6 Ways to Handle Rejection As A Small Business Owner

Being rejected can be difficult to navigate. But don’t let it reframe how you view yourself or your business.

Photo by Bethany Legg on Unsplash

Let’s face it. The beginning stages of starting a business are never comfortable. You’re spending a lot of time and resources on your little business — time and money you probably don’t have. You’re really putting yourself out there, whether you’re cold calling or begging your social media followers to use your services or even making your own YouTube ads.

You’ve never felt so vulnerable or raw or exposed in your life.

And then the rejections start rolling in.

And it hurts.

It’s like these people know all your deepest insecurities and they’re poking at them with their critical comments.

This week I experienced a pretty nasty rejection.

Let’s back up a little. I recently started a branding business. I have an educational background in advertising and have been in social media positions for a few years now. I’ve been itching to start something of my own. And I finally settled on a branding business, specifically for small businesses on Instagram.

It’s still very small. I don’t have a name or website or an Instagram account for it. But I do have 1.5 clients. And I made $200 last month. So that’s something.

But right now I’ve been hustling to get more clients. It’s definitely not a comfortable experience.

I’ve been searching through my connections on Instagram trying to find businesses that I genuinely feel I could help.

Once I find someone that I think could be a good fit, I sit for hours creating a pitch deck specifically tailored to the content they are already posting. It is basically a screenshot of what their newsfeed grid could look like if we worked together.

I pick a color palette that best matches their current colors (but is still aesthetically pleasing and makes sense from a graphic design standpoint.) I create graphics, find quotes, add in their own images. I usually create 9–12 Instagram posts for this pitch deck.

Once I’m satisfied with my work, I make my pitch. I explain that I like their content and wonder if they have a team helping them. I show them what I imagine for their account and what I can do for them if they like my style. I slide into their dm’s with my offer and throw my phone away. Terrified of their response.

It’s a cold approach, for sure. Likely not the most effective. But with my resources, it’s what makes sense right now.

Most people just ignore me.

That’s cool. No hurt feelings.

Some people say they like my work, but it doesn’t make sense for them financially right now.

That’s cool, too.

I had one person interested in my services, but when they couldn’t talk my prices down, they suddenly were completely satisfied with their content and didn’t want any help.

Weird, but still cool.

This week was a whole new rejection.

I made my regular pitch, but for two accounts at once. I noticed that an account centered on supporting women business owners followed me. I liked their message but their aesthetics could use some help.

Their intent was good and I’m a big fan of supporting women. I liked their message and their captions. So I made a pitch deck for this account and the founder’s account — who was also trying to create a personal brand.

Let’s just say, it did not go well.

I spent a really long time on my pitch and was pretty proud of the work I had done.

The founder was not.

She was actually quite offended. Which caught me off guard.

She didn’t ignore me.

She didn’t say “No, thanks.”

She didn’t ask for more information and then say, “No, thanks.”

This person recorded a voice message and sent it to me. And it was not a happy one.

Her message was pretty condescending and poked at my business skills, which I thought was ironic coming from an account claiming to support women in business.

When I didn’t respond to her voice message, she sent me another message. Then she made a long post about my pitch to her on her Instagram account.

I think I struck a nerve.

Overall. It was a very uncomfortable, very gut-wrenching, very scary rejection for me.

I didn’t care that she didn’t want to work with me. That was no big deal.

But her passion behind her anger was frightening. What would she do next? Even though we’re on different sides of the country, she scared me.

I was so embarrassed by her response that I just wanted to hide away forever. The doubts and insecurities started swirling around me.

Am I rude?

Should I stop doing this?

Do people not want beautiful Instagram feeds?

Am I being arrogant for thinking I could help small businesses grow on Instagram?

Do I really have enough experience to help people?

The shame sparked from this rejection was real. My heart was pounding. My hands were shaking. My throat locked up. And I could feel a panic attack coming on.

Have you felt like this?

Has rejection caused an intense physical response in you?

If so, here’s what you do:

1: Stop

Whatever you do, don’t respond to your rejector while feeling this way. You’ll likely say something you regret.

2: Breathe

Take deep breaths. Breathing deeply helps us flip our body’s switch from “fight or flight” to “rest and digest.” This will help your body begin to calm down and let you think clearly.

3: What Does This Say About The Other Person?

When people are mean to us, they’re often acting out their insecurities. This doesn’t mean we should let them be mean to us. But this can give you some perspective as you try to navigate their response. The goal here is to not internalize their mean comments or rewrite what you think about yourself.

For this woman with the voice message, I really think she felt insecure about something. My guess is her Instagram feed, because I offered to help her with it. Her heightened emotional response, no matter how scary it was to me, was a big sign that my offer sparked some big, uncomfortable feelings in her.

If she really thought I was incompetent, she wouldn’t have responded. Or simply said, “No, thanks.”

But she felt the need to defend herself by attacking me. Clearly there was something deeper going on here.

4: Feel the Feelings

This part is hard, but you can’t just stuff your feelings down. Take a moment to acknowledge how this rejection made you feel. Sit with your feelings now so they don’t come up again later.

With this rejection, I layed on my bed with my hands on my heart and tried to listen to my body and my feelings.

The biggest thing I felt from her rejection was fear. I couldn’t believe how over-the-top her reaction was. I felt like I was physically in danger. And that scared me.

5: Find A Healthy Outlet

With rejection, you’ve got to find some way to “shake it off.” This could be going for a run. Screaming into a pillow. Meditating. Making art. Crying. Having an angry dance party. Whatever!

Avoid projecting your feelings onto others by yelling at your kids or cutting people off in traffic. Don’t stuff your face with sugary or fatty foods. The key is to find a healthy way to shake off your feelings.

I did a lot of things to shake off these feelings.

First, I needed an outpouring of love. So I went on Instagram and showered other women business owners with love. I never wanted anyone to feel like this. I commented with my appreciation for their posts. I bought their merchandise. I liked their photos. Anything I could do to lift them up. This continued for the next few days whenever I remembered the sting of this rejection.

Later, still overwhelmed, I did a dance party with my kids. I was very rigid, but towards the end I was able to loosen up some more.

Then, I layed in my bed and put my hands on my heart and focused on my breathing. I spent some time journaling about the experience, too.

Some rejections are easier to shake than others. Just acknowledge what you need to work through it and do it. You’ve got this!

6 : What Can You Learn From This?

I’ll definitely be changing my pitch moving forward. Not because I think I was wrong or rude. I wasn’t. And not because that woman’s accusations were valid. They definitely weren’t.

But, moving forward I want to emphasize my intent to help my clients. And I want to be more clear that this needs to be a good fit for both of us.

Clearly working with this woman was not a good fit. For either of us.

So when rejection comes, are there things you can learn from it? Don’t internalize the hurt. Don’t rewrite how you feel about yourself in a negative light. But find ways this rejection can help you improve and grow.

Conclusion: Rejection Is Tough, But So Are You

Being rejected can be difficult to navigate. But don’t let it reframe how you view yourself or your business. Work through your feelings and come back strong.

If overcoming rejection still feels challenging for you, try reading biographies of successful business owners to help inspire you on this journey. I also highly recommend reading anything by Brené Brown. She is a shame and vulnerability researcher and storyteller. She has lots of good insight to help you on your journey.

Keep up the good work. You’ve got this!

If you enjoyed this article by Brindisi Olsen Bravo, you might also be interested in these:

6 Ways to Find and Cultivate Your Passion

7 Ways to Build Your Confidence

6 Small Changes That Will Spark Big Change In Your Life

Navigating adult life and writing about what I learn. My focuses are personal development, relationships, parenting, and writing.

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