I recently read an article that compared small business owners in today’s topsy-turvy economy to shipwreck survivors who are clinging to the wreckage of the ship. They keep hearing they’re going to be rescued very soon (when the government helps them or the economy picks up), and are doing everything they can to survive, but fear they can’t hold on much longer. Can you relate?
I’m a naturally optimistic person. But since I launched my business about 18 months ago, I feel less like the ever upbeat Pollyanna and more like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. When I’m channeling Hyde, I can see why business owners might feel like they’re holding on for dear life. But when I’m feeling more like the good Dr. Jekyll, I know it’s so important to actively take steps to keep your (and your employees’) spirits up.
This glass-is-half-full spirit comes more easily to some than it does to others. As one of those lucky folks, here’s what works for me:
Talk it out. Too many entrepreneurs try to shoulder the burden alone. That “I can tough it out attitude” is just not sustainable, particularly when we live in such challenging times. I’m fortunate in that I have three business partners who I see nearly every day. We have very different personalities (one of us is actually lovingly referred to as “the doom and gloomer”) but we all go through our ups and downs, both personal and professional. Luckily, we’re rarely all feeling down at the same time. So when the business bank account gets a bit too low for comfort, or that big prospect we were counting on says, “let’s wait a few months and see what happens,” and things seem discouraging, at least one of us feels OK and somehow manages to cheer the rest of us up and get us back on track.
If you don’t have partners, create a support network you can talk to and count on. This could be other entrepreneurs, trusted friends, or family members — anyone really, just as long as you trust them to listen and give you honest feedback and advice.
Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Relying on one big client, or one big prospect you’re hoping to land, has never been a smart strategy. But in this economy it’s downright suicidal. You need to diversify your efforts as much as possible, not just your current clients, but the clients you’re prospecting as well. For example, in addition to continually pitching new clients, my company is now diversifying into creating our own line of products, which will give us another income stream targeted to a completely different group of customers. Consider the different ways you can reach more people, how you can branch out without breaking the bank. The more feelers you have out for new business, the less stressed you’ll be when some of them inevitably don’t pan out.
Take some time out for yourself. Time is the scarcest commodity for business owners, but sometimes it’s what you need most to get back on track. If there is something that will refresh your spirit, do it. This is more a “do as I say, not as I do” piece of advice, since I am guilty of being a little too attached to my laptop. But a few weeks ago, after a long week of business travel, I was feeling derailed, discouraged, and just plain worn out. So instead of spending one more night slaving over a hot laptop, I took a few hours to go see the new movie Julie & Julia. It was just what I needed. The part of the movie that resonated with me was Julia Child’s perseverance after her book Mastering the Art of French Cooking was rejected by several publishers, despite years of work and several rewrites. Child overcame so many obstacles to write her groundbreaking cookbook, but she never let them get to her. When problems set in, she just picked up the pieces and went on. I left the theater feeling energized, inspired, and renewed. People who know me would laugh at the fact that Julia Child now serves as a source of inspiration for me, since cooking is something I never do. Sometimes inspiration comes from the strangest places.
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