What to Do When Shit Hits the Fan

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In any industry, especially when you’re running your own business, all it takes is one wrong move for things to spiral out of control.

For me, this happened back in September. I had a client pay for my plane to New York so that I could meet up with him and discuss going forward with his company. I was perfectly fine with paying for my own lodging and amenities. However, two weeks before the trip, he decides to cut off all contact for Burning Man without telling me exactly how long he’s going to be away for and without securing payroll for his employees beforehand. This was a breach of contract that I made and had him sign a year beforehand. He was gone for three weeks and I ended up going to New York for a week with $200 to my name. I wish I was joking.

I ended up using my credit cards to pay for simple things like meals and subway passes to get around. The problem was that even after the strategy meetings, he refused to pay because he believed my work was unsatisfactory. I had to fight tooth and nail to get the money I deserved and even then, he let me go weeks later. Even now, months later, I’m still paying for the damage done by this relationship and this has been one of the lowest times in my career.

You know it’s bad when you have to drive away from Tim Hortons with nothing because all your cards were declined.

But you know what, in some sick, twisted way, I’m glad it happened. I don’t believe we learn until we make some pretty damning mistakes that make us realize, “I don’t want to be in this situation again.” It’s how I learned to become a better driver after having two accidents within a month of each other in college. It’s how I started seeking therapy and medication after my multiple suicide attempts. And it’s how I learned to become a better business owner after a client has treated me so poorly to the point that I have to cross my fingers every time I make a transaction.

So, what do you do to bounce back? Here’s what I did:

  1. Have a support system that you can turn to in times of crisis. This can be your therapist or close friends and family members that you can confide in. You don’t need someone who treats you like shit every time you open your mouth or says yes to everything you say. You need someone who supports the choices you make but isn’t afraid to call you out when you’re about to ruin your life. Those are the people that will get you further in life.

  2. Have a personal and professional budget. This may sound like a no-brainer, but it’s something that I didn’t do until a few months ago. Once you get your paycheck, figure out what exactly it will go to every week/month for your business. Once that’s done, divide your money up to figure out how much will go to each resource. Will it go to paying off debt? Will it go towards savings? Will you allow yourself to go out for entertainment now and then? These are the things you have to decide before you spend your money.

  3. Have a backup plan. Sometimes, budgeting only gets you so far, especially when the money is not coming in the way you want it to. When that happens, you need to have a plan to make up for that amount you accounted for. Pawn or sell old jewelry you never wear. Babysit or dogsit for someone close. Take remote jobs where you can make your own hours if you need to like Rev or UserTesting. It way not be much, but it’ll help you get by.

  4. Make future goals and stick to them. It’s nice to have a dream of what you want in the future, but you need to write them down on paper and memorize them until you believe in them. For me, that’s making sure to have refund policies in contracts, everything from my phone to my car is in my name, and no longer being in debt by the end of the year. However, these goals will go nowhere if you have no strategy to get you to that point. These steps will help you get closer to the goal and keep the momentum running when you want to quit.

Everyone makes mistakes, but we get to choose whether to make those opportunities for us to grow or failures that leave us behind.