The other day Brandon Steiner, the founder and chairman of Steiner Sports Marketing (the nation’s largest seller of sports collectibles) told a room full of entrepreneurs and small business advocates that, despite the recession, if you own or want to start a business, it’s “a good time to take a risk.” Does that statement fill you with fear or are you vigorously nodding your head in agreement? In the old pre-politically correct days, I would often ask, “Are you a man or a mouse?” But today what I want to know instead is, Are you a mouse … or are you a lion?
The idea for this column came last week when my editor at AllBusiness.com and I were discussing how entrepreneurs have to be very aggressive these days just to survive. While there are several words often associated with entrepreneurship — risk, creativity, innovation — you don’t generally hear successful entrepreneurs attribute their success to being “aggressive.” Yet, if you really think about it, aggression is the key to many a successful business.
I recently attended the second annual Small Business Leadership Summit, where Chad Moutray, chief economist for the SBA Office of Advocacy, shared the sobering news that not only are we officially in a recession, but “consumer confidence is at an all-time low, the public is frightened and pessimistic, small business owners are anxious and not planning to expand, and small business lending is down.” Moutray added that this year alone we have lost 1.9 million jobs in this country. (Another economist, Ray Keating from the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, has said that, according to the U.S. Household Survey, the private sector has actually shed 2.4 million jobs this year.)
A mouse would listen to these facts and scurry for cover to wait out this economic tornado. But a lion would shake off all the negativity and set out to reinforce the notion they’re still king of the jungle. Look up the word “aggressive” (I went to dictionary.com) and ignore the first definition (“prone to unprovoked attacks”). Instead, take a look at the other definitions of aggressive: making an all-out effort to win or succeed, competitive and vigorously energetic. Don’t those sound like the characteristics of a successful entrepreneur?
If you’re reading this column and are a regular visitor to AllBusiness.com, I’m going to assume you’re one of the lions. So I’m going to throw you some red meat. Moutray and Keating both said that, as in past recessions, it is assumed – actually, it is expected — that small business owners will lead us out of the current economic downturn. That means you. How are you going to do that? If there’s indeed a crisis of confidence in America, then we have to start doing our part. Instead of wallowing in fear or anxiety, entrepreneurs need to be looking for the bright spots (there are some) and act on them.
Andrew Sherman, an entrepreneurial thought leader and author of the new book, Road Rules: Be the Truck, Not the Squirrel, forecasts that the economic recovery will begin in the fall of 2009. He also advises all entrepreneurs to at least think about tweaking their business models. Sherman acknowledges there are many obstacles in our paths, but only some of them are real. And that’s the key: many of the problems we face are ones that stem from this crisis of confidence. In other words, they’re perceived obstacles, not concrete ones. And smart entrepreneurs will take the time now to look at the obstacles they believe are blocking their growth, identify the real challenges, discard the perceived ones, and then come up with sustainable solutions. In other words, you need to aggressively attack the barriers in your path.
There are a lot of ways to do this. It’s an exercise, so don’t hold back. Nothing is sacred. Look at pricing structures, marketing targets, spending habits, even your phone system. Everything is negotiable now, so ask for a deal before you spend a dime. Make it an inclusive process — ask your employees for their ideas and suggestions. Be creative. Brandon Steiner’s company has made over $1 million this year selling dirt. Yes, dirt. That dirt was collected from the field at the soon-to-be torn-down Yankee Stadium, but still, Steiner is rolling in his “dirty money.”
Look again at the dictionary definition of aggressive. In this case, the meek will NOT inherit the earth. I believe those who survive 2009 will be poised for success in 2010. But you’re not going to make it through this year by sitting in a corner with the rest of the mice. It’s time to make that all-out effort to win. Lions are competitive creatures that vigorously defend their turf. There’s no question lions are aggressive, but that’s why they are the king of the jungle.
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