Coping With Uncertainty In Business

By Dan Ericson
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Every business owner can be confident in one thing: we'll spend more time in deep uncertainty than we will ever experience the feeling of "job security." As I write this, I'm struggling with massive amounts of uncertainty myself - which really is nothing new. In this article, I explore the depths of the uncertainty I experience and share some of my coping mechanisms. Ultimately, uncertainty is part of what drives small business owners such as myself. It’s the risk-to-reward ratio that makes this all worth the struggle!

I picked this topic because, well, my current circumstances are causing a lot of reflection. As the previous paragraph mentions, I'm currently dealing with a lot of uncertainty. Honestly, though - that's pretty normal for me. My reality is that the uncertainty is pretty constant although the cause of the uncertainty seems to be in constant flex.

It'd be unfair for me to assume that everyone reading this has the same concerns that I do. We all have different life circumstances and we all have different things that bring stress into our lives. My problems are no bigger than any one else's problems. Honestly, I'm betting a lot of you have bigger concerns and questions in your businesses. While you read this, try to take the points I make about my circumstances and apply them to your life.

About Job Security

Job security is fake. You could have an amazing degree from a prestigious college and you could work for an amazing company. That company could go out of business, be sold and broken apart, or you could have one negative performance review and that could all change. Your job is only as secure as the people in charge of the money are willing to continue paying you. Trust me, I know this from personal experience. In my previous business, I felt like nothing could end my employment there. I was part owner and we were doing well. While the business continued to succeed, my role came into question until I left rather than wait until I was forced out.

Another thing about job security: It's typically not a term used by business owners. I know of quite a few people that work for large corporations and can sit and think about what they are going to do for their 5th vacation of the year. A vacation of any sorts is a bit of a luxury for most hands-on, small business owners. When we do get vacation, we often spend a lot of the time working anyhow.

I have every intent of Brand Shouter being my "end game" (and potentially a long-term career for one or two of my children) but I'm also very cognizant of the fact that that could change at any point. That's the nature of business and this is where uncertainty ultimately stems from.

coping with uncertainty in business job security
If this guy doesn't REALLY have job security, you probably don't either. 😉

Some Of My Uncertainties

Each of my children have had a blanket that they bonded with at a young age. My son had a blanket that said "Baby" on it that we had to pry out of his hands when he was 5 and replace with a new one that he chose. It's crazy how kids can get attached to things the way they do.... or is it?

I'm a BIG fan of security blankets. When I moved out of the house, I found an apartment that I could afford on my own. I moved forward with it, but out of fear of the unknown, I coaxed a friend of mine to room with me and even gave him free rent to join me there. Even starting Brand Shouter, I took on a partner (a great friend of mine) that was ultimately unnecessary for me to succeed. In both scenarios, having that extra person helped me make the jump but ultimately cost me and did nothing but soothe my uncertainty.

The Best Location

coping with uncertainty in business finding office
No idea where my new office may be but I really need to set it up like this!

Right now, with Brand Shouter, I'm looking for a new location for the business. My landlord is wanting to use our space personally and gave us a lot of time to move out, but that time is quickly fleeting. I took on the current office location and split the space with another business and a church office (there's that security blanket again). Now, I'm getting ready to branch out and get my own place. For me, this is a massive cause of uncertainty.

Personally (and at the same time), my family is exploring the option of adding on to our home or moving to a new place. My wife and I and 4 kids all share a 1375 square foot home - which is really cramped and will only become more so as our 4 kids get older. Of course, many people do this and we feel fortunate that we can explore other options. That said, it's added stress and uncertainty to also be exploring that at the same time.

The Best Marketing Venues

Fortunately, this is an area of expertise for me. The uncertainty is minimal here, but when compounded with others, it does seem to heighten the overall experience. My business doesn't have a large budget. I'm not a freelancer, but I'm a solo-preneur with a rapidly growing business (more on that in a bit). How I spend the extra dollars I have matters immensely at the moment because there are 10 things I need to put it into but only 2 or so that I can single out currently. Fortunately, many of my clients experience the same stresses and I am well able to cope with this.

Podcasting is definitely a love of mine and it's been an effective lead generation tool. I intend to keep that as part of my marketing plan. This leads to the next thoughts, however: Do I double my efforts on it? Do I quadruple them? Is less indeed more? I also started running bumpers in each episode announcing sponsorship opportunities.

My goal with the podcast from the very beginning was to be a helpful resource. I hoped it would be a great lead generation tool but that was a secondary plan. I'm uncertain if accepting sponsorships cheapens what I'm doing to a potential listener or if it makes sense. I actually view the sponsorship opportunity as a way of helping these businesses get their message out so it totally matches up to my goal.

