This blog post title is very long. And, yet it should be longer: Why Your Non-Enterpreneurial Family and Friends Don’t Understand What You Do, And Why You Should Stop Trying to Make Them.
When they Hear the Word “Business”, They Think Tesco, HSBC or the Local Hardware Store
They do not think… my brother, my daughter. No matter how many times you try to explain that the local corner shop is a “business”, and someone has to supply them with a shop-fitting service, shelves, screws, glass, doors and the like, they will rarely put two and two together to realise that maybe your carpentry “business” can supply the products and services to them, and, charge for it.
So, it makes even less sense when finally, you win that larger contract with Tesco for a shop-fitting service. Tesco!?
It can be very frustrating. But, only those who’ve been entrepreneurs themselves can understand what it means. In the same way, athletes may struggle to explain their committment to not heading out every weekend with their friends to get wasted. Or, mental health professionals may come across as snippy when they fail to join in the current trend of laughing at mental illness.
If you’re not in the zone, it’s difficult to understand.
They’re Not Risk-Takers
The self-employed, freelancers, contract workers, small business owners, large business owners or any combination thereof are by definition risk-takers. Depending on how your financial and home assets are arranged, and what decisions you make, you may be risking some of the following:
- Your regular income
- Your home and lifestyle
- Your spouse or your childrens’ luxuries
- Your reputation
- Your peace of mind, and ultimately mental well-being
- Your employees’ job stability
- Your entire business
This is what your non-entrepreneurial family and friends cannot understand about what you do. They’re not by nature, risk-takers. That’s not to say every risk taker should start a company. Some prefer to jump out of planes. I put it to you that those who do jump out of planes (in preference to starting a business) are more likely to think you less insane.
Some of us are skilled at dealing practically with risk and managing the stress that accompanies it; some are not. Some of us thrive on the pressure; some do not.
Now, I know at this point that there are those of you who consider themselves to be entrepreneurs, who will retort, but I’m an entrepreneur, and I’m not a risk-taker!
The thing is – you are. If you are not dependent on someone else for your wage, if you make your own money, if you secure your own contracts, if you are responsible for the delivery getting there on time, or the salaries of others, you are taking risks. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Life and business would be rather dull if we never took risks. (I reserve the right to choose not to jump out of planes however!)
The thing about risks, like a Physics experiment, is that everyone finds their own level.
- You may be comfortable running your business by the seat of your pants; I am not. You may have everything in a 10-year plan; I, however, do not. We all find the level of risk we are prepared to cope with, and try to minimise the rest.
- Some will minimise it by seeking out larger, regular customers and relying on those for the bulk of income, and state that they feel more comfortable with that. Others will look at that same state of affairs and deem it too risky, preferring instead to continue to pursue new customers.
Your non-entrepreneurial friends and family are employed by someone else because it’s generally considered to be more secure. Whether it really is, in our current financial crisis, is irrelevant. Perception is reality.
They Can’t Fit What You Do Into Traditional Categories
“But what do you do!?” It something we laugh about. Especially freelance IT professionals. How to you explain a tweet to a non-computer user? How do you explain coding? How do you explain that you design cool website buttons for a living?
Is your week varied? Does it sometimes involve late nights in the workshop, or long days at conferences? Are two weeks ever the same? Might a morning begin with great intentions of getting through that stack of emails, and end with an impromptu meeting somewhere unlikely? How do you explain it when “work” involves croissants and coffee and chatting at BizCamp Belfast?
When a product or service appears intangible, it can be even more difficult to put it across, even to those in the service industry. And, sometimes when you do make them understand, they’re flummoxed as to why anyone would pay for that service. How does a lifetyle guru explain what they do? It can seem a little #thirdworldproblems.
It’s easier for adults to learn, if the new stuff is presented in the context of stuff we already know. Sometimes IT professionals will say that they “work with computers”, or “teach people how to use computers”. I’ve even resorted to using the word “machines” with those who don’t know what a computer is…
That’s not to say they’re wrong, or backward, or I’m right and all-knowing. It just is. It’s just that we live and work in very different contexts. When explaining, KISS.
They Don’t Know Who Pays You
“But, who’s your boss!? You know, who pays you!?” is a common cry. Many family and friends, used to the employer (big boss) and employee (little person) arrangement, are alarmed when the big boss appears to be absent from the equation. I admit, it alarms me sometimes! And, yet, it is one of the reasons I love being self-employed. There’s no-one of whom to ask permission. Except @thesensei, of course.
When you reply, “I’m my own boss!”, this causes further confusion, as family, especially, know your tendency to daydream, or your aversion to mornings! They rarely see your professional side.
Alleviate Their Fears Gently
- Don’t bash them over the head with your bohemian notions of freedom to create. This will confirm all their suspicions! Instead, reframe your responses to their questions in the language that makes sense to them.
- Avoid going in the opposite direction and morphing into an overbearing, pin-striped moghul overnight. Let them see you in work mode only sometimes. Take the softly softly approach; ease them in gradually.
- Unless you live with the person (who will want to know), minimise the bad news; maximise the good. People ask how business is doing, but do they really need all the details? Experience has taught me that they can’t really handle it. And, they will respond without knowing the full facts. Restrict conversations to the positive highlights.
- Refer to the successes of other entrepreneurs in their social circle. This creates the feeling that you are not off your trolley, if others they know operate in a similar way.
A few big wins, evidence of organisation, tangible proof of regular money coming in, appearances in the press, or mentions by others they know all help to alleviate their fears, though I suspect they never really go away…
What are your thoughts? Have you tried, and failed, to explain what you do? Do those closest to you get it? Are you a risk-taker or not? Do you have any tips?
Image credit: lixinyiphoto.