Real Leaders

5 Ways to Keep Your Emotions in Check While Running a Business

When my wife and I first started dating, she made me promise I’d never take her on a rollercoaster. The jerky motion made her sick. Not long after marrying, I realized I might have broken my promise. I’d bought a franchise.

Over the next ten years, we experienced a journey much more tumultuous than riding The Cyclone. It was a wild ride with ups, downs—and a lot more we couldn’t predict or control.

Running a business is intense. You’ve invested your own money or, more likely, borrowed money you have to pay back. It’s your signature on all the contracts. You’re the last word on all significant decisions. You’re expected to be the ultimate problem solver. And if it turns out you don’t like the business, you can’t just quit. You’re on the hook. All of that with the hope of profit, but no guarantee.

I bought my first Edible Arrangements franchise thinking it’d be a simple fruit basket business. As great as the model was, I was still exposed to all the issues faced by small businesses with hourly workers. There were unreasonable customers and ghosting employees. There were delivery van breakdowns and middle-of-the-night break-ins. Fruit pricing and availability were in the hands of Mother Nature. One lady “fell” in our lobby and wanted compensation. There were great times too, but it’s the challenges that cause hair loss. 

What those ten years, along with many more years as a speaker, coach, and writer on franchise issues, have taught me is that we franchise owners don’t just run our business; we feel it. Right there, along with managing employees, serving customers, sales and marketing, paying bills, and bookkeeping are excitement, disappointment, pride, anxiety, joy, and total exhaustion. The journey is as emotional as it is financial.

Unchecked emotions can be bad for business. They lead to poor decisions because of what I call the “Trigger to Trouble” syndrome. Events in your business can easily set off a process that leads to feelings and reactions. The triggering event might be an angry customer, a drop in sales, a new brand policy, or an offhand comment by a colleague. It could be something significant or something small. It doesn’t take much. Our brain instantly decides if this event is an opportunity or a threat, good or bad, pleasant or painful, fair or unjust. We recall similar events from the past and predict what it might mean for the future. We convert our objective observation of the event captured by our physical senses and develop a subjective perspective. The more subjective we are, the farther from the truth we get. That perspective leads to emotion. Finally, based on our subjectivity and feelings, we take action. All of this happens in a fraction of a second. The result is often a kneejerk reaction we’ll eventually regret.

There’s a correlation between your mental state and the state of your business. Your ability to manage your feelings is a huge determinant of how you’ll perform. The franchisees who thrive are those most in control of their mind. Their ability to keep a clear head and remain calm gives them a huge advantage. Their decisions are more responsible. They see opportunities and solutions their freaked-out counterparts miss. They’re able to inspire employees better and serve customers. I’ve met thousands of franchisees in my work and have gotten to know the best among them. Their heads are as cool as their businesses are profitable.

Some people are naturally calm. Others, myself included, have to be more deliberate about it. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to keep your emotions in check. Here are five:

1. Manage stress before managing your problems. Our first instinct, when faced with adversity, is to address the issue. We want relief. The problem is that when we’re stressed out, our brain function is impaired. Our amygdala kicks into gear, causing a fight or flight response. That makes us hyper-alert and winds us up. And when the amygdala is active, it blocks the neuropathways to the prefrontal cortex, where logic, reason, and problem-solving occur. That’s where the best decisions are made. In other words, the sooner we calm down, the sooner we access the part of the brain we need to find solutions. Avoid giving into the urgency of problems. Clear your head first. Take a moment to reset yourself. Breath. Walk. Meditate. Wait. But don’t act—until you’re calm.

2. Focus on the here and now. Business problems cause us to worry about the future. While we need to prepare for what lies ahead, what matters most is what’s going on today. A lot can happen between today and tomorrow. It’s hard to predict. Today is tangible. It’s real. And it’s where you have the most control. So, solve the problems in front of you. Keep doing right by your customers. Take care of your employees. Pay any bills that are due now. Learn something you can bring to your work the following day. You can’t know what the future will look like, but it’s safe to assume it will be different. New things will happen. Many of them will be good.

Focus on getting through today. Then do it again tomorrow.

3. Work through problems on paper. It’s hard to do complex math problems in your head. That’s true for business problems as well. You can’t see things clearly with all that noise in your noggin. On paper, they’re easier to manage. Try writing in a journal. I also like to write my concerns in list form, noting the conclusions I’m drawing, other possible perspectives, my ability to control the issue, and what action to take. The exercise is as cathartic as it is productive.

4. Beware of optimism. As destructive as negativity can be, positivity can be equally problematic. Many franchisees have made some pretty bad decisions based on hope. Faith won’t reduce your expenses. Optimism won’t bring in more customers. What will help your business is an objective understanding of what’s happening. Much better than positivity or negativity is clarity: seeing things as they are. If a positive attitude gets you out of bed and inspires you to act boldly, that’s great. Just make sure there’s data to back up your feelings.

5. Seek outside feedback. Other people with less emotional investment can help you see things more clearly. One franchisee from a well-known retail chain panicked about decreased sales when corporate opened a new location in an adjacent town. His field support consultant ran the numbers and pointed out that while gross sales were, in fact, down, his number of transactions was actually higher. More people were coming into his store, but his average ticket had decreased. In other words, he and his team weren’t selling well. He was grateful for the perspective. Emotions can blind us, so it can help to get a fresh pair of eyes from someone else.

Running a franchise is an emotional experience. Having feelings about what’s going on doesn’t make you weak; it makes you human. And that humanity will allow you to have empathy for customers and employees. So, don’t deny your emotions. Just monitor them. It’s an important step to keep your mind sound and your business profitable.

Scott Greenberg’s new book is The Wealthy Franchisee: Game-Changing Steps to Becoming a Thriving Franchise Superstar