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Quiet Time in Business – Is it Really?

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Things are quiet…

I was at a network meeting recently. There were reduced numbers in attendance and the chair of meeting announced that ‘things are quiet at the moment’. There was a suggestion that perhaps we shouldn’t meet on as regular a basis as we have been because so many people are, and will be, away.

Many years ago I came across the phrase ‘if you think you can’t you won’t but if you think you can, you will!’ Though simple, it is extremely powerful. What we think in our minds becomes our reality. That grey matter between your two ears can invigorate you to push yourself to heights you never dreamed of before, or it can drag you into the mud and leave you there.

It is summer time in the northern hemisphere and people are on the move, therefore, the common adage of business being quiet arises once more. Yes, there are people who are going on holidays and yes, the children are off school, but that doesn’t mean the whole world stops. Not everyone has vacated their desks and shut up shop. The world has not stopped doing business.

If we stop and challenge the story we’re telling ourselves we may find that in fact the opposite is true. Later that same day, I went to pick up something in a local large shopping complex. It was early afternoon and it took more than a few minutes to find a car parking space. The place was hopping! Retail units were open for business and there were plenty of people ready to carry out transactions.

Perhaps we’re wrong when we tell ourselves that business is quiet. That’s ok, we’re all wrong from time to time. But, the danger is that when we believe what we’re telling ourselves, whether it is true or not, we can line up a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Depending on their industry, some people have more time available to them at this time of year. That creates an opportunity for you to put in some nurturing time with them. It is the perfect time to give them a call or meet with them and say thank you for the business opportunities they have brought your way over recent months. It also a great time to contact existing clients, those who have trusted us with their business before, who understand what it is we do and let them know what is happening that is new and exciting in our business and may have benefit for them at some point in the future – and of course, to find out what is happening in their lives and businesses too. The simple act of buying someone a cup of coffee and saying thank you can be very valuable. Showing our appreciation for others had great benefits for the person you are thanking, we all like to be appreciated – and for ourselves.

If you find yourself commenting that business has been a bit quiet lately, why not take the opportunity to go out and meet some people? This simple shift could change a slow, uneventful summer into one of the most successful you’ve ever had!

Think before you Spend

Euro, Hands, Money, Pay

This week, I want to address a topic that was brought home to me recently. The choice of where we spend our money – in the local economy or in multinationals, matters greatly, to us all.

On a recent family day trip, we left our home outside Dublin and travelled by car to the Titanic Centre in Belfast. It is an amazing tribute to the ship which was built in Belfast at the beginning of the last century and is a hugely popular tourist attraction.

The journey took just ninety minutes, through the city of Belfast to the car park of the Titanic centre. Before going to enjoy the exhibit, myself and my companions got a cup of coffee in the franchise shop at the centre. Then, after spending a couple of hours exploring the Titanic Centre, we got another refreshment, in the same shop, before hitting the road home.

The road from Dublin to Belfast and return is a pretty straight one. There’s no need to stop off anywhere unless you want to – and we didn’t stop on the way up, eager as we were to get the day underway. On the return journey, we could have detoured into the city and spent some time there, but that wasn’t our plan and so we left Belfast having spent in the region of £10 in addition to the price of entry to the exhibit.

On our way home, we did need to stop for petrol and so pulled into a convenience store, refuelling stop on the side of the motorway to do so. While we were there, we also decided to get a cup of coffee and bun to eat en route. There was nothing out of the ordinary about our trip to Belfast. It was a lovely, enjoyable day – nothing more and nothing less.

Later in the same week, as we had some annual leave to take, we spent a few days in County Wexford. We stayed in a lovely hotel in one of the larger towns in Wexford. One of the first things we noticed was the sheer volume of traffic pouring through the town. It seemed to us that this town was a bottleneck along the way to the ferry port at Rosslare. What we also noticed was that this traffic was not stopping. It just kept on going.

As we strolled through the town over the few days, it became apparent that the car parks were empty. There was very little footfall on the streets. The town itself was empty. We met shopkeepers going about their daily business, waiting for customers to come in and buy – while outside the stream of traffic roared by. I found this quite sad. The customers were right outside the doors, but they just kept going, while the livelihoods of the business people of this town swung in the balance. What is worse, is that this was just one small town, in one part of Ireland. There are many, many others where the same thing happens day in, day out.

