We all have experienced the high highs and the very low lows of having our own businesses. The ups and downs of business ownership are, much like a carnival ride—that exhilarating anticipation of the steady climb, the unexpected dips and turns that leave us shaking and sweating, and that sense of relief when we reach those calming last moments, realizing we are safe after all.
I started my own business, a marketing consultancy specializing in start-ups and transformations, about three years ago. I realize that I am, in some respects, still on the “kid’s coaster.” I make a point of talking to other women business owners who have been on the ride for much longer than I have and have risked more in getting there. Every woman I talk to, however, confesses to living through those moments when she is tempted to “get off the ride or get out of the park completely.” Owning one’s own business is not for the faint of heart.
So, how do you learn to enjoy the ride and stay calm through those especially terrifying plunges?
The sources of anxiety for any business owner seem to be universal. Unanticipated competitive threats, financial or staffing issues, massive downturns in business driven by inability to source new customers and keep current ones, and family or life pressures all can contribute to an owner’s “mood swings.”
Looking at the above list, business owners need to separate the controllable factors from those that creep up on them unexpectedly. A solid business plan, a group of trusted advisors you can turn to in good times and bad, and an outlet for your day-to-day anxieties (be they professional or personal) are all necessities.
Here are just a few principles that can help you enjoy a smoother ride:
Have a sense of future purpose—and past history. Develop a solid plan for where you’re going. When you feel like you’re not getting there fast enough, remind yourself of all those things you’ve been able to accomplish in the past. Reflect on those tough times—both personal and professional—that you’ve been able to survive through creative solutions and inner strength.
Keep your plan alive. Once a month, review all the successes and challenges from the past month and market forces that are having an impact on your business. Develop specific goals for the following month, based on that knowledge. Make sure you are factoring in any positive and negative feedback you receive from customers. Ensure you are balancing the good, the bad, and the ugly in reviewing your progress. You may be amazed at how many positive things can happen over 30 days. This process is especially important for small businesses, privately-held companies and solo-preneurships, where you may not have a board or investors to report to.
Don’t panic or fall into inertia. You need to be clearheaded, strategic, focused, calm, and positive to solve business problems. Analyze what has been going on in your business or in the market that’s thrown your progress of course. Simply rehashing your current state or falling into despair are not productive activities.
Avoid “toxic people.” When you know that your business—and self—are struggling, the last thing you need is a “doom and gloom” colleague to contribute to the anxiety. Surround yourself with people who are realists, but can work with you to make positive changes.
Seek out inspiration. Listening to stories from business owners who have overcome significant odds or recovered from huge challenges helps you realize that others have faced and survived the types of issues you’re tackling. Professional conferences, networking events, and other industry and social gatherings are great sources for new ideas.
Walk away for a little while. I am not suggesting that you simply abandon your business, but you can often problem-solve better when you are not burdened by day-to-day responsibilities. Schedule a day when you have no meetings, no significant obligations, and no tactical distractions. Use that time to problem-solve.
Get—and stay—in balance. Eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep, and making time for friends and fun all can elevate your mood. Schedule regular mindclearing activities much the way you schedule business meetings. Resist the urge to cancel them when life gets hectic. Even a half an hour at the gym, contemplating your goals and getting those endorphins flowing, can be time well spent.
Most important, remember that all businesses and business owners have been on that rollercoaster. If you are truly not comfortable with the ups and downs, business ownership may not be the right path for you. Be honest with yourself and your tolerance for the low points, twists, and turns.
With time, many business leaders learn to thoroughly enjoy the ride. In fact, they seek out even more thrilling challenges.
By Nancy A. Shenker, a NAWBO member and Founder and Principal of the ONswitch a New York-based marketing consultancy, specializing in startups and businesses in a critical growth phase. The company’s proprietary process revolves around the four key phases of business-building: Imagine, Focus, Buzz and Profit.
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