The risk of putting your head in the sand

man with his head in the sand

Have you ever buried your head in the sand in an attempt to ignore a problem or evade an angry client? We’ve all tried it. But does it ever work?

Contrary to popular belief, ostriches don’t actually hide their heads in bushes or the sand, although they do sometimes lie on the ground to make themselves inconspicuous. However, the saying still carries a lot of meaning.

When we make a mistake or are faced with a challenge, conflict or unpleasant situation, our first instinct is often to put our head in the sand and hope the problem either goes away or magically fixes itself.

For example, I’ve recently been helping a client who has accumulated over $100,000 in credit card debt. When the cards were maxed out this client’s ‘plan of attack’ was to stop taking calls from the various banks. This wasn’t a solution – it just got the banks even more offside.

I am now negotiating a debt reduction arrangement with these companies and liquidating what assets the client has to pay these debts off once and for all. This client has learned the hard way that putting your head in the sand simply makes problems worse rather than better.

When things are not going smoothly in business, the worst thing you can do is to shut the office door and pretend all is well. You need to face the challenge and form a strategy for navigating your way through the storm.

Here are some hints to making the best of an ugly situation:

1. Communicate

If for some reason you can’t meet your customers’ expectations within the promised timeframe, let them know! Most customers and clients are reasonable people who understand that things don’t always go according to plan. Do not stick your head in the sand, dodge phone calls and ignore emails, because that will only create new problems.

2. Communicate more!

Send follow-up e-mails and make regular phone calls to keep customers in the loop as to where the project or delivery is up to.

3. Don’t put all your ostrich eggs in one basket

If you only have one major client, your small business is very vulnerable to changes in your industry. Pretending that nothing could happen to your business is simply asking for trouble. Instead of putting your head in the sand, have several sources of income, so if a client decides to try something new you still have work coming in.

4. Don’t take it personally

A client can engage whomever they like, so however frustrating it might be when you lose a great client, don’t try to just pretend it did not happen – instead try to let it go. Sometimes clients and potential clients behave unprofessionally by delaying payments, ignoring e-mails, or even lying and cheating.

It’s not personal; they’re probably burning bridges every day or experiencing difficult circumstances themselves. It’s not your problem, so don’t lose sleep over it. But if you’re consistently losing sales or running into ‘bad people’, it might be a sign you should change something about yourself or the way you’re doing business.

5. It’s OK to say “no”

There are some clients who are not worthy of your business. I have ‘sacked’ clients before that were excessively rude or difficult. Instead of burying my head in the sand and hoping they would become better clients, I freed up my time to go after ideal clients who bring out the best in my staff and me.

6. Manage your time

As a business owner, the easiest thing in the world is to spend all your waking hours at work, but this may not be the best use of your time. Make reasonable demands of yourself and reward yourself for sticking to them. Being your own boss requires discipline – discipline to work hard and also discipline to maintain your personal life.

7. Get help if you need it.

Working by yourself can be very lonely. Meet with other like-minded business people. Find a peer group of others working in your field that will inspire you, help you deal with any doubts you might have and help you navigate the challenges of running your own business or ‘flock’.

So, since we now know that ostriches don’t actually bury their heads in the sand, maybe we should stop doing this and adapt one of their true behaviours, like frolicking with other ostriches in the flock!

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done to ignore a problem or avoid a client? Be honest!