What I have just described is mundane. It is so normal that we rarely ever stop to think about it. My family and I travelled from A to B to get to The Titanic Centre and home again. We lead such busy lives that getting from A to B as quickly as possible is our priority. Detours are not part of the plan. Stopping in the motorway refilling station is much easier than trying to find parking in a town you’re not familiar with. It’s just easier to spend our money in multinationals. But is easier best?

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I once had someone explain banking in Ireland to me in very simple terms as follows:

A visitor arrives at a hotel somewhere in Ireland and books a room for a few days stay. When he arrives on the first morning, he pays €100 for the room up front. The visitor leaves his bags at the hotel and goes off for the day to conduct some business or take in some sights.

Once the visitor has left, the hotelier takes the money he has been paid and goes around to the butcher who supplies the meat for the restaurant and pays him the €100 towards his bill. Once the hotelier has gone, the butcher takes the €100 and walks down to the grocer to pay off his household bill, the grocer is now able to take the €100 and pay off that bill he owes to auctioneer who recently valued his property. The auctioneer pays that same €100 to the photographer who took the shots for the valuation. And finally, the photographer takes the €100 and pays off his outstanding bill to the local hotel for a stand he took at their wedding fair recently.

At around lunchtime this same day, the visitor returns to the hotel and explains that due to unforeseen circumstances, he isn’t going to be able to stay for the duration like he had thought. And so, the hotel refunds the €100 to him.

This is a crude expression of what happens when we spend money locally in Ireland. When we spend money in the local economy it is spread throughout the local economy and helps to sustain us all.

Our default setting of choosing the easiest and cheapest provider of goods or services may not always be the best choice. The money I spent in the Titanic Centre in Belfast would have filtered through into the local economy. The same is true of the money I spent in the hotel in Wexford. However, when I stopped for petrol at the motorway filling station, everything I spent there left the country. That steady stream of traffic that we saw in Wexford, who probably did the same thing, also exported their money. Yes, it was quick, it was convenient, but did it help our economy? No. And, really, I put more value in supporting our economy than I do in convenience.

If 1 in 100 of those motorists had stopped in the town and had their coffee there, over time, this would have transformed the town and its community because the money would have circulated around the local area. It’s not a huge ask when you think about it, a slight deviation, but it could make all the difference to towns around the country, and our country as a whole.

We make decisions like this every day, often on autopilot. I’m suggesting we turn off autopilot when it comes to deciding where we spend our money. It might take an extra five or ten minutes out of your day, or it may cost you an extra euro or two. I, for one, think our small towns and local economy is worth that investment. What about you?

The Three Hats of a Financial Planner

Financial planning is a complex process involving a lot more than numbers. As financial planners, we address our clients’ deepest hopes and fears and help to craft the best outcome for them. In doing so, we could be said to wear three hats. Let’s see what each of them involve.

Problem Solver

When our clients meet us sometimes they’re over-extended with insufficient income, lacking pension funding sources and they have significant levels of debt. These clients may be losing sleep over financial worries. There may be a concern in the back of their mind which they haven’t felt able to vocalise with anyone for fear of spreading the worry. They may be worrying about bills that are due at the end of the month. Or they may be feeling disheartened that they have worked for so many years and have nothing to show for it at the end. Many people reach the latter years of their working lives with less money in their bank accounts than they expected and thus feel disillusioned and disappointed.
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Our job is to bring these worried clients to a place of understanding where they stand right now. Through listening and asking the right questions, we can figure out what lies at the heart of the concern. As the old saying goes, a problem shared is a problem halved. This is definitely the case when the person you have shared that concern with can see that the issue isn’t insurmountable. When we’re overwhelmed by a problem it is more difficult to think it through objectively. In this state of panic, solutions don’t make themselves known. But, by sitting down and examining the concern from a calm perspective with your financial planner, a way through can be found and planned for. At the most basic level, in meetings such as this, a stressed client goes away knowing that they’re not in this alone – and that, in itself, can be very comforting.
There is nothing wrong with facing financial worries or problems, it is a part of life which most of us come up against at some point or another.
In our business, we use all the financial tools in the market to find the best match for our client’s particular needs. Our clients don’t want products, they want solutions and we deliver that by taking the time to understand the complexity of our client’s situations and with them, choosing the best course of action for them. We ensure that if someone gets sick or dies that there will be enough resources available to ensure that the family’s lifestyle doesn’t have to change as a result of lack of funds.

