One day, if we’re sitting down late at night over a good bottle of wine I will tell you about my dark days in business. Before the age of 30 I had made millions and lost it all … Twice!
Along the way (and even in the “good” times) I’ve had some pretty down days. I’ve had days where I was so on edge that I felt sick. Days where I wanted to run away. Days where I shouted abuse at my closest allies. Stuff I’m not proud of but stuff I’m sharing with you because in business it happens to most of us.
Right now I know a lot of people are doing it tough. Here’s what I have heard people say in the last week:
– “a key client isn’t paying me and it’s been 60 days”.
– “I’m not winning new business at the moment.”
– “I’m exhausted. I can’t seem to get motivated even though on paper I love my business”.
– “I stressed all the time.”
– “I’m doing mammoth hours, like all day and all night, but it’s not paying off.”
So I thought I would write about 7 of the ways I have gotten through my tough times.
1. Go for a walk – Every day, finish your day with a 20 minute walk around the block. If you can get to a park, take off your shoes and lay on the grass. Close your eyes and just breath for a few minutes. You can’t take the stress of your business into your home or else your family will worry and you will feel even more pressure. As hard as it is to accept when you are frustrated, you can’t make good decisions when you are fearful and angry. You need to lower the stress and then think. The decisions you will make when you are stressed will almost surely result in you throwing away the baby with the bathwater.
2. Go for a walk with Richard Branson – This is going to sound creepy but it actually works. First, write down all the big frustrations and questions that are running through your head on a sheet of paper. Next, get your business partner or a very trusted friend and go for a 30 minute walk with you. Pretend for the duration of that walk that you are Richard Branson and get your friend to ask you all the questions on the paper. They must begin each question with “Sir Richard…” and you must try as hard as you can to stay in character. It’s a weird exercise but you will be amazed at some of the brilliant ideas that come out of your mouth!
3. Get focussed on a single major goal – When you’re frustrated it’s normal to make massive lists of all the things you could be doing, should be doing, want to be doing, don’t want to be doing and aren’t doing. It’s overwhelming. Try to identify the one thing that matters in the next 90 days. If you absolutely MUST, narrow it down to three things but no more than that. When you can identify the one key thing that would make a big difference, push everything aside until it’s done. It might be “land a client who’s retainer covers my bills” or “launch a product” or “deliver the project and get paid”. Get clear on that important one thing and then focus on it like a hawk.
4. Do regular face to face sales appointments – So many small businesses get in trouble because they stop doing regular sales appointments. They get busy delivering a project, they are focused on developing a product, they are building some fan-dangle lead capture web site… But they aren’t doing sales appointments. Sales appointments are to a small business what exercising is to an athlete; it’s got to be part of a daily routine and it never ends. Stop trying to make sales appointments easy, you aren’t going to automate them any time soon if you’re in survival mode. They are what they are; some are easy, some are tough. Get on with them. Set appointments, take a brochure with you, take a sales form, rehearse your presentation, deliver it in style and ask for the business. Get on with it.
5. Stop reading the news paper – Nothing in the news paper is going to make you feel better. Do you really need to know that the GDP is down? Do you really need to know that another business has gone bust? Do you really need to know that record numbers of people are unemployed? If you read the paper, that’s what you will see. On the flip side, you won’t hear about the new opportunities that are emerging, the business that is growing steadily, the people that are hiring. The stinking news papers in this country could care less about good news. They want to sell papers and the stuff that sells is negative crap. Don’t buy into it. If you are on the tube don’t read the paper, just sit quietly and let your mind tick over. If you are at a coffee shop don’t read the news, just let your mind relax and churn. Don’t react to it, just let it unwind.
6. Put your prices up – Yikes! you read that correctly. Most small businesses get into trouble because they are charging too little. I guarantee you, you can’t make money from small sales… Go out and try to make a sale for a higher price. A 5% increase in price can add 20% to the bottom line in some businesses. To sell at a higher price, get clearer about the problem you solve and how you solve it better than others. Don’t assume your customers have really thought through the implications of your solution. Explain to them in detail the long term advantages and benefits you can bring.
7. Talk to other entrepreneurs – Very few people can understand what it’s like being in business. Unless you are talking to other entrepreneurs you tend to get looks of horror, shock or just glazed over eyes when you talk about your problems. I guess it’s the same for doctors, lawyers, athletes and people in the military. Certain things can only be understood by others who have been through the same. It’s vital that you have a few friends who have been through more than you have. If you have £100k revenue, you need a friend who’s got £1m. If you have £1m in revenue, you need some friends who’ve got £10m in revenue. When you talk to people who are turning over ten times your business and have been where you have been, it’s easy for them to give you perspective.
Business can be hard. Entrepreneurship is like a spiritual journey in the sense that it gets you to constantly examine yourself. It pushes your buttons, it often gives you highs and lows in rapid succession. Don’t give in. Just know that good times don’t last forever and neither do bad times.
Keep it in perspective. At the risk of sounding trite, even on days that we are doing it tough, it’s nothing compared to the 1Billion fellow human beings struggling for their lives in Africa, India and Asia on less than a $1 a day.
Just know you live in the most exciting time in history and you’re being tested because you are reaching out for something big.