Walk a Mile in Those Entrepreneurial Shoes

You have a client who’s driving you nuts. This may be a very successful closely-held first generation company, an entrepreneur on the cusp of greatness, or even an older company with a nervous new owner. Obviously, they know their business and have shown a willingness to take risks, but you wouldn’t know it by the amount of time the owner spends second-guessing your work and that of everyone around him. He’s constantly questioning your advice, scrutinizing your work and knit-picking your bills. You’re the expert, why won’t he leave you alone and let you do your job?

I feel your pain. I was your pain – the nervous successful entrepreneur, the founder and CEO of a growing company. And I had clients like this as well – entrepreneurs that drove me crazy – for I was in a service business. What follows, therefore, is not an excuse but an explanation made from both sides of the fence. Maybe it’ll keep you out of therapy.

What it’s like from the other side of the table.

Take a look at the world from the eyes of the self-made entrepreneur. These are a few experiences you may never have:

* To start his business he probably risked losing everything – EVERYTHING – including his home, car, children’s education, retirement, reputation and future ability to buy anything on credit. If he fails he may never find another job in the industry he loves. For most businesses “venture capital” is a fantasy, until he succeeds and doesn’t need it.

* Every time a growth opportunity occurs, the risks and what he may lose increase exponentially. And it’s not always clear which decision will be the deal breaker.

* He is constantly aware that his decisions can affect many families – their jobs, dreams and futures – not just his own. That knowledge weighs heavy.

* On more than one occasion he has gone without a paycheck so he could pay his employees and/or key suppliers.

* He works longer hours, sleeps less and probably takes fewer days off than the people who work for him… because you can’t delegate worry. There’s no such thing as a vacation.

* He remembers when he purchased his first desk, chair, computer, copier, phone and lamp… and he can tell you what he paid for them.

* On more than one occasion some “expert” has tried to cheat or seriously mislead him.

* No matter what internal systems he creates, he is always vulnerable to theft by current or past employees; forget the pens and office supplies, his entire financial position and/or customer base may be at risk.

* He used to know every employee and their family by name – even their birthdays. The day he can no longer internalize this information is one of the saddest in his career.

* For no fault of his own, he has lost his most valuable “right hand” employee more than once. Silently, he still grieves the losses.

* He doesn’t have many friends outside of the business, and must constantly be on his guard for people purporting to be friends who are only after his money, reputation, expertise or best employee.

* Business, hobbies and family are a two-out-of-three proposition at best.

* For all his flash and bravado, in a quiet moment he just might admit that on more than one occasion his business was one meeting or presentation from closing its doors.

* He is the constant target of scams, aggressive charities and would-be customers who want everything for free.

* He must always exude confidence even when he isn’t. Nobody wants to be with a loser; competitors and nervous employees can smell blood in the water… or so he thinks.

* No matter how they act, these entrepreneurs are some of the loneliest people you will ever meet.

So, the next time you’re wishing this guy would just chill and let you do your job, think about taking a walk in his shoes. You’ll probably find that others don’t appreciate his perspective either, but when you do you’ll have a leg up on the competition. By putting up with a little institutional insecurity from time to time and doing the best job you can do for your client, you’ll earn his respect.

Sooner or later he’ll recognize you as an asset rather than a threat… and you may just have his growing piece of business for life.