Future Planner

We help people to envisage what it is that they want for themselves and their families in the future. It is easy to get lost in the details of setting up financial arrangements, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to the lifestyle you desire for yourself and your family.
When a client presents their vision for the future, we play devil’s advocate, questioning it to make sure it is what they truly want, rather than a vision that they think they ought to have. This is part of the benefit of being outside the emotion of the situation, we can be impartial.
Once they are clear on what it is that they want, we can help them to achieve it. We also cling onto it for them. When the bustle of everyday life takes over, it can be easy to lapse into autopilot, forgetting the plans we made for, and the promises we made, to ourselves. We can remind you of these plans when life gets in the way.
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Mentor

We mentor our clients to keep their vision in the forefront of their minds as they go about life. Sometimes our vision needs to change in line with developments in life and so building a vision for the future is not a once off event, but an on-going process. Problems can arise when we least expect it in life, but sometimes a problem can be flagged before it has become a difficult one. We aim to spot these hazards before they crop up so that our clients are best prepared to deal with them when they do. We help our clients to keep their vision alive while taking care of the bumps along the road.
In line with this way of working, we charge fees so that we don’t have to sell our clients anything unless it is what is best for them. This way, we act as our clients’ right arm in planning their finances and are happy to continue as such for as long as they are happy with the situation. It is a position of great trust and it is fantastic to see our clients come closer to reaching their dreams and saying goodbye to stress and worry.

When Networking Goes Wrong

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been talking about the benefits of networking, wonderful tool that it is. At the centre of networking, we’re all seeking referrals. I have spent 17 years networking in a structured way and have built a business around it. It has helped us secure the right kind of clients in that business over this time and I have learned a lot about how networking works; the benefits to all involved and the inherent risks that accompany it.

When seeking referrals, we must be very specific about who our target is. We must not only convey who we do want to meet but also those we don’t. This is not elitist, it is simply ensuring that you are introduced to the people who will be the best fit for you and your business. What do you want these people to deliver to you? Is it the everyday bread and butter of your business, or are you looking for your premium customer or client who is in interested in the best that you have to offer? Also, will these clients be long term or short term ones? You must know the answers to these questions before you go into any meeting (or one to one) so that you can convey it clearly to your network. This saves everybody time. If you have an idea of who in your network has this kind of contacts, it allows you to be even more focussed in your networking efforts.

Receiving a referral from a trusted member of your network group is a significant endorsement of you and your business and should be relished as such. Remember, if you have been referred it took a lot of trust and confidence on the part of the referrer to make that judgement about you. It says I see the value in what you do, I like the way you work and I can trust this person to you.

Receiving a referral marks you out as an authority in your field.

However, things don’t always go to plan. Sometimes mistakes can be made and the situation takes a turn for the worse. When you’re working in this world of referrals, you are dealing with personal reputations, good names that have been built up over years. These are at risk when you make a referral and when it goes horribly wrong people change their mind about you; whether you had a hand in the problem or not. You are the one who recommended the referral and so, you can be held responsible for the mess. All the work that you put in to nurture that relationship can be undone in one short misstep by your network partner.

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The old adage applies, when you do something good for someone they will tell two or three people, but when you do something wrong, they’ll tell ten. If those ten people happen to be members of your network, it’ll be as though you’ve got the plague! No-one will come near you and you will have a huge hill to climb to recover your position.

When a network partner lets you down by not delivering the service that you believed they would, or when the person in receipt of service reneges on payment, the situation needs to be dealt with by you swiftly and forcefully. You have worked very hard to win your good reputation and should not allow it to be trashed by anyone. Dealing with the matter swiftly is your only option. Doing so shows the injured party that you acted in good faith and did not foresee the difficulties that have arisen. This can go some way towards repairing your relationship. Speaking to the person who has let you down gives them an opportunity to understand just how much value you put in your network contacts. Sometimes not everyone appreciates how important a situation is in our eyes. Having this conversation may also allow for reconciliation to occur, if not now, at some point in the future.

