What I learned the hard way about the importance of doing business gently

When my friends Amanda Rootsey, Nicola Newman and I decided to launch the Gentle Business Mastermind, I found myself reflecting on how important doing business, gently is to me.

I have always aimed to build a sustainable and socially conscious business that was gentle on myself, others and the planet.

This is in part why I became a certified B-Corporation.

It is also no doubt a major reason why I felt pulled toward Amanda and Nicola, given their gentle natures.

Furthermore, doing business gently is a value that I endeavour to carry through in my business and life coaching practice.

When I was updating my testimonials page recently, I also couldn’t help but notice how often previous clients used the word ‘gentle’ to describe me, with comments like “she is a gentle powerhouse”, “she has a gentle but firm way of empowering you to take action”, “she is challenging but gentle” and “she holds you accountable but in a really gentle way.”

Even feedback from speaking gigs would mention my “gentle approach and style that captures the audience.”

It also doesn’t surprise me that many folk seem to think that doing business gently comes naturally to me. But this isn’t entirely true. It is only one side of the coin.

On the other side of the coin is a high functioning, super organised, go-getter and aspiring high-achiever. Perhaps this is also reflected in the testimonials above, with words like ‘powerhouse’, ‘challenging’, ‘firm’ and ‘accountable’ leaping out next to the use of the word ‘gentle’.

When I look back on my business journey, I haven’t always been gentle in my work or with myself. I’ve felt this constant pull between the two sides of that coin – the gentle, sensitive nature and the ambitious hustling go-getter. I have learned (and continue to learn) the hard way how important it is to consistently lean in to my gentle nature.

Perhaps you can resonate with this?

In this article, I will share seven lessons that I’ve learned the hard way about doing business, gently – not only in the hope that reading some of these will help prevent you from making similar mistakes, but to also serve as a reminder to myself to not continue to make these mistakes too!

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I am one of those people who can get so focussed on a goal (especially business related goals), that I will work, work, work to get it done. 

In fact, if I were to do a calculation of dollars earned divided by hours worked in my business, it would reveal a scarily low figure.

This high functioning, highly motivated, ambitious version of me can easily work me to the point of burnout. In fact, this has happened multiple times now.

It is also the side of me that in 2014-15 led me to coaching clients every day and night – including weekends.

It is the side of me that says I can manage motherhood, family life, my Master of Human Rights, a handful of short courses, a podcast, an expanding business, multiple collaborations, a personal focus on self-growth and add more to the juggling act all at once.

It is the side of me that sometimes forgets that I need to lean in to my gentle nature. Hustling isn’t sustainable without gentleness. Health isn’t maintained when I don’t tune in to my sensitivity. Business growth, deep relationships, activism, and genuine personal development isn’t possible without self-care. I know this because I’ve learned the hard way how important it is for me to respect and honour my need to do things gently.

This is why I resonate with my mentor and friend Natalie MacNeil’s concept of ‘Balanced Ambition’. It reminds us that life and business are not a binary. We don’t have to choose between balance and ambition. We don’t have to choose between success and gentleness. We don’t have to choose between productivity and self-care. We can do both.

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Okay, so here are some of the lessons I’ve learned the hard way about the importance of doing business gently.

