Many people seem to think that since selling my majority share in Pacific Direct my life would be stress free. I may well no longer be in control of a large multinational company with hundreds of employees on several continents – but I do have three teenage daughters, a husband, two dogs, a home to run… oh, and several businesses in which I play sometimes an active role. I am also relentless in my determination to share the endless lessons I have learned in enterprise and the ultimate goal is to lead an extraordinary life full of as many experiences as I can pack in, whilst of course making a genuine and meaningful difference…and I do mean globally.
My life has not slowed down at all since my days at Pacific Direct, (there was a short break period and I am travelling far less internationally,) The difference these days is that I have more control over my time, I make clear choices about the mix I have in my life and I use that as much as possible to battle for the impossible balance of work, life and time for me. These days I work just as hard, (recently a peak of even harder than ever before or could that be me aging?), putting long hours into businesses that have time impacting and life improving products, run by great people and about which I am passionate. Interestingly I now choose much more my schedule, I still do travel the world but often combining my own goals with development of these brands. I am so very grateful for the past experiences of Pacific Direct, I miss the wonder of the luxury hotel industry but I am using networks I built and have the luck to be involved in such as Supper Club in UK, YPO.org and indeed even to my delight the Digital Entrepreneurs Dinners. Experience and effort to learn skills has taught me how best to cope with stressfull times, albeit I still believe stress is both positive and I try not to allow it to become negative. I was brought up with an attitude that Mind over matter really can work, I have found that it does. (Better combined now with breathing techniques, sensible life habits and a determination to be healthy and well.)
Recently – indeed it seems for a hideous past 8 weeks I have been coping with the unexpected takeover of one of my investments, KitBrix, sad and stressful indeed. An utterly excellent product concept, a brilliant robust bag system, invented like most good products ideas, to solve the problem of getting kit organised with less fuss and therefore more time for activity. Sadly the enterprise leader has made the classic mistake of not having a firm eye on the costings, the finances and the financial impact of the decisions made. If individuals in enterprise do not dedicate a day a month really knowing where they are with their finances as is proven time and again great companies go our of business because they run out of profitable cash generated and sensible investment. I am upset that many young entrepreneurs think every company is a tech business when actually product companies are straightforward. You have to sell enough, to reinvest the profit before spending too much on video, internet and other additions – selling time is critical to give an enterprise foundation to accelerate from.
How many times do I warn founders that you have to focus on the numbers. Yogi-bare one of my most recent investments is learning her own book-keeping a critical investment of her time, despite her brilliance in customer service, brand building and product development. Her passion and product brilliance is natural to her but if Kat does not get her numbers straight she will not maximise the success like many others whom do not discipline themselves to bother with this critical part of the company growth equation. Knowing your numbers is critical, the financial awareness and understanding critical, the focus to make right business decisions critical and yet time and time again I meet people whom do not even cost their services correctly, leaking profit, working like slaves and not valuing their time. I too still find it tough to sit and get the numbers straight, nevertheless this also creates stress when I am not on top of the outlook and do not have a plan to get through.
Here are some ways I manage with challenging periods in my life:
- Take control. Often stress is the result of feeling like you can’t control what’s going on around you. I am fortunate in that being “the boss” I can always just tell people not to call me, close the door and have time to myself – except I want these businesses to succeed and that means doing the very best I can for them. I cannot remember the last time I exercised my right to turn my back, outside of a scheduled holiday. That said, I do take control where I can. In any stressful situation there is usually something one can do to feel more in control of the situation. At the most basic level I rewrite the check list, review the things to do, clear my bag out and often discover stuff I should have activated, then I re-order, prioritise by profit and crack on. Often I get up hideously early to get a head start and ensure I am in control of my day.
- Find small moments of calm. I’ve written about this before, but it really does bear repeating. Many of us seem to have been tricked into this idea that “stress relief” involves jetting off somewhere for a week by a pool, or at the very least spending a weekend at a spa. Both of those are good I’m sure, but when you’re running a business you can’t really wander off to the spa every weekend, or have one week per month on holiday. Funds, time and common sense prevent these things from being an option! Here’s the big secret nobody mentions though: you don’t need a whole week, a whole day, a whole afternoon or even a whole hour. Coping with stress works best when it is not left to build up until one requires a week on a sun lounger! Five minutes here and there to take a few deep breaths in silence, a mindful moment (using a Scentered Focus balm if you have one to hand) before a meeting can all add up to keeping you on an even keel far more effectively than holidays and spa days. A walk round the block, a detour round the park, a meeting as you walk round the park, you will often find me on the phone to China as I stroll through Green Park to a breakfast meeting.