Sometimes the decision to make a referral or not can come down to that gut feeling you have about another person. Do you trust them, really trust them? If something inside tells you that it’s a bit risky, then by all means, do not pass on the referral. Just because there is an opportunity to make a referral does not always mean that you should. It is ok to step back now and again to evaluate the situation, remember when you make a referral there are three people involved, if it goes well then everybody wins – but if it goes wrong, two people, one of whom will be you could end up hurt and damaged by an error in judgement.

Business relationships are built on trust and confidence, two things we do not want to lose. Networking is about more than just securing yourself new business, it is about creating a community of trusted individuals who can support each other through the highs and lows of running a business. Make building good relationships your primary aim in networking and you won’t go too far wrong.

Networking – How does it actually work?

Business Communication Duplicate model

Last week’s blog post gave an introduction to networking. Today, we’ll look at how it works in more detail.

When I first joined network groups it seemed as if I had become a member of a secret society. There was a whole new language to be learned ‘One to One’, ‘Sixty Seconds’, the ‘Power Groups’- what did all these phrases mean? It became evident over time that some members of the group understood this coded language, while others did not. Those that didn’t ‘get’ the language ended up leaving the groups, disappointed.

My experience of helping to run network groups led me to understand the importance of explaining to new members that it would take an adjustment period of a few weeks before they would understand the way that things worked and the language involved. That they should invest this time before deciding whether they wanted to join or not. This would give them the opportunity to understand the relationships that we were cultivating in the group and how we went about building those relationships and the structures that are in place to reinforce those relationships over time.

As I mentioned in the last blog post, there are two pillars upon which networking is built – Trust and Confidence. Everything that happens in and around a network group is focused on developing those two elements so that networks can deliver what the members want for themselves.

A regular occurrence at a network is meeting is the so-called ‘Sixty Seconds’. This is where a member has the opportunity to stand up and introduce themselves to the group. They explain who they are, what they actually do in their business, who they would like to meet and the kind of business referrals that they are hoping to receive. There are essentially three parts to a Sixty Seconds presentation – who you are, what you do and who you want to meet. You need to deliver this message clearly at the business networking event, but also listen carefully when others are giving their presentations as this tells you precisely who they are and why they’re here. This is the foundation upon which you can build a relationship with them. The message that you deliver in your Sixty Seconds needs to be repeated again and again. There are reasons for this that I will explore in later posts.

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A ‘one to one’ is another key part of the networking process. These meetings are arranged by two members of the network for a time outside of the normal network meeting. This gives you an opportunity to learn about them in a very specific way that allows you both to grow a symbiotic relationship. This time, invested in this two-party relationship gives you time to build trust, as you both show up with a desire to help the other person. Through these meetings, you can build a vivid picture of what their ideal referral looks like, sometimes this is a straight forward process, but other times it is a little more complex and requires time so that you can establish how precisely this new network colleague provides benefit to their clients, what it is that their clients value most about them. When you know this, it is so much easier to choose the right person to refer to them.

Power groups or synergy groups are businesses and individuals whose activities have a natural affinity with one another. For example, a mortgage intermediary will have a natural relationship with accountants, solicitors, and auctioneers. They can pass business to each other every day of the week because they operate within the same area without competing with each other. To do so, they have to build a trust relationship and have trust in each other both as people and as skilled workers. Think of those businesses which are within your own area but with whom you do not compete, these are the contacts who may be able to provide you with a steady flow of referrals.

Sometimes the value of networking does not manifest itself in terms of the business it generates for you, but in the value that you can deliver to the people who you do business with every day, by helping them to solve their problems. In doing so, you create value for your clients which has absolutely nothing to do with the product or service you sell. You become a valuable resource which the client cannot do without. You become indispensable.

Regardless of what industry you are in, the principles of networking remain the same. The focus should be on the people involved and on building solid relationships. At the end of the day, we all do business with people, preferably people we know, understand and trust. Networking is the best framework I know of to build this type of relationship.

Networking – How to create value in the New Year!

We are in the early days of a New year, 365 new days laid out at our feet. Business is looking good, the world economy is – well, where it is, and planning for the year ahead is on many people’s minds. Where will we get business from this year, and beyond?

One of the areas mentioned in a previous post was Networking.

