… we have a good product and it’s priced below any of our competitors.
Coach: Why are you priced that way?
Owner: Well, I figured we needed to enter the market at that price point to gain market share.
Coach: How did you determine that price was important to your customers?
Owner: We… we didn’t determine it. I guess I just assumed it would be. Makes me wonder what else we’re assuming about our customers.
Coach: How might you get to learning more about that?
Owner: We’ve never really researched what this customer base values. Or how they feel about our product experience. And that could touch so many areas of our business: pricing strategy, product features, and definitely creating repeat customers! We have to start collecting information like this from our customers right away.
You can easily see that something, which at first looked like it was entirely out of the owner’s control, transformed into a system that just needed to be designed and implemented. And it would be easy to quantify the impact: new sales each month, % return customers, customer referrals, etc. By looking for a systematic solution to this frustration—the answer lies not in the behaviors of the customers, and not even in the owner themselves. The business will be able to address its own challenge, sustainably. Consistently.
It’s human nature to become frustrated. What sets a successful owner apart from the rest is what they do about it.