Are you in over your head?

On a coaching call today, my client was wrestling with a challenge that I have certainly experienced as an entrepreneur (and as a mom, and as a teacher, and as a sales rep, and as a human…need I go on?). Her desire to please others causes her to overpromise, to bite off more than she can chew, and then to struggle with the stress, exhaustion and overwhelm that ensue after she’s made promises she knows she can’t keep.

Why do we get in over our heads? I have some thoughts on this.

First, as entrepreneurs, especially those who are in the start-up phase of their business, getting clients can be really difficult. Getting clients to believe in you, trust in your product or expertise, and to choose you over your competition can be a huge challenge. So when a client shows up, says, “Yeah, I’ll have some of what you have to offer,” and agrees to pay the price you set for it, you might be tempted to do some wacky things (like promise more than you can deliver, or neglect to mention that you need more time to get the desired results, or not ask for clarification on the project at hand) out of pure gratitude. After all, you’re going to get paid, right? So why not make them extra happy that you went above and beyond their wildest expectations? This is the desire to distinguish yourself in your field and to prove yourself worthy of the business.

I had a friend who was a realtor who was so hungry for business (this was fueled by financial needs, but also by her love of her work) that it drove her to try to be everything to her clients. She considered herself a “full service realtor.” Apparently, letting the home owners’ dog out at regular intervals during the day, tidying up the house, running personal errands for her clients and the like were all part of the full suite of services she offered as a realtor. After keeping this up for a year or two, she got really burned out and her job felt more like a burden than the source of challenge, fun and interest it had been. Her “disease to please” got the best of her, but fortunately her state of overwhelm nicely coincided with a lot of listings and sales. With a little breathing space in her bank account, she was able to choose not to offer all those additional services that were a source of personal expense to her. And her clients still loved her and referred her to others.

Secondly, we sometimes overpromise what we can deliver because we simply don’t know our own limitations. Our excitement about our work and our passion for what we do can cause us business owners to forget to factor in very basic elements of life: the need for sleep, for time away from work, for a backup plan, the risk involved when relying on others, all manner of non-billable hours to get the job done. With experience or with the support of a mentor, this tendency can be minimized.

Where do you get in over your head? Have you made promises you can’t keep to your clients, your co-workers, your family, or your friends? What impact did it have on you and them? What strategy have you put in place to manage this?

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