For some, the power of networking has proved elusive. I would like to explore some of the reasons that it may not work for some people. It is an amazing tool which people use every day of the week without even realising it. I have heard people say ‘networking doesn’t work for me’. Those who say this are not giving themselves the credit they deserve for the non-structured networking they do every day.

For example, when they need to get work carried out in their home or on their car or business, usually they will turn to a friend or colleague and ask for a name of someone who they trust to carry out this work. Simply asking ‘who did you get to do that?’ is networking. It is using another persons’ contacts to make a connection with someone else who they trust for their mutual benefit. That is what networking is about.  This simple concept addresses the question of how to get people to work with you to provide benefit to you and your business and those that you work with.

A lot of people try out networking but often let their efforts drop off because they don’t find that it’s working for them. Perhaps they had unrealistic expectations in the beginning, or perhaps they did not know what to expect. Networking requires a solid effort on behalf of each person, so we must consider what we need to put into networking as well as what we might get out of it.

Networking has been a fantastic tool in our business, it has also created significant growth in the number of strong relationships we enjoy with other business owners that have lasted the test of time. These relationships are reciprocal ones which benefit everyone involved. They have led to a great many interesting and productive discussions with colleagues and they have also led to lasting friendships.

Networking, which is built on the foundation of personal relationships, takes personal commitment – and time. Trust and confidence must be built between the parties before any referrals for business can be arranged. Networking requires homework, you need to think about who you might refer to another person, and whether these two parties will work well together.

I have seen on many occasions that a new member who joins a network last about two or three meetings. During this time, they buzz around full of enthusiasm, they collect cards and have conversations with people but then, suddenly, they’re gone. Perhaps they don’t have the time to put into nurturing their network. None of us can expect other business owners to put their full trust and reputation in the hands of someone who they have only just met. As small business owners, we understand how long it takes to gain the trust of our clients and customers, and so, we do not hand that over easily. As networkers, we must be prepared to invest first, to build relationships which will pay dividends over the longer term.

I recall somebody once likening the experience of calling to prospective clients to an old village water pump. You know the ones, they have a big long handle and you have to pump and pump and pump. Just when you think you might keel over from exhaustion you catch the faint gurgle of water in the pipe. You are almost there! But, if you stop pumping now the water will go right back to the bottom and all will be lost! If you stay at it just a little bit longer the water will flow and then it will only need a slow steady effort to maintain the flow, while you enjoy all the water you need. Networking is the same.

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Take your time with networking. Commit to meeting the other person and get to know them. Find out who they are and what they do, and what their existing reputation is. Let them know who you are, too. Let them know how you do what you do and what is important to you. Provide them with the opportunity to explore how good your reputation is. Trust and confidence are integral to networking, so both parties need to establish for themselves whether they can trust and have confidence in their new contact.

Do not fall into the trap of selling to the network. Networking is about building relationships with others. your network partners may choose to do business with you if they have a need. However, their primary function is to introduce you to others with whom you can do business while your partnership remains reciprocal. In a situation where you both sell to each other, the task at hand, networking, gets neglected. Although you may get some immediate business out of it, you will not succeed in building your network as you had set out to do.

When a person joins a network, they are bringing a whole host of people, with whom they have existing close relationships with, to the network. This group of people is trusted and respected by the new networker, sometimes they are some of their best customers, they are the people who sustain their livelihood. The day that the new networker introduces one of these cherished contacts to a member of their new network, they are exposing themselves to a risk. They are the one who has made the introduction, the one who has said to each party, this person is trustworthy, I recommend them. This can be a dangerous place to be if you do not trust each party completely.

The person that you have referred this contact to may not respect your relationship with the other person. They may damage it, and in doing so, damage your reputation among your own extended network. As we well know, negative news can spread like wildfire. Therefore, networking takes time, we need to build that Trust and Confidence over time to protect not only ourselves and our reputation, but our network of trusted contacts who are worth their weight in gold.

The benefit of networking is that you will get the quality referrals to quality clients that you are looking for. They will add value to you and your business and will deliver repeat business while widening your network. The Pareto Principle or the 80/20 rule means that we will get 80% of our business from 20% of our clients. We are all searching for those quality clients, the ones that fit into that 20%, and through networking, we can find them.

There are many established networks which you can explore, such as BNI, Venture, and the Chambers of Commerce in your local area. If you do not see that there is a business networking group established within your area talk to your Chamber of Commerce about building one. You could join the BNI initially, to see how they operate, and then build your own local network.

