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It's so Hard to Say Goodbye... An encouraging think piece for small businesses who want to be big businesses

There comes a time in most peoples’ lives where they realize enough is enough. They’ve been giving out parts of themselves for much less than their actual value as an attempt to be liked, to relate to people, or to gain some perceived notion of loyalty and acceptance. At some point, they recognize their return on their investment is relatively low, that cheap is actually very expensive, and that making adjustments to accommodate others usually leaves them overwhelmed, resentful, and causes them to react in uncharacteristic ways.

It’s interesting that a lot of times, we don’t recognize our body’s way of letting us know we are unhappy or feel undervalued. We behave but don’t really take the time to evaluate why we are having a certain reaction or behaving a certain way. I first discovered this when having a relationship gap with a family member where I was ridiculously unreliable. I pride myself on being a reliable person. If you call, I will answer. If I tell you I will do something, I do it. If I say I will be somewhere at a certain time, I am there 10 minutes early; however, with this relative, I was the complete opposite. Even if I arrived somewhere 10 minutes early, I would sit in my car, ruminate on the horrible possible interactions and my reactions to them, and wind up being 20 minutes late… or I would just plain cancel.

Eventually, I started recognizing this pattern and the fact that I didn’t like that about myself with this person. I then identified this was a reaction to feeling undervalued and unappreciated, so much so that I just tapped out. Luckily, I was able to express this to my relative, and we have since salvaged our relationship; however, there’s not enough talk about how the emotional and psychological reactions we have to similar constructs show up in business. We don’t often explore the harmful emotional impact that business relationships can present in our lives the same way we do with misaligned personal relationships. I want to give us some space to explore...

Emotional Shifts…

I used to pride myself on curating a business designed, specifically, to support the underdog organizations. My concept was that I would bring expert level services to disadvantaged businesses and charge 50 -75% less than standard industry rates. While this was a great concept and served a competitive advantage in the beginning of my business, it became more of a hindrance as the shifting economic landscape and rapid inflation (COVID-19) put strains on my operating capacity. 

Pre-pandemic, I was more agreeable when community members would ask me to adjust my rates to serve their needs. So often, people who looked like me were demanding that I lower my rates or guilting me with how much time I should be able to give or what I should be able to do with my already discounted services. When my father died in 2022, I literally had no capacity to produce or perform at the level that it required of a solo-preneur who, during any given week, performs 22 different jobs (IT person, web designer, salesperson, marketing, accounting, actual work… you name it!). I could only manage 1-2 clients at a time, versus handling my previous load of 4-6 clients. 

If I had been charging standard industry rates, I wouldn’t have taken the massive financial hit I took, but because I was discounting my services to serve the community, I suffered tremendously. I had to make some very difficult decisions to give up many of the luxuries I had been accustomed to having my whole life. It was at that moment that I couldn’t ignore the reality that I was sacrificing my wellness and mental health to be a martyr for clients who really didn’t appreciate or understand the value of the services I provided, the sacrifices I was making, and hadn’t positioned themselves to afford the services. It was a stretch… a serious stretch on all ends. Eventually, I found myself resenting my clients, aggravated by their asks, complaining that they didn’t know how much I was doing to accommodate them and how much others in my position would have charged them. 

In business, we must evolve. The goal is to grow, but how does it feel when the people you’ve developed intimate business relationships with no longer add value or when their needs are far greater than you can provide at the price-points they need? In speaking with other industry professionals, I’m not alone. I’ve witnessed business owners stress and even jeopardize their health to accommodate difficult clients. But enough is enough.

I came to realize that this was a me problem and not a them problem. I was being emotionally dishonest with myself and them about what I needed out of the relationship. I had to look at myself and accept that they were playing their role. They were trying to get a lot for a little. So, I equally had to honor myself and charge what the service is truly worth. That takes a mindset shift, more discipline, more confidence, more becoming someone I’ve never been before, going into spaces I may not be comfortable in… and ultimately, it disassociating and releasing connections to clients who make me feel unworthy. It takes rejecting clients’ pleas for a hookup and realizing the pure disrespect in someone asking you to give your time (our most valuable commodity) to them at the rate they determine your worth to be even though it is far less than what you assess your value at. It takes understanding that they have you messed up and that you should be offended! It requires hard separations and hard goodbyes.

There’s a whole process of letting go of clients and transitioning into a new target market… and while I’m still figuring out how to do so, I thought I would share this think piece, so if you’re going through this, you know you’re not alone. I’m learning to tap into the hard feelings of emotional, professional breakups, and to accept that sometimes, it’s so hard to say goodbye, but it must be done... have you experienced this? If you are going through it now, what is the first action step you will take to honor yourself and change your outcomes?

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