What to do when you feel overwhelmed by your business

It was a warm spring day in early April. The first to be exact. Jimmy Chin, a renowned photographer and experienced mountaineer, was gliding down the Teton Mountains photographing two professional snowboarders.

Jimmy and his companions assessed the terrain as they skied down, getting their coveted footage. At each stop, they observed the terrain, taking in the qualities and stability. But they were so high up they literally had their heads in the clouds, unable to see the danger below — sun beaming down on the slopes, making the snow unstable.

As Jimmy flew down a slope, suddenly a slab of snow broke off, sending him knocking him off his feet. As he tumbled 2,000 feet down the mountain, he watched trees bend and then break under the heavy and fast moving snow. As he spun around and around, the weight on lungs, back and legs told him that he was near the bottom of the snow and debris. Understanding the severity of the situation, his shock turned to fear. He worried his friends would only find a mangled body at the bottom of the valley. He became hopeless. Then his survival instincts came back. He knew his only chance for survival was to get to the surface. As snow slowed, he fought his way to the top. 

When the thunderous snow stopped, his head and upper body emerged from the snow. He made it out. Jimmy later discovered that he’d been caught in a slab avalanche, one of the most serious kinds. Often people and sometimes even structures don’t survive these devastating avalanches. But Jimmy did.

There are many reasons Jimmy survived and you might argue that luck had something to do with it. Jimmy also did a few things right: he was clear about the problem (the avalanche dragging him down where oxygen was scarce), he oriented himself and focused his attention on surviving.

As a desk-bound solopreneur you may be wondering how this story relates to you. While you may never be facing a slab of snow sending you down an icy slope, there are similarities to Jimmy’s story and yours.

When you work for yourself you’ve let go of your maps (your terrain) and guides (your boss) both of which help in challenging times. While some of your tools (your skills and domain expertise) are the same, the landscape you now inhabit is entirely different. Rather than using those tools in familiar terrain with support from colleagues or a boss, you’re suddenly alone in unfamiliar terrain.

Working for yourself is a higher risk career, not unlike the risk of high altitude outdoor adventurers. These outdoor explorers are constantly setting out onto new terrain as they seek to conquer next the summit or ski down a new path. As a solopreneur, you too will always be exploring unfamiliar ground. While working for yourself is inherently risky, that doesn’t mean you can't take efforts to contain the risk or optimize for success. 

Here are four things Jimmy did well as he traversed the slopes and while tumbling uncontrollably head over feet. These actions helped him minimize the risk.

  1. Assess the terrain
  2. Orient yourself
  3. Get clear about the problem
  4. Stay focused

When starting something new like a business, creating products, developing new services or writing a book, keeping these four elements in mind can help you optimize for success.

I’ll admit, I struggled with some of these when I first went out on my own. When my business plateaued, my biggest failure was in not getting clear about the problem. I thought I understood but in hindsight, I could see that the problem was more complex than anticipated. I found multiple problems, making it difficult to pinpoint the most critical problem and prioritize accurately. I spent most of my business budget on an expensive consultant only to discover that the real problem I faced was something quite different.

Had I understood what the real problem was, I would have invested that money in a very different way. But it was hard to get perspective, I was new to running a business and I was far from objective.

Are you facing any of these common dilemmas?

You keep getting crappy clients. You feel stuck in your business but don't know why. Your revenue has plateaued or is starting to decrease. Feel like you can't break out of the feast or famine cycle.

If you feel overwhelmed, like you’re heading towards a business avalanche, I’d love to help you keep your head above the metaphorical snow so you can spend your coveted time and energy on things that actually make a difference.

Check out the FOCUS program