The lessons of a rough year

Running a business can bruise your ego and damage your psyche, as most of us can attest to now. Still, small businesses are the agents of change in our community, the innovators of ideas and solutions that often defy corporate wisdom and even common sense. In looking back over this past year on the many conversations I've had with fellow entrepreneurs about their businesses struggles and the personal fight to survive, I have found a few common threads that I think are the makings of true survivors.

1. Extreme conditions help identify natural leaders. I cut half of my staff positions midway through the year. For those that remained, they had more work, less support and more pressure to perform than ever before. Like a good entrepreneur, they recognized the need to step up, make decisions and accept responsibilities they didn't have before. Hiring staff that come through in the crunch is so critical to business success. One sure tool for survival is having great people on your team.

2. Learn to pace yourself. One of my clients is a real driving force, always pushing the limits of himself and his company. You know the type. A sense of urgency is often a good trait, but rushing into everything ... not so much. Like an athlete, we have to learn how to manage our energy so we can conserve strength in order to run the long race or be ready explode when we need to sprint to the finish. Learning pace helps your business gain stability and helps keep staff and management from burning out too fast. So if your ambition is for growth or management of your money, set a pace you know you can manage well.

3. Put emotions aside. The people I know that have handled all the uncertainty best have a sense of calm about them, a peace in knowing this, too, shall pass. I'll be the first to admit, this is really hard to do, so I suggest spending more time with your calm friends if you have any. I find that the influence of friends that can maintain objectivity is very powerful and reassuring when I am losing my mind. Someone outside your business can have insight that is not clouded by the emotions you bring to the table. Have a conversation with them about what is bothering you most and see if you're more willing to come in off the ledge.

4. Maintain your focus. One of the first things you learn in snowboarding is to keep your head up and focus down the hill and not on your feet. Sure enough, as soon as I look at my feet, I fall down. One of my close friend's business just tanked this past year, yet all he talks about is how with a little tweek here and a new store there, next year will be his biggest year ever. He is always looking ahead, focused on where he wants to go. I am pretty sure he never sees his feet other than to put his shoes on in the morning. Then it's head up all day long.

5. Accept candor from others. Most business communication today is filled with political correctness and a general lack of candor. I am in the Entrepreneur's Organization with about 30 other business owners here locally and one of the group's core values is candor. It has helped create an environment where honest clear communication in not just encouraged but expected. This amazing group is full of people that don't sugar coat with each other but truly appreciate the value of open, honest, real communication to help each other grow personally and professionally.

6. Don't let fear take over. I know three owners who simply left their companies in the wake of all the uncertainty this past year, just walked away. The instability and emotions of the unknown were just too unbearable for them. My old mentor used to say the fear was just an acronym that stood for "False Expectations Appearing Real." I am saddened by their stories because I am confident all three would have survived but they were so afraid of failing completely they never learned what it takes to succeed.

7. Never stop learning. All the successful people I know are constantly learning new things. They are not just informed but educated. They are continually gaining knowledge, testing wisdom and applying their experience to their businesses and personal lives all the time. True survivors are smart because they are always learning something new and becoming something more than they were previously. We should all be so lucky.

Steve Conine is owner of Talent Framework and the Reno office of AccuStaff. Contact him at 322-5004 or


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