Does networking work? Yes, it does. But give yourself the chance to let it work for you. Invest time and effort into your network and watch it grow for the benefit of all.

Getting Out of Your Depth – Caution Advised!

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A long ago I learned to swim. I was 6 or 7 years old and my dad taught myself and my brothers to swim along the sandy beaches on Dublin’s north side. Once we had achieved a level of competency we were always told to swim parallel to the shore. But as part of our fun, inquisitively, we walked out to see just how far we could go while keeping our toes on the seabed without letting the water touch our chins. At this point, we were just about out of our depth. Then we swam along the beach as our dad had told us to.

The beach was never completely flat, as we assumed. Occasionally, when we stopped and tried to put our feet down, suddenly, the bottom wasn’t there. As novice swimmers, we had only two choices – use what we had learned to swim back towards shore, or panic. Panic was not an option, so we swam closer to the shore to where we could stand comfortably again.

Slowly, but surely, in our attempts to enjoy ourselves, we had done the one thing our parents had told us never to do – get out of our depth.

That lesson is an easy one to learn and sometimes when running a business, we swim too far and end up out of our depth without even knowing it.

It was alright as a child when swimming on the beach with our dad nearby to lift us up if we started to struggle. Instinctively, at that time, we would know what to do to ensure we got back to safe territory without delay. But, it’s not so simple when you’re running your own business. The temptation is always there to go a little bit further in pursuit of an opportunity.

Even though the surroundings might seem familiar, you are operating within your area of competency, but it’s easy to get out of your depth without realising it.

Perhaps your competency is being questioned, or your ability to deliver. As you are in charge everybody depends on your decision-making process, which creates huge levels of stress and fear.

The fear of failure can be paralysing. Indecision, loss of belief, fear of loss of respect…

That paralysis can also invade our personal lives. We don’t leave it in the office, it starts to follow us around when we go home on evenings and at weekends. We live in a world where admitting that we are out of our depth can often be very difficult to do. In business, we face the situation where a failure can be very public and humiliating which leads us to draw heavily upon our personal support structures.

Getting out of our depth in business, just as in the sea, poses very serious consequences. Consequences which we must face up to.

Swimming for the shore may seem, to the outside observer, like the obvious course of action. However, when we are caught up in a panic, we do not always choose this route. The route we do take can cause damage to our business, both in terms of revenue and the relationships we have built up over time. It can be career limiting.

Not being able to admit that such an issue is impacting on you can cause stress, high blood pressure, and other more serious health concerns. Really we ought to address the problem head-on; this is, of course, easier said than done.

The biggest impediment to solving a problem such as being out of your depth is the fear of losing face. Nobody wants to look bad, and so we struggle on, sure that we can patch things up somehow. This especially true when you have a team of people looking to you for guidance and leadership. It is not an easy place to be, especially when our own negative self-doubts try to sabotage our next move. Where do you turn to when you need support to get through these challenges?

This situation can be dangerous if you do not have a solid, reinforced support structure to lean on in times of doubt. But, we can’t expect to have a support structure in place if we haven’t taken the time to nurture one.

There are those who can support us within the work setting. For example, there may be someone with whom you can discuss your fears knowing that it won’t go any further. If you operate with a small team, identifying that one person who you can confide in and nurturing that relationship over time will pay off.

At home, discussing your concerns with your spouse or life partner can help to deepen your relationship. Although we tend to not want to worry our loved ones, keeping worries bottled up does not help. 9 times out of 10 they know that something is wrong anyway, so you might as well come clean!

Peer support is also hugely beneficial – whether that be your peers at work or outside it. Many of us know other business people who encounter similar problems to our own. Taking the leap to create a relationship where you can discuss concerns openly will benefit you both and create a solid friendship. But, peer relationships need not just be work ones. If there is something really bothering you, why not try to broach it with a friend from a completely different industry? They may not understand the intricacies of the situation, but they might provide a different insight you had never imagined.

We all get out of our depth from time to time. When we strive for growth, sometimes we overshoot the mark and end up in trouble.

It happens, we’re only human. But don’t let yourself drown for the sake of asking for a little help. Make building your support structure a priority. You can be there for them when they need it, and when it’s your turn, they’ll be there for you.