Look, I know it sounds weird and hard to believe, but I became a paramedic quite by accident. Obviously not the sort of “whoops, spilt the milk!” kind of accident. It wasn’t totally unforeseen. BUT it was never my intention to be a paramedic and I certainly never imagined I’d be looking back on a career in the ambulance service that spanned two decades of my life. The thing is, after coming out of the ambulance service, I had one overriding belief… That I wasn’t qualified to do anything BUT be a paramedic. You see, I left school with just a few GCEs (showing my age now…), I opted to go to work instead of to college or university, and, at the age of 19, I left home to move back to the UK and so my priority became being able to find a job that paid reasonably well so I could pay my rent. It’s taken me a few years to realise that that part of my life left me with many useful skills. So, here’s what being a paramedic taught me about running a business.
Not Your Emergency
In the town where I worked as a paramedic, there was one particular area where I hated having to respond to calls most. Not because it was an unpleasant part of town or anything like that. But this particular area was a series of parallel streets lined with houses and cars parked on both sides of the narrow road. So, whenever we got called to a property there, the only place we could stop our ambulance was right in the middle of the road.
I should also point out that these streets were one-way and they were loooong. It often happened that people turning into the road didn’t notice there was an ambulance parked blocking the way right until they were almost behind it, so once they reached that point, the only thing they could do was sit and wait.
Now, this isn’t really the time to tell you about the abuse we used to get from some of those people waiting for us to leave and clear the road. It’s also not the time to share the story of how one impatient driver decided to walk into the house where the ambulance crew were working on a very poorly patient and demanded to know when the ambulance would be moved out of the way. Although I do love sharing the story of how one person deemed it appropriate to climb into the cab of an ambulance and use the radio to call up the dispatchers to ask when the crew might be back so they could go and buy their fish and chips.
No. Instead, I want to focus on how I felt on returning to the ambulance to get the stretcher ready for our patient only to find a line of irate drivers sitting behind our roadblock and angrily giving me a variety of hand gestures, head shakes and mouthed insults that I, fortunately, couldn’t hear through their windscreens.
The way I felt was PANICKED. And so I would try to rush to get everything done as quickly as possible because surely their trip to the chippie was far more important than whatever it was I was doing, right?
Here’s The Lesson
Their lack of planning (i.e. looking further ahead down the road or leaving earlier to allow for any problems on their route) is not my emergency.
Let’s look at this through a business lens for a moment.
I’m sure you’ve all experienced something like this at least once in your life… An enquiry comes through and the person states they need to get their project started as soon as possible because their deadline is in a week or two weeks. At the consult, they impress upon you the urgency of their deadline and that they need to get going immediately. You’re excited because it’s been a bit of a dry spell and yay, money! But from the moment the client books in, they refuse to work through your process and simply demand what they need or want IMMEDIATELY.
I know I’ve had clients just like that. And, in a bid to people please, I totally got swept up in their panic and rushed the job I did for them. The result? An unhappy client because the work that’s been produced is not to the high standard they expect (even though they’re the ones who pressured you to get a rush on it in the first place).
Friends, there’s a way you can mitigate this situation.
Remember… Their LACK OF PLANNING is NOT YOUR EMERGENCY. And the red flag here is at the point of enquiry or the consultation.
There are three ways you can manage this effectively:
#1: Explain to them your process and that the deadline they’re demanding is unrealistic. Set the boundary from the start and manage their expectations as quickly as possible. Yes, they might choose not to book you in that case, but believe me when I say you don’t want to book that kind of client if they’re not going to honour and respect your boundaries.
#2: Agree to their short deadline FOR A FEE. Yes, you absolutely can charge a “rush fee” but make sure it’s worth your while, especially if you’re likely to end up working late or over the weekend to get it done in time. As before, if they choose not to book you then, that’s on them, not you. You can bet your butt they won’t find someone else to do the work for them without paying extra for it!
#3: Say no and politely refer them on or wish them luck with their endeavours. Again, a tough one if you’re already struggling with bookings/money but I promise you, the amount of energy and time you’ll spend trying to please this client will never be worth the income you’ve missed out on by turning this client away.
Look, I get it. When things go wrong in your business it can totally feel like the world is ending. I’ve been there. I’ve thought it.
Maybe you made a mistake that totally jeopardised the whole project for your client. Or maybe you’ve missed an important deadline. It could be that you missed an email from them and now you’ve just had three angry voicemails and a strongly worded new email from them demanding to know why they haven’t heard from you.
When you’re a small business owner, it can feel like the worst thing in the world to upset a client. You’re already picturing the terrible reviews they’re going to leave on Google and you can imagine the bad-mouthing they’re going to do about you to everyone they know.
Feeling that flush of shame?
