It’s a common piece of entrepreneurial advice: “All you have to do to be a successful business owner is to do what you say you’re going to do”. I think that’s kind of BS.
Everybody wants to do what they say they’re going to do. Business owners aren’t going to purposefully lie to get a job, because it will hurt their business in the long run. But take a step backward: the real skill most entrepreneurs lack is managing expectations. When you are face to face to somebody who wants to pay you for something, there’s nothing harder than saying that you can’t make it happen.
My wife asked if I would be able to make a 5:30 dinner date Friday. I could have told her I had a tee time at 1 but that I would be able to make it, but that wouldn’t be managing expectations properly. We, entrepreneurs, are eternally optimistic. We think we can get everything done and make promises based on the best-case scenario. If we were pessimists, we wouldn’t be doing this to begin with.
The problem isn’t doing what you say you’re going to, the problem is being honest about your expectations and what you say can be done. It’s not easy, it’s not what people want to hear, and you’ll feel tempted to over-promise, but you can’t do that. Realistically, I know that by 5:15 I’ll probably be on the 17th hole because Friday golf is so slow, I’ll want to come home and shower, and won’t be able to meet my wife downtown until 6:15 for dinner. And I have to take the hard road and set that expectation.
There’s a call to action here: take ownership of managing expectations and saying no. Give the worst-case scenario and use that to sell yourself. Explain the risk and the downside, and what you’ll try to do to avoid them and overdeliver. You can gain trust with customers when you are honest about the complications and risks. If you get good at this, your world will open up.
Managing expectations is your key. If you’re overworked at work, you need to manage expectations with your boss or customers. Give yourself a cushion when making commitments. It’s uncomfortable off the bat, but as a business owner, it’s your job. You can’t be an optimist when you need to be a realist.
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