Offering More Than What's Expected

The final uncertainty I wanted to mention is kind of a weird one. You see, with all of my clients, I always go well beyond what I offer in my contract to them. For me, it's partially what sets Brand Shouter apart. Other agencies spell out what they offer, charge for it, and quote for anything else. Brand Shouter historically has always quoted for work and delivered on even more. I'm proud of this fact.

A dilemma arrises from this (I eluded to this earlier when mentioning how to best spend my budget). I'm looking to bring in more help shortly. I want that person or those people to enjoy the same ethos I've built into Brand Shouter but now the time I spend isn't my own - it's paid to another person. Free work becomes a loss of money for me not just a loss of time.

Furthermore, I'm thinking about hiring because my plate is so full. All of this extra work is causing a bit of a logjam in my schedule. Now, as I mentioned before, this ethos is important to me. The uncertainty comes in the question of "How much extra is too much extra?"

coping with uncertainty in business doing too much
The logs are jamming for sure...

Coping With Uncertainty In Business

Ultimately, stress and uncertainty is a fact for all business owners. You may read this article and laugh as your uncertainties/stresses feel much bigger. Conversely, you may read this and start stressing out a bit more as it hits too close to home. I think the uncertainty is far less important than how you cope with it. I wanted to share some of my coping mechanisms in hopes they can help you as well.

It Could Be A Lot Worse

No matter what problem you are experiencing, no matter what stress or uncertainty - it could be a LOT worse. My stresses may look like a cake-walk to someone that is struggling to get their business profitable. Even in the most uncertain of times, someone else has had it even worse. That may seem a bit of an unimportant point, but believe me, putting things in perspective makes a huge difference in calming your stresses and helping you focus on forward momentum.

Now I'm not trying to be insensitive. Your uncertainty may be the WHOLE WORLD at the given point you're at. I remember my previous career coming to an end and the countless hours I spent with my wife lamenting what was happening. It felt like nothing could be worse. The reality was, however, I had a supportive family and a lot going for me. Your uncertainty may be far worse than mine was, but you can always find that silver lining if you choose to do so.

It Probably Was a Lot Worse

If you have a business, there was a point where it didn't exist. There was a point where you were probably struggling to grow. There may have been many points where you've felt like giving up. The reality for most of us is, at one point of time, it was probably a lot worse. You made it through before and you can again. Human existence is filled with successes and failures over and over.

I wake up in the middle of the night stressing about massive, negative scenarios that I build up in my head. I string together uncertainties and start to believe the worst possible outcome. I'm not certain why it always has to be the middle of the night when I should be enjoying a good sleep, but I do this far more often than I should ever admit to. The reality is that these situations are nearly impossible to happen and don't factor in key truths. Ultimately, I let the uncertainty take over my life more than it should.

That said, I find it helpful to spend time thinking through past uncertainty in a positive light. Spend time focusing on the things that transpired that pushed your business forward and brought certainty to the situation. It's helpful from a mental health standpoint (taking joy in accomplishment). It's also incredible how helpful it can be in helping you assess current situations and overcome the uncertainty of those moments. This is a great segue to the next section...

Remember How You Got Here

coping with uncertainty in business helping hand
This seemed like a great spot to insert a motivational "Helping Hand" photo. These people are way cooler than I will ever be.

Every business owner owes the successes they've seen (no matter how large or small) to little helps along the way. No one is just plain lucky. If you been experiencing forward movement in your business, there are probably others you can credit with helping you along the way. What lessons and experiences did you learn from them?

For me, another huge part in my path is my faith. It is an anchor for who I am, how I deal with clients daily, and my goals for life. No matter what you believe, those beliefs shape the person you are and the decisions you make. What can you learn from those? How can you change your current circumstance to better your situation and turn uncertainty into certainty?

Wrapping It Up

All of us can sit and build out uncertainties in our life. When those uncertainties cause paralysis, our business will suffer. Feeling overwhelmed is normal and it is GOOD. Make a list of the things that you find uncertainty in and work hard to create a more certain future with them. I can promise you two things:

  1. Things will feel much better for you and your business as you start to "clean" those uncertainties up and your business will directly benefit as a result.
  2. You'll continually discover new uncertainties. It's kind of what this world is about and it's OK. You got this.
Dan is an entrepreneur, marketer, and technology lover. His strength lies in the intersection of business, marketing, and technology. He enjoys managing and working on web ​marketing ​projects. His free-time activities include spending time with his family and enjoying the scenery around Washington state.

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