Here’s the thing though… people make mistakes. None of us is perfect. But when all is said and done, did anybody actually die?
I know that might seem a bit flippant and blase, but as a former paramedic, I was in a unique situation where, in dealing with patients at their most stressful times in an emergency situation, it was entirely possible that one wrong move could actually result in the worst imaginable outcome.
I’m going to footnote that with the fact that I was fortunate enough never to have that happen to me BUT there were a few close calls!
I also got to see the inner workings of a coroner’s inquiry, where the professionalism and conduct of the paramedic who treated someone who’d died were called into question. I can tell you now, even though I wasn’t the one in the firing line, that was one of the scariest situations I’ve ever experienced and I wouldn’t wish that feeling on anyone.
So, when it comes to running your business, unless it’s providing some kind of adventure experience that absolutely COULD result in a horrible accident if you don’t do things properly (I’m guessing for most of you that’s a pretty slim chance), it’s worth remembering that little question when you’re feeling your absolute worst about the mistake you’ve made.
Did anybody die, though?
Juuust to put things in perspective, you understand. I don’t want to invalidate your feelings and it’s totally natural to feel like the worst human being in all of the world when you’ve made a mistake.
So work through those feelings, and when you’re ready to properly review what went wrong, take a minute, take a breath and then do whatever is necessary to apologise, fix the issue and move on. I promise you, it ultimately won’t be the end of the world, you will get past it and your client will be grateful that you admitted to it and dealt with it calmly and professionally.
Remember Doctor ABC
As a trainee paramedic, from the very beginning, DR ABC was drummed into us and repeated over and over again until it became a part of our very DNA. For those of you who have never done a basic first aid course, DR ABC is a simple acronym that helps us to cover the basics with every emergency situation we’re presented with. It stands for:
Simply put, it’s the first five things we should do, in order of priority, when we arrive on the scene of an emergency. It’s also the main fallback of any given situation when you’re struggling, feeling overwhelmed or simply don’t know what to do next. When in doubt, you always go back to basics and start again from the beginning.
This is a practice I use a LOT in the running of my business. Because it’s incredibly easy to become overwhelmed and unable to see the goal for all the giant list of tasks you have to get through to achieve it. When that happens, take a breath, grab a sheet of paper, dump all the thoughts down in your head and then start from the beginning.
Whether you’ve already worked your way through 90% of the tasks or you’ve just got started, going back to the top and re-reviewing everything is a great way to give yourself some headspace while you figure things out. It helps you see if there’s anything you’ve missed along the way, you can see if anything has changed so you need to readjust your plans and it also helps you to show everything you’ve done well and got right, giving you the confidence to keep pushing forward with your plans.
So, if you’ve got so lost under a mountain of tasks, admin and paperwork and can no longer see your office for the number of tasks you’ve got floating around in your head—stop. Take a breath. Go back to the start and work your way through it all over again.
You’re the Expert
Ok, I’m absolutely about to give away a piece of information here that might just terrify the average person. But hear me out before you hide under the bed never to come out again!
As a paramedic, there’s a phenomenon that happens whereby when you walk into an emergency situation, people immediately start to relax a bit because “the rescuers have arrived”. There’s that sense of ‘Phew, the lifesavers are here now, everything is going to be ok’, and that’s not just from members of the public. I remember a time when I was sent to someone who was giving birth. On the way, we were updated about the patient’s history and were immediately on edge because dealing with babies and potentially serious situations is scary stuff. All the way to the call we talked through every possibility and figured out how we would deal with them. By the time we arrived, the adrenalin was running at full blast and we stepped up to the front door bracing ourselves for the worst (this is the ambulance service way!). As the door opened, we were greeted by a friendly but anxious-looking midwife and we immediately breathed a sigh of relief. The experts were here, it was all going to be ok. At which point the midwife said, ‘Oh, thank goodness you’re here!’
The point I’m wanting to make here is that, despite the uniform, despite our experience and training, there are definitely situations we’ve all been in where it feels like we don’t have a clue what we’re doing.
And that sentiment is true of running your business, too.
Here’s The Lesson
You might well be a wedding photographer, web designer, business coach or some other kind of expert with lots of years of experience behind you. But there always comes a time when you’ll be faced with something new that you’ll need to figure out. The thing is, the people looking to you for your expertise don’t need to know that.
Yes, this is a kind of “fake it til you make it” situation, although you’re not really faking it, because you DO know what you’re doing, even if you’re not 100% sure right at that very moment.
Ultimately, it comes down to remembering that, while you might not be the MOST EXPERT at a particular skill or the MOST KNOWLEDGEABLE person on the planet about a new service you’re offering, you are the expert as far as your client is concerned. Because you definitely know more than they do and that’s why they’re looking to you to help them!