It is easy to become discouraged when your business slacks off, the phone doesn't ring and customers are few. And if you compound that with an abundance of depressing business news of layoffs and bankruptcies, it is easy to be fearful of the future. Most entrepreneurs face fear, discouragement and what may seem to be insurmountable problems sometime during their career. Recently I had a chance to hear first hand how some successful business owners overcame such trying times.
This past week I served on a committee as a judge to review candidates for the Sarasota-Florida-Small-Business-of-the-Year Award. One of the criteria we looked at was how did these owners handle major problems or setbacks during the formative years of their businesses. The problems ranged from running out of money to being unable to obtain inventory. Here is a review of the comments these successful entrepreneurs offered in their struggle to overcome calamity.
1. Without exception the candidates told us that their business plan was invaluable to their success. They pointed out that when you had invested your savings or borrowed heavily to start your business it might be difficult to remain calm and objective if you thought your world was falling apart. Under such pressure, it was easy to lose sight of your goals and allow the latest problem to mushroom in your mind. They stated that to survive the tough times you needed to develop realistic strategies and expectations, and a well thought out business plan was one way to combat any sense of failure.
2. No one suggested a wait-and-see attitude or hoping for some miracle to solve their problems. They may happen, but they're not under your control or schedule.
3. One candidate stressed planning for problems, offering these questions to ponder: Do you have any kind of backup position? How much of a loss can you weather and stay in business? She told us if you knew you could survive, the knowledge would do wonders for your sense of security.
4. A candidate who had a business failure in his past told us how foolish it was to fall for pie in the sky planning based on wishful thinking. Your business plans must be real. For example, if you are projecting a million dollars in sales, can you identify where it is coming from? Your plans will be more realistic if you can be specific as to how you are going to get to your goal. Fuzzy thinking can be costly.
5. High on the list of suggestions was cash and the importance of forecasting your cash needs. Plan for a surplus or shortage. Don't leave your cash situation to chance. Once you begin chasing dollars to cover overdrafts it's tough to feel confident.
6. A bubbly, brand new entrepreneur always establishes target dates to complete projects or tasks, citing that firm dates help to build discipline.
7. All agreed that it was important to put your plans in writing. Granted it takes time, however a new business has little margin of error and your plans must make sense. They must be real not fantasy.
8. To-do lists. Lots of to-do lists. When, you are keeping many balls in the air, it is easy to forget one. A favorite of all.
9. One candidate with a degree in psychology suggested taking some quiet time at least once a week to reflect on your progress. As any therapist will tell you, our creative juices flow best when we are quiet. It is during such times that answers to some of our problems emerge. Work at reducing your anxieties – tension can be counter-productive.
10. The owner of a three-year-old business believed in reviewing his progress (or lack of it) vs. his plans. We agree. Circumstances surrounding your business may have changed. Your business plan may need modification. An effective plan is flexible.
11. Self evaluation was a strategy offered by a candidate who had experienced many ups and downs with his business. He suggested you ask yourself these questions: Are you still enthused? Do you still believe in your goals? If you wonder, have doubts, or have lost your zest for your business – stop – you need to carefully look at how you are managing your business and yourself.