While you may be good at your craft, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should be running a business. Outside of all the business stuff you may not be good at — like accounting and marketing — there is a single attitude that sabotages so many business owners’ success.
In his book Ego is the Enemy, Ryan Holiday, sums it up nicely:
It’s a common attitude that transcends generations and societies. The angry, unappreciated genius is forced to do stuff she doesn’t like, for people she doesn’t respect, as she makes her way in the world. How dare they force me to grovel like this! The injustice! The waste! – Ego is the Enemy
We see this with web developers lamenting their client’s decision to use some ‘outdated’ technology from eight months ago. How dare they not listen to their developer and use the latest and greatest thing that makes their developer’s heart sing.
We see this with designers who lament the fact that the client didn’t go with their choice, robbing them of their creative freedom. If they just had that freedom to be creative their business would attract nicer clients and all their problems would be over.
The thing is we don’t see things the same as the client because we’re not running our client’s business. We don’t see that the latest technology will be obsolete again in three months and they’ll be left with something almost no one can work on. We don’t see that ‘creative genius’ would result in less sales for the online store and the client’s business would tank.
How do we break this rampant assumption of correctness and entitlement in the web industry? Here are three ways to get your head screwed on right when you feel entitlement creeping up on you.
1. Read the Stoics
In his book The Obstacle is the Way, Ryan Holiday, is pulling much of the content from Stoic philosophy. While it’s thousands of years old, people deal with pretty much the same problems today.
They convince themselves their circumstances have little to do with their attitude — life just threw them a bad hand. They convince themselves they’re some gift to the world and a pretty snowflake that deserves an easy walk.
This snowflake mentality is the root of the entitlement in the web industry but if you read the Stoics you’ll learn to look at the other side of any problem so that you can evaluate your opinions against opposition. You’ll be told to focus more on your behaviour when life throws you a curve and not on what’s happening to you. The only thing you can control anyway is how you behave in a given situation.
You will come across obstacles in life — fair and unfair. And you will discover, time and time again, that what matters most is not what these obstacles are but how we see them, how we react to them, and whether we keep our composure. – The Obstacle is the Way
2. Work on empathy
According to Wikipedia empathy is defined as:
Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other being’s frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another’s position.
As a business owner that means you need to get into the shoes of your client. When you love the latest technology because it’s new and exciting, they see something that no one will be using in six months. Something that’s not battle tested yet, and you want them to hang their business on it.
Your job is to get great results for your clients, to help them make more money or reach more people. If you want to push boundaries, start a side project to use the new technology. Focus on your client’s business and make sure they get the outcomes they want.
3. Take a walk or a deep breath
Some clients are going to push your buttons and ask for ridiculous things that harm their business. They won’t listen to the great advice they’re paying you for. They’re going to see a PDF of the site and then spend months matching up the PDF to the design and asking why an image is two pixels different on the web. They’re going to insist that you fix those two pixels, or that you make the lines darker on the image provided by the design.
They’re going to want things that you have no control over. The best thing to do when you get a request like that is to take a walk. Seriously, walk away from your computer and take a deep breath. Our brain can’t really distinguish between real danger to ourselves and a threatening email. It all feels like danger, as if the outcome could kill us. When we’re in that state of ‘danger arousal’ we can’t make good decisions.
No one is saying you can’t take a minute to think, ‘Dammit, this sucks.’ By all means, vent. Exhale. Take stock. Just don’t take too long. Because you have to get back to work. Because each obstacle we overcome makes us stronger for the next one. But … No. No excuses. No exceptions. No way around it: It’s on you. – The Obstacle is the Way
When faced with those insane requests, postpone any response until the next day. Then write down your response in a text to your partner/friend/colleague and send it to them. They can read it and give you some feedback. Only after you’ve incorporated the feedback do you send the email.
Ninety-nine percent of the time, with a day of space and a proofreader, you’re able to explain the situation to your client and everything is going to be fine. If you had responded in the moment of anger then it’s highly likely the situation would have spun out of control.
Next time you get what seems like a silly request remember that you’re only responsible for your behaviour. Take some time to try to understand it from the client’s point of view. Finally if the request is truly silly, then take a deep breath and put some space between yourself and the response.
If you can do those three things then you’re going to be a better consultant, and miraculously, your clients to are going to be better clients.