Back on track: a small busines success story

According to the Federation of Small Businesses in the U.K., ‘…many small business owners neglect their own mental and physical wellbeing.’ At Conversations With Impact, we understand why. Running a small business can be a 24/7 commitment, and when adversity strikes, the most straightforward option can be to ignore it.

The head-in-the-sand approach was exactly how our client Gillian responded to a difficult time in her life until a chance conversation led her to pick up the phone to me. The son of a family friend she was visiting, someone I was working with at the time, wrote down my details for her and said, ‘He’ll sort you out.’ A week later, Gillian sat in front of me, facing up to her anxiety.

Shock of the unexpected

Gillian talked about a difficult two years since a client verbally abused her. An Independent Financial Advisor, Gillian often visited clients in their homes. On this occasion, she informed her client that due to the upcoming birth of her child, her working hours and practice would be changing. ‘I had known this client for many years,’ Gillian said. ‘What came next was so shocking because it was so unexpected.’

Gillian described how her client stood up and began pacing around in a blind rage. She screamed at Gillian that she chose the time and place they would meet, not the other way around. Frozen by fear, Gillian remained seated and waited for her client to calm down. ‘But she just kept raging. Even now, I can’t get that scream out of my head. That’s why I had to see you – to get that scream out of my head.’

’I lost half of my clients in a scarily short space of time.’

The realisation that her client would not calm down prompted Gillian to start packing her belongings. ‘I thought if I didn’t get out of her house, I would be physically attacked. I felt genuinely afraid. I ran, literally ran out of her house,’ said Gillian.

The effect on her business was immediate and dramatic. The next day when she got up for work, Gillian had her first-ever panic attack. ‘I had no idea what it was other than I thought I was dying. I had to get my husband to call my clients and make up an excuse.’ After that, Gillian became too scared to see clients on her own. ‘I asked my clients if they would come to my house, using my pregnancy as an excuse. Some did, but some didn’t. I lost around half of my clients in a short space of time.’

‘I didn’t know about anxiety and trauma.’

The remarkable aspect of Gillian’s story is that she had no idea what she was going through. ‘I didn’t know about trauma and anxiety. Yes, I had symptoms, but it’s the oddest thing. My inability to make sense of them and my shame at losing my professional identity resulted in a head-in-the-sand mentality.’ Gillian retreated into her house with her baby son and husband, living a pale imitation of her old life. And that is how things stayed for the next two years. It was only when she met my client at her friend’s house that things started to change.

A lighbulb moment

In our first session of therapy, I helped Gillian make sense of why she felt so anxious. I explained what trauma is and how this places our brains and bodies on high alert. Significantly for Gillian, my explanation changed how she saw herself. ‘I thought I was to blame. Therapy showed me it wasn’t my fault. In our first session, I couldn’t believe how much he helped me change how I thought about things in  such a short period of time.’

‘Just knowing I could be helped made a huge difference.’

I explained to Gillian that trauma could be resolved when our brains, nervous systems, re-experience a traumatic incident without the same physiological responses produced when the trauma first happened. Hearing this explanation made a massive difference to Gillian. After her first session, Gillian said she slept soundly for the first time since her client attacked her. The next day she went out with her son for the first time by herself in a long, long time. The sheer joy of sitting in a café with him, doing everyday things writ large all over her face. She would never have believed it. Further sessions ultimately resolved Gillian’s trauma.

‘I got my professional identity back…’

With my interest in supporting business owners, I worked with Gillian to get her business back on track. Using Guided Imagery – a form of visualisation – I got Gillian to imagine seeing clients again in their own homes confidently. I explained that her brain needed to know that visiting clients was no longer a threat to her due to the trauma.

Switching to a coaching approach, the next step was to set clear goals for Gillian’s business, such as re-connecting with some of her old clients and dusting off her previously successful marketing strategy. Gillian got her professional identity back, which gave her a massive confidence boost. She was more assertive with demanding clients, whereas previously, she would always try to win them around by impressing them. Gillian truly believed that had she been who she is now, that client would never have dared attack her.

Support for small business owners

“I came to mark at a very low time suffering from anxiety for months. I couldn’t cope anymore as it was affecting me physically. I was struggling to do day to day things that most people would find non-threatening. Mark immediately put me at ease during our telephone consultation. So I wasn’t too nervous about meeting him in person. On our first session, I couldn’t believe how much he helped me change the way I thought about things (light bulb moment!) In such a short period of time. I have started to change the way I look at my problems and being kinder to myself. I will no longer let the past blackmail my present and ruin my future. Please, anyone who is suffering from anxiety. Please don’t hesitate to contact Mark and get back your quality of life, as I have started too.” Gillian

If you run a small business and would like support, we’d love to hear from you. Visit our contact us page or book directly.