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October 15, 2021 5 min read

Photo by R.D. Smith on Unsplash

For me, 2021 has signalled two things.

  1. Ten years in the police
  2. Chronic illness forcing me to face the reality of my future law enforcement career (hint: there isn't one)

And after being punched and kicked in the face more times than I can count, as well as having a chunk bitten out of my pinkie finger, I've experienced a fair bit.

So I decided to share the many things I learned in the 5–0.

Mainly because I know these things are beneficial in entrepreneurship, small business and life in general.

So in honour of my ten years in the fuzz, here are five things I learnt in my time as a police officer that help entrepreneurs and small business owners.

1. Your clients might come in hot sometimes, but a little bit of empathy goes a long way

When you're in a customer service role, and yes, I class policing as a customer service role, it can be easy to get frustrated when customers are rude.

That's where empathy comes in handy for small business owners. It seems simple enough, but it took me years to understand this lesson out of all the things I have learnt from being a cop.

As you can imagine, I've seen some demanding customers in my time as a police officer.

And I've learnt it's always best to empathise with those customers.

Whether they're mad because:

  • A neighbour's alarm is going off,
  • They called the police 3 hours ago, and we had only just arrived, or;
  • You're arresting them for a domestic violence assault.

You have to remain calm and empathetic for your safety (and the safety of others).

As a small business owner, it's important to empathise with your customers.

If they're mad because of something you can't control, try and take the time to do what you can for them as fast as possible, so everyone feels better about the situation.

And then go above and beyond their expectations to leave a fantastic impression.

I am always over-generous — even if I have an initial reaction that makes me want to give an immediate refund. One question I ask myself time and time again is — what if this was me, and my mum just died?

It helps me empathise with even the rudest of customers, and then I usually learn that, yes, something in their life was spiralling out of control.

And that whatever miscommunication happened with my business to cause their frustration was just the icing on their out-of-control cake.

It had almost nothing to do with me, every time.

2. If in doubt, sleep on it

This is a motto that has saved me, time and time again, in the past ten years.

I've lived by it in my time as a cop.

If you're not sure about something, sleep on it and ask yourself what the right thing to do would be when you wake up.

For small business owners, this can apply to almost anything from demanding clients or employees to whether you should take any opportunity that comes your way.

It could also help with simple things like cracking a particular obscene joke to make a funny Instagram video!

But no matter how big or small it might seem at the time, always give yourself some buffer zone before making any decisions in case you change your mind later down the line.

3. Remember you're a part of a big machine that doesn't care about you

This is something I learnt pretty quickly at the police academy. We're all just one cog in a big machine that doesn't care about us as individuals, and it's important to remember that.

Sometimes, we start thinking too much of ourselves as small business owners because our clients keep coming back. Or a sale or Facebook Ad campaign worked well. Maybe we have a windfall that makes us feel on top of the world one day, but the next week, the dollars are barely trickling in.

So no matter how good your idea may be, always ask yourself if what you are doing fits your overall business strategy before jumping straight into the action!

If it does fit, then go ahead — but if not, sleep on it like I said earlier and make sure everything ties together within your business, team or company first before putting anything out there.

That's the best way to avoid getting churned up by the big machine — consumerism and be true to your brand and purpose.

4. Find your people and stick to them

I learned this one the hard way when I first joined the police.

And it's so crucial for small business owners too! Finding your people is all about finding those who will have your best interests at heart and who understands where you are coming from or what struggles you may be facing.

For me as a cop, these were my co-workers/superiors who had been through similar experiences as a chronic illness. Or they were genuinely interested in supporting me as a person and helping me get through legitimate barriers like sexism when seeking new career opportunities.

And that allowed us to empathise with each other more than our "healthy" counterparts could ever do.

For instance, one of my best friends today I initially met as my field tutor back in my first posting in 2011. We've both experienced severe chronic illness since then; our paths have wildly diverged, even interstate and to different police forces.

People say 'find your tribe'. I like the animal-themed version — find your pack.

The people who will tell you when you screw up and support you to get through it. Who care about you and your business because your brand goals align. And who have similar plans for the future.

Find them, grab them, don't let go.

5. Doors will open, step-through them and don't let them close behind you

It's important to remember that doors will open for small business owners, but they won't stay open forever unless we step through them. So while it's good to take opportunities when they come your way, always think of the big picture and where this next move will get you in a few years.

And if things aren't working out on the other side…well, at least you can say you tried!

I've seen so many cops who were eager beavers to go into positions that, it turned out, were attached to areas with awful, toxic cultures. Some of those cops burned their bridges on their way out and felt they couldn't return.

When you find out that the grass wasn't greener on the other side, that kind of disappointment can be soul-destroying.

This is a vital lesson for small business owners, too, especially if you're running your own company or have lots of employees depending on you!

In business, as you grow, don't burn your bridges. Don't be 'too big' to care about your smaller sized pack. Help others succeed with you, and always remember that you never know where another door will open.

So always ensure that when you open doors and step through them, it's in the right direction to where you want to go in life — not just what might seem like an easy path at first glance. And if you aren't sure, do it any way but stick a doorstop on that door so that you can step back through it.

Summing up

I hope these tips can be helpful for other people in any industry, really: artisans, hand-makers, electricians, winemakers, marketers, graphic designers, even stay-at-home parents.

We learn so many lessons about work/life balance from our jobs, which I feel should be shared more widely with everyone else because they could help us all out quite a bit!

The lessons I learned from being a police officer have been invaluable in my life and as a small business owner. Whether you're an entrepreneur or just someone with a side hustle, it's important to remember that every day is different and the only constant change!

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