I read your column regularly. I never thought that I would reach out to you with my own issues. But I was wrong. I’m hoping you can help on how best to handle this situation.
In 2016, I lost my long-term job. The company simply went through serious changes, and my position was no longer needed. They were great to me when I worked there, and they gave me a small severance package. I was 55 at the time. I was more than a bit anxiety-ridden, as I wasn’t in a position to retire, and I was concerned about the prospects of being rehired at this age. The good news is that I was a saver, had no debt and always lived frugally. My husband’s job carried the benefits.
‘I woke up every morning at 4 a.m. to research, research, research how best to use my resources and ended up starting a small business.’
I woke up every morning at 4 a.m. to research, research, research how best to use my resources, and ended up starting a small business. Once I started, I made mistakes and messed things up, but kept educating myself more and more. There were tough times that were not easy to get through, but I was determined and kept going.
After about 18 months, it was working! Everything fell into place, and the train finally started going down the track! Now, I wake up each day and think, “I own a small business!” My hubby even took early retirement to partner with me.
While we are not making $1 million, we crossed over into six digits over the past few years. We run our business out of a home office. I offer a service based on my knowledge from my prior job that I lost.
So what is the problem? Several times a month, friends and prior coworkers reach out to us to ask how they too can get started in what we do.
This is just one example of a text I woke up to this morning:
“We are thinking about starting our own business as a husband and wife team like you. We want to discuss this with you, and learn from your experiences. What day and time would be good for you? Early morning or late afternoon? Can you come to our house?”
These requests send me to the moon and back, and I’m not totally sure why. I’m struggling with being a good human being and helping them vs. asking myself why would I want to train my competition to take business away from ourselves. I liken these friends and former colleagues to the kids at school who march right to the head of the lunch line to get their food, without waiting in line like the rest of us.
My husband and I built relationships across the country and locally, but we do not live in a town where there is enough business for all of us.
Quentin, I hope you can help me sort through how best to decline these requests, or tell me if I am wrong. We will retire in six years, and we hope to sell the business at that time.
Enjoying My Second Act (& Want It To Last)
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Dear Second Act,
Your life and business are not a blueprint for anyone. Your path is your own. Your timing was right for you. You did your boots-on-the-ground research, and it’s paying dividends. And you’re correct: Never underestimate your own ability to build relationships. Not everybody has that skill.
That text sounds like an aggressive sales pitch: a strong-armed approach with a smile. No. 1: If they are asking you to do them a favor, regardless of what that favor is, suggesting you do it on their terms is a no-no. If these friends are not willing or able to get off their sofa and come around to your home or meet you close to your home, how do they expect to start their own business from scratch, and go above and beyond to build their reputation?
‘Pushy people tend to know they’re being pushy. They just don’t care.’
No. 2: Pushy people tend to know they’re being pushy. They just don’t care. They may need you to acquiesce to their requests for the reassurance that others can and will bend to their will, OR perhaps they simply have their eye on their goal and everyone else are minions (with a lower case “m”). You don’t need to worry about their psychology, of course, but you do need to be just as tough and push back. If people ask me what to do with their money, I say: “I don’t even recommend Broadway plays.”
And that lunar feeling you have when you get those texts? It’s your boundaries bending and creaking. It’s the Old You and the New You doing battle: guilt and people-pleasing vs. self-protection and no-can-do. Remember, saying “no” does not make you a bad person. You could pick a book and say, “I read this. The rest was luck and timing. Good luck!” But my guess is someone who thinks that you hold the key to their success will not be so easily put off.
‘You learned a valuable lesson not to discuss your affairs with other people.’
In the event that a very, very, very close friend asks you the same question, I suggest using the words in your letter to me: “I woke up every morning at 4 a.m. to research, research, research how best to use my resources. Once I started, I made mistakes and messed things up, but kept educating myself more and more. There were tough times that were not easy to get through, but I was determined and kept going. That’s all I can tell you. Good luck!” (Sometimes, the clue is, literally, in the question.)
Of course, we all know people who refuse to take “no” for an answer. That brings me to No. 3: The clearest, fiercest response is often times no response. Find that muscle. It’s one you can exercise over and over again. As a friend once told me when I had to make a big financial decision: “Take the emotion and personalities out of it. It’s just business.” This is your business. You have nurtured it and you have worked hard at it. Trust your instinct. Protect it. If your gut says no? Then don’t go.
‘Trust your instinct. If your gut says no? Then don’t go.’
You have learned a valuable lesson not to discuss your affairs with other people. Make it known that you do not like to talk about business when you’re off the clock. Try a new approach to conversations at dinner parties or chats over the garden fence with friends or neighbors. If they ask you about your business and how it’s going, tell them: “Good, thanks.” If they persist, say: “My first and last rule of business is I never discuss business with friends, and I never mix business with friendship.”
Delete that text without replying. There is a power in silence. Flex that “no reply” muscle and keep flexing it. It gets easier. Don’t be held hostage to the “reply” button on your phone, and do get acquainted with the ability to say “no.” After a while, you will likely come to enjoy it.
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