15th October, 2021

With Halloween around the corner, I’ve been thinking about the things that scare me in business, and I have to admit that the list is significantly shorter than it was in my days as an employee: There’s no mystery items left in the communal fridge for months on end that have developed consciousness. There’s no enforced ‘role play’ training sessions that I am forced to endure (unless I put myself forward for these). There’s no need to worry about taking enough cakes in on my birthday to satisfy every member of the team without forgetting anyone (sorry Keith in finance). Running my own business gives me the ability to avoid as many of these uncomfortable moments as possible, but there’s one thing that can occasionally creep in if a new customer hasn’t yet been onboarded properly, or I’ve said ‘yes’ to a job that my gut told me to avoid, or if a project is suffering from ‘scope creep’, where the boundaries of the job are ever-changing and growing as per the demands of the customer, and the project takes on a malevolent life of its own.  In these situations, it’s possible to experience something called… The Fear.

The fear is characterised by that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you wake up that makes you hesitant to check your inbox. It’s what makes you feel anxious before your weekly client catch up call, or second guess yourself over work that you are completely capable of doing to a high standard, as your confidence takes a nose-dive.

We’ve all worked with customers like this – generally, as I said, because we say ‘yes’ to a job when every fibre of our being is telling us to run for the hills.  There are just some people who you cannot work successfully with, it’s a fact.  No matter how nice or ultra-organised or super talented you are, there are some personalities that you are going to clash with.  Trust me, these clashes don’t always resolve themselves – sometimes, the only option is to remove yourself from the role in a professional manner.

So how can you avoid ‘The Fear’? Well, start off by trusting your gut – or your ‘Spidey senses’, or whatever you like to call them.  You’ve worked with enough people by now to know whether or not a potential role is likely to suit you.  If the customer is abrupt or dismissive, it’s worth considering whether or not this is a role for you.  Admittedly, some people may just be having a bad day, or may come across as abrupt via email when they are actually incredibly pleasant via Zoom call or in person, but that’s why it’s best to talk to a potential customer a few times before committing to the work.

Another top tip is, before you agree to carry out any projects, to make sure that the boundaries and expectations are clearly defined with a contract.  If you don’t feel comfortable about a particular task, raise this issue at the earliest possible stage and don’t feel pressurised into doing it – it’s your business and, though it’s clearly not possible to love every potential aspect of a varied role, there’s a difference between not enjoying something and feeling uncomfortable completing it. I’ve been in positions before where I’ve agreed to carry out something outside of my comfort zone ‘for a favour’, and would strongly recommend against doing the same, as it frequently results in ‘The Fear’.

If a role seems positive when you first take it on, but then gradually becomes less enjoyable to the point where it is causing you undue stress, it’s worth reviewing your contract to remind yourself of the process for termination of contract.  Depending on what was previously agreed, it may be a week’s notice, a month’s notice (or more), but it’s worth carefully considering whether or not the mental wellbeing associated with the termination of contract is likely to prove more beneficial than the monthly retainer that your customer pays.  If you do decide to terminate the contract, make sure that you follow the agreed criteria set out in your contract, and if you can, take steps to ensure that the handover to your replacement is as simple as possible.

We all have the odd day when ‘The Fear’ may take hold unexpectedly, or for a project you are really passionate about, for example, but if you consistently feel anxious or stressed about a specific client and their work, you don’t have to keep pushing through – sometimes, the best thing for all involved is to part company so that you, and they, can find someone to work with who fits in with their unique working style.

Happy Halloween everyone!

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