- Celebrate the small wins. When running any small business, it is easy to fall into the trap of feeling like it’s just a constant hard slog. It can often feel like no sooner is one crisis averted, another pops up in its place – like Whack-A-Mole, the business edition. When we allow ourselves to think like this, we can feel weighed down so that even the tiniest problem can become the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Of course, it would be nice to get to a point where all of the problems have been dealt with and you are home and dry – so perhaps now is not the time to tell you that even when Pacific Direct was turning over millions of pounds every year and was doing fairly well, we still had regular crises to deal with. That is the nature of business, after all. The way to get around feeling so bogged down in it all is to ensure you celebrate when things go right – no matter how small those things are. If you’re struggling to get an order out on time, but you somehow manage it – make a point of recognising that, and thanking those who helped to make it happen. If your company taxes are done and dusted on time, be sure to give yourself and those around you a pat on the back. Mutual recognition for a job well done can make a big difference to all concerned. Keep a chart – no seriously, of the things you have done for people in your team. Be fair and balanced with praise and consistent with reward but also make an effort to customise individuals benefits.
- Communicate well. Shared communication, open cultures and the way you let others in your team honestly know how you are, these things help. This is a key priority in all of the businesses I am involved with. I try to have meetings face to face wherever possible, but in the absence of this, there are plenty of tools that allow you to have a video conference call with your team. I find that often stress can build up if people feel like they are being left to manage a task or situation without support. Similarly, those around us can become stressed if they feel that we’re not keeping them informed of what’s going on. Emails flying back and forth is all well and good, but this can often lead to yet more stress. I find that regular meetings – both with teams and individuals – are essential to ensuring everyone’s stress levels remain manageable, and the job is done as effectively as possible.
- There are days when I literally need the maximum impact boost and the fastest way my Mum taught me to manage tougher moments is removing myself briefly from a situation to breathe, gather my thoughts and then reconsider my position. Go to the bog…tactical bog visits may seem madness but I have chosen in the past not to sell, not to buy, or simply found a better deal outcome because of a wee break.
- Go to bed with an empty head. This is something I have sworn by since my early days in business and I am sure it saved me from losing my mind more than once. Before I finish work for the day, I make sure I have done a “brain dump” in my notepad of everything I need to remember to do the next day. This is especially important on a Friday evening, if I am to have a relaxing weekend. (Recently I find this is an early Saturday morning as things have become so fraught I have been unable to think on a Friday night!) I make endless notes of everything I need to remember and never trust my brain to just spontaneously regurgitate every detail I need to know about something several days later. The act of physically writing these things out with good old fashioned pen and paper (which may seem archaic to some, and yes I also use my phone for check lists and meeting notes capture) means that the information actually goes into the brain, and has more chance of being retained – but it also means that it’s there in black and white if your brain hasn’t kept hold of it. I never wake in the night unless something very people orientated and disappointing has happened. It is only the people things that really decimate life. How many times have you woken with a start at 2am because you forgot to do something, or you need to remember to do something else? Making sure everything is written down before finishing work gives your brain permission to switch off properly and rest – essential for keeping stress at bay. When at home I always watch the 10 o’clock news as a switch off break. I also work very hard not to go from digital to bed and I have a sensible approach to phone use – and never weapons on the table at family meals times or how will my hooligans learn? On the big busy days I set phone alarms to keep me on track..that takes the stress out of all the things I have to remembers. Tech can be as good as it is bad. This week my gorgeous Marketing Director brilliantly booked me to ensure I could check and respond in a timely manner to a brochure we had a tight deadline on. If you can work with your team on great time management and lead the way on following respectfully you will reduce the agonies in your life. Be a planner it does prevent piss, poor performance. (Thanks Dad!)
- Get outside. It is so easy to go an entire day without seeing sunlight, even in the height of summer, and especially in London. Rather than getting the Tube or a taxi to your next meeting, leave a little earlier and walk. Make a point of going outside for a short walk (even if it’s only round the corner to the coffee shop) rather than eating lunch at your desk. My favourite way to get outside while working is to have a walking meeting – which might sound bonkers, but combined with my point above, you can kill two birds with one stone and make sure your whole team is refreshed and rejuvenated and ready to work hard.
We all know by now that stress can be literally a killer. We hear the saying that money does not buy happiness, it does not. We all have probably known at least one person who fell victim to stress in one way or another; it is unfortunately yet another thing where the broken education system does not respect the importance of staying in step with modern day demands. The importance of business and life finance singularly missing from the education systems…don’t get me started on that? It is important to find the things that work for you to ensure you can relieve and even avoid stress wherever possible.