My Favorite Business Books: The Four Agreements

September 7, 2023

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz is not one of your typical “business” books that most business owners would recommend. It’s more of a self-help book, but I’ve found that really taking its message to heart has helped me become more confident and a better communicator in business.

I first read The Four Agreements in the summer of 2020, in the midst of so much turmoil—the pandemic, the George Floyd protests (I was living just outside of Minneapolis), and on a personal note, postponing my July 2020 wedding. Lucky Bee had only been around for a year and a half at that point, and I had a few clients in industries that were most negatively affected by everything (for example, travel). My anxiety was obviously near an all-time high.

Now, to back up a bit, when I started Lucky Bee I really went into it blazing hot. During my first year, I was working overtime every single week, and that didn’t leave me much time to work on any foundational pieces of my business. I was also pretty young (24) and hadn’t really ever set boundaries before in my life. Eventually, because I didn’t set boundaries with work or clients, my health really started going downhill.

That’s when I hired a business coach, Val Marlene Creative, at the end of my first year. She helped show me that my life didn’t have to be chaotic just because I was running a business. I didn’t have to people please and my health didn’t have to suffer. I could run a successful business while also taking care of myself.

So when I picked up The Four Agreements, I was a few months into this life-changing mindset that boundaries and taking care of yourself can help make your life and relationships better. But I needed these principles to really appreciate and understand that.

The First of the Four Agreements: Be Impeccable with Your Word

On the inside cover of the copy of my book, Miguel Ruiz describes this principle as, “Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.”

Now, when I was a recovering people pleaser, all I wanted to say is, “yes, I can do that.”

I wanted everyone to be happy and to love me and love my work. But the thing is, I was often agreeing to more work than I knew I could handle. So when I was saying “yes” to a project when my gut was screaming “no”—whether it was due to time constraints, or I just didn’t enjoy that type of work—I was breaking this agreement.

In these two particular examples, this came back and hurt both me and my clients. If I was overpromising a delivery of a project, I would often resent agreeing to take on the work when I was finishing it at 1 a.m. Or my stress levels would climb to a level ten because I realized I might have to deliver that project late, or push back another deadline that I had promised to someone else. Overpromising always felt like dominoes being pushed over all around me. I wasn’t in control of my business in this state.

If I didn’t actually enjoy the work, that was damaging, too. When we’re starting out our businesses we might feel like we need to take on any work that comes our way, and sometimes, financially you need to do this to keep you afloat. But if financials are stable, it’s really not fair to either you or the other client to do this. Think about it: I wouldn’t want to hire someone who wasn’t crazy passionate about their product/service. So why would you offer that to others?

One of my favorite business moves that year was cutting back on my services to only include ones that I LOVE. That’s the beauty of being a business owner—you don’t have to do boring marketing services just because you would at a corporate job. You can get really good at the ones you enjoy.

Learning this agreement helped me step into my power of saying, “no.” It helped me step out of people pleasing mode. And this was healthy for me, my business, and my clients all around.

The Second of the Four Agreements: Don’t Take Anything Personally

This agreement is described as, “Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”

I’m sensitive. I’ve known that my entire life. So this one has always been the hardest for me to accept.

Sometimes, we have business experiences where someone oversteps, or says or does something that you might interpret as rude/out-of-bounds/unkind.

A great example of this is ghosting. I’ve had potential clients book inquiry calls and then not show up for the call. It’s not uncommon in this industry.

Now, is this behavior rude and inconsiderate of my time? Yes. But at the end of the day I don’t know what this person is going through. I have no idea if they have social anxiety, or if they’re struggling with depression, or if they suddenly needed to take a family member to the doctor and spaced. All I know is that this person didn’t book a call and not show up to be rude to me. It wasn’t personal.

I think it’s always good practice to assume the best in people, and in business this is important, too. This involves not reading too much into choices that your clients make. You don’t know their life experience.

The Third of the Four Agreements: Don’t Make Assumptions

“Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.”

Rewinding back to before I had boundaries or a general onboarding process, for that matter, my clients had to assume how they should communicate with me when they started working with me.

All of my clients interpreted this differently; whether that was calling me out of the blue, texting me late at night, sending me emails and expecting an immediate response, or sending me messages with work-related things on Instagram. They all did what they knew was ok to do, based on their own life experiences.

Going back to being a people pleaser, I thought it was best for clients to have access to me 24/7 in order to be a good business owner. But eventually this was so hard for my brain to manage. When I would go to create a piece of marketing material for a client, I couldn’t remember if that person had texted, emailed, slacked, or DM’d me that information. When I would be trying to wind down for bed after a long day, a quick 10 p.m. text or email from a client could send me into a spiral because my stress levels were truly so high.

The problem with all of this was that I didn’t communicate clearly with my clients how and when they could reach me. I had assumed that they knew, but they didn’t. I didn’t have set office hours, so how would they know when they would hear back from me? I didn’t tell them to stop doing things, so how would they know that certain things were causing me that much stress and confusion?

Instead of assuming that new clients would know how to communicate with me, I created a welcome guide that outlined how was best to work on our project together (for example, email). I also added my office hours into my signature of my email, with a note that my standard response time is 24 hours. This all helped relieve the pressure that I don’t need to email/text/call back immediately during non-working hours.

For existing clients, I kindly explained why our ways of communicating weren’t effective anymore. If they needed to text me at 9 p.m., that was fine with me, but I wouldn’t respond until the following business day. Was this conversation uncomfortable at first? Yes! The last thing I wanted was to make them feel badly about it all—but I had never been communicated clearly with them, so how could they know?

At the end of the day, communicating clearly made my relationships with these clients so much stronger because of the honesty and trust that it established. Don’t assume that your clients know how to work on projects together! You need to be the one to take charge.

The Fourth of the Four Agreements: Always Do Your Best

“Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.”

Notice how this agreement says your best will vary from time to time? That’s business! There are weeks when you have more bandwidth for more projects. Then there are times when you realize you need to cancel something because you can’t give your best.

Doing your best also means setting yourself up for success—AKA not self-sabotaging. Sometimes doing your best means that you do need to stay up late to finish a project, because if you don’t, the stress will eat you alive or you’ll keep procrastinating it. Sometimes doing your best means you need to take a rest day because your nervous system is out of whack, and you can’t focus, anyways.

I think as long as you’re communicating with others and being honest about what you can give, that’s all that matters.

These are all my interpretations of how The Four Agreements has helped me become a better business owner. I encourage you to read it to see how it can help improve relationships with yourself, your business, and your clients during your business journey! If you end up reading it, feel free to DM me on Instagram and tell me your thoughts. I would love to hear your opinion!

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