  • My gentle, sensitive nature can co-exist with my hyper-focused ambitious drive. I don’t have to choose. Just like having an accelerator and a break in my car – they are both vital to driving. When I use all accelerator and no breaks, I end up running out of fuel, running red lights, missing the view and burning out the engine. If I use all breaks, I won’t get anywhere. Now I know this analogy is over-simplified, but I’ve learned the hard way that both sides of me are useful and vital in running an online business. Having said this though, I’m much more likely to be all accelerator if I’m not careful, so I have to make a conscious effort to break often.
  • Remember that having these two sides of me – the gentle one and the action-oriented one is a positive trait that I can harness in my business, work and life. When I realise the above, I can appreciated that the co-existence of these two sides of me is actually one of my superpowers. I can use it to my advantage in how I work, coach, speak and show up for my clients. When I forget the power of this marriage of traits, all I have to do is look at my testimonials where there is evidence of clients praising me for my gentle but firm approach. 
  • I hold an internalised oppressive belief that I must hustle, work hard and experience discomfort in order to be a high achiever, to succeed and to be enough. This isn’t true – well, it’s not the whole truth anyway. We have been socialised to believe that productivity and working hard are connected to worthiness, success and achievement. When I started to learn more about internalised oppression, patriarchy and capitalism – I realised that I have this internalised belief that I have to work hard in order to succeed and that success does not come without pain and discomfort (note: Thank you Desiree Adaway and Ericka Hines for the Class section of the Social Justice Intensive program). When I realised that this was an internalised belief and not necessarily my own personal belief, I was able to let it go and focus on what I wanted my work to look and feel like, rather than operating on autopilot in a mode that I was socialised to believe work should look and feel like.
  • If I work too hard, have too many late nights and don’t take care of myself – even for a short period of time – I end up burning out for about three times as long. It’s not worth it. When my postgraduate assessments were due last year, I had to pull some all nighters to meet the due date. I have never been a last minute girl, but I had so much on with work, that I simply didn’t have enough hours in the day to see my clients, run my business and write my university assignments. Even though these long hours only lasted a few days, I spent the next month or so recovering and had to work from bed between client sessions. My business coach Lena West told me after asking me to identify my Human Design profile, that as a Projector I cannot afford to do this – that working for long periods of time, even for just a few days, will exhaust me so much that it will take weeks if not months to recuperate. When I look back on my history, there is plenty of evidence to suggest this is true.
  • I must stop treating self care like it is something that exists separate to my business and work – and start treating it like it is a core component of my business operations. When I first started my business, I treated self care and business like they belonged in separate boxes. However, I’ve since learned that as an entrepreneur, self-care needs to be part of my business plan and operations. I cannot build a sustainable business without being cognisant of my health and self-care. This was really underscored for me when Lena West told me that a gentle, sensitive soul like myself must especially make self-care part of my business operations. As Lena says, you need to build a business that loves you back. This is in part why I love Natalie MacNeil’s Conquer Your Year planner for entrepreneurs – because each day also incorporates self-care items.
  • It is important to learn what my rhythms, cycles and waves are – and to respect, honour and roll with them. Oh I could write a whole post on the mistakes I’ve made while learning this – but I’ll briefly share three now. 1) Coaching every day and night does not work (surprise!). Coaching one week and not coaching the next week does – on my coaching weeks, I can really focus on clients and on my non-coaching weeks I can really focus on writing, creation, my studies and other work. 2) Even though a clean email inbox is an obsession of mine, responding to emails in the morning is a waste of my valuable energy. Mornings are when I’m most energised, creative and in flow – that should be when I’m writing. Afternoons, when I have very little energy, are better suited for emails, social media and admin tasks. 3) And like all things, motivation, productivity and creative energy work in waves – sometimes I will be super productive and other times I wont be – and this is perfectly okay.
  • Give within my means. Last year, I cut back my coaching hours to make time for a major collaboration and my Master of Human Rights. This meant dropping my income – as coaching is where I make most of my money. Despite this, I donated, sponsored and funded more scholarships than I ever have before – even though we had just got a new mortgage and I couldn’t afford to do so. When I look at my bank statements, I can see that I donated more than 12 times the amount I paid myself last year. And this doesn’t include my pro bono and volunteer work. Now this would be fine, if I could afford to do so. But I can’t. And this is not being gentle on myself. This is me causing myself unnecessary stress. So I seem to constantly need reminding to only give within my means. 

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Clearly this is yet another topic that I could write a lot about – and I didn’t even get to the part about building a business that is not only gentle on ourselves, but in how we treat others and the planet too. I’ll save that for a future post!

In the meantime though, please share in the comments below any lessons that you’ve learned the hard way about doing business gently. Surely I’m not alone here? I’d love to learn from you and I’m sure other readers would too.

If you would like support in doing business gently in 2018, please check out our Gentle Business Mastermind. Amanda, Nicola, our expert guest mentors and myself will be holding a space over ten months for those who want to focus on building a purposeful, successful business in a sustainable and gentle way.

Gentle Business Mastermind

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