5 Survival Tips for Entrepreneurs Hitting Rock Bottom
Most entrepreneurs have faced the terror of not knowing if their businesses would make it or not. And many of us have stories of how our dreams and passions were squelched by failure and uncertainty, and how we discovered ourselves at rock bottom. I certainly do.
When my co-founder (who became my husband) and I started in 2007 (not the best time, in retrospect, to be starting a business), people told us it would never work. It was too outside the box — too edgy, they said. No one would “get it,” much less buy it.
But, armed with passion and determination, we worked tirelessly to prove our naysayers wrong. And at first their negativity seemed to be reality: Within two years, we lost five properties, two cars, a motorcycle and all but four months' worth of our savings and living expenses. We had lackluster revenues and faced bankruptcy, a failed business, even homelessness. We were at rock bottom.
But, again, all entrepreneurs fail at some point (or several), and many, if not most, face the reality of what in retrospect seems like rock bottom. Getting through it and moving on is what separates those who succeed from those who give up. Here are four of my own top tips for getting past the toughest of times:
1: Develop a high pain tolerance.
Being an entrepreneur can hurt. Whether you’re scared to death, being constantly critiqued (from the inside and out), suffering sleepless nights, going without paychecks, sacrificing time with family or dealing with debt, you — all of us — face pain in multiple forms. But, as entrepreneurs, we don’t have the luxury of taking the time to whine about or try to change things. The best we can do is develop a high pain tolerance, remember the passion that brought us to where we are and make quick adjustments to improve the situation.
2: Take risks.
Entrepreneurs typically have a roomier comfort zone than others, but regardless of how big yours is (or isn’t), you’ve got to push beyond it. The safe road rarely leads to innovation and profundity.
Calculated risks, as opposed to reckless ones, are an important part of taking your business to the next level. Will you make mistakes and take risks that might not pay off? Of course. But without taking risks, you’re on the same path as everyone else, and that typically isn’t the formula for a successful entrepreneur. Is it scary to take risks? Absolutely. That’s why you need to re-read tip #1.
3: Stay positive.
Attitude is everything. It will get you — and your employees — through the most difficult of times. But, how do you stay positive when your world seems to be falling apart around you? Exercise . . . eat right . . . to your “happy place” . . . and when all else fails, fake it till you make it.
Our brains are so powerful that we can actually influence one mood by faking another. Don’t believe me? Laugh out loud as hysterically as you can (close the door if you’re shy) and see what happens. It doesn’t matter that nothing’s actually funny. It only matters that your brain hears you laugh.
Being an entrepreneur can be lonely. Family, friends and employees probably don’t understand the stress you face, and the least productive thing you can do is spend time whining about it. Unless you have an incredibly supportive network of friends and family, try to focus on everything that reminds you to be positive.
Think of the passion you have for your business, the reason you started it in the first place, the successes you’ve enjoyed and the goals you have. Write the good things down so you stay on track.
Attitudes are contagious, and people read other people far better than we give them credit for. Watch your body language, and subtleties like heavy sighs and eye-rolling. People feed off others’ energy; and you, your family and your employees will benefit immensely if you can stay positive through all of the ups and all of the downs.
4: Don’t be afraid to fail.
Finally, and perhaps most important, understand that it’s not only okay, but it’s actually important to fail. We may fear it — but as entrepreneurs, we need to fail and make mistakes so we can continue to learn and grow. As much as I strive to be flawless, I “learn and grow” all the time.
For instance, we hit a nice patch of growth and profitability a few years back and decided to jump on the bandwagon of fitness trackers, but ultimately fell flat on our faces. That hurt — badly — but we refocused on what made us great (and profitable) in the first place, developed some new and differentiated technologies to fulfill our clients’ worksite-wellness needs and recently posted our most profitable quarter in our company's history.
Did I freak out and think, “Oh, crap — what have we done?” Yes. In my head, I did — you had better believe it. But did I also let it consume me and define future decisions? Not a chance. Sometimes I learn a little from our failures. And sometimes I learn a lot. But my mindset remains consistent in either case.
5. Rise up, or give up.
Someone once said that an entrepreneur jumps off a cliff and builds the airplane on the way down. In order to stay ahead of the competition, you have to be innovative and willing to jump off that cliff, often more than once. When you can embrace the risks and failures a new business venture will surely bring, and allow yourself to learn from them instead of being paralyzed by fear and indecision, you’re ready to face (and rise up from) the depths of that much-feared rock bottom.
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