Good small business owners are recognized for overcoming challenges; however, great small business leaders are recognized for their ability to capitalize on adversity. Adversity provides the average small business owner the chance to see what their business and character is made of, and if handled appropriately, you can the lessons learned from the adversity to grow your small business.
Not all business owners handle adversity the same. Some business owners have closed their doors because what was deemed a crisis at the time by the business owner, was too much risk to bear. Some business owners have an innate natural ability to shrug off just about any business catastrophe, pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, and begin marching again. So, what can adversity teach us? How can adversity work to our advantage? As a small business owner, will you allow for adversity to challenge you or will you conquer it?
Before we can review external factors and challenges to our business, we must first look inward. Some adversity is of our own doing. It is impossible to be right all the time, however, when we fail in business or make a bad business decision, we must own it. It’s your mistake, and it’s time to tackle it. How do you tackle your mistakes? By learning from them.
Adversity builds character. Out of the ashes of adversity, you will develop an iron stomach for negative commentary. Whenever your business experiences something positive, it may be months or even years before your accomplishment is recognized. This is due to society’s love affair with failure. For some strange reason, when someone fails, society wants to celebrate it. The King of NASCAR, Race Car Legend Richard Petty said it best,
“No one wants to quit when ‘he’ is losing, and no one wants to quit when ‘he’ is winning.”
During your bout with adversity, every critic will be at your door with no short of unsolicited opinions on what you did wrong for your business to fail. Adversity provides another opportunity for you and your business to prove them wrong. Adversity will test the character of those around you. Do you have true friends and colleagues that support you, or are they fair-weather friends? Everyone says they are there for you, and want to be there when things are “okay,” however when things get hard, people seem to change their mind. Adversity will provide you the answers you seek when testing who you are surrounded by.
Adversity is the ultimate test of time. Will you have what it takes to wait out the challenge and fend off adversity? Will your personal ability to be patient grow, or will you become even more frustrated when things don’t work out exactly to your demands? Adversity will help you improve your patience through your small business. You are going to need a lot of patience, because in business you are dealing with people. Not all people will understand you, especially new vendors, employees or clients that come to the table with their own expectations. Patience will become your best friend.
Adversity will help develop your judgment in making better business decisions. Guided by the lessons learned from mistakes, and having a better understanding of timing (patience) your ability to see the signs of what is next in a business cycle, and being able to head disaster off at the pass, comes with experience. Business owners who never have to face a crisis never get a chance to develop better judgement. During the process of adversity, your senses and awareness will sharpen and heighten, as you will always be looking for trouble before it happens, enabling you to successfully mitigate risk, and keep your business on the desired track.
Your business has flaws and weaknesses – no business is perfect. Adversity will show you your business’s flaws, allowing you to take action in making improvements where ever it is needed. This will require you to be specific and disciplined in your focusing on what matters most.
After successfully navigating through several adverse challenges, you will become better at handling a crisis and managing problems. Adversity will allow you to manage future crisis, where you will find yourself less frequently hitting the panic button. Eventually, as a great small business owner, you will be able to manage the problem, instead of the problem managing you. Leadership during handling an adverse situation reflects your ability to identify the source of the challenge, envision a viable solution to the problem, and then the implementation of the solution in such a way that to everyone else, it seems like an everyday part of doing business.
Surviving adversity sends a powerful message to your clients, and staff, as well as the competition. When your business can still deliver to its clients, regardless of the business disruption, it tells the story to your clients that they matter the most. Most people understand if your business experiences such, however, you will always want to communicate the status of the challenge, what you’re doing to tackle the challenge, and the results of your plan. Your clients will know that you are willing against all odds to overcome issues in meeting their expectations, and this sends the message that your business has the skill of resiliency.
Resiliency is the one skill set and trait your competitors will come to envy as you begin to champion every challenge that comes your way. Nothing can stop you when you begin to perceive adversity as an opportunity. No other business owner will ever wish the worse on you, because you like eat problems for breakfast, and doing so only make your business a bigger better competitor.
As a small business owner, you are the captain of the ship. Remember to take a breath—a deep breath—and don’t react or make any decision on the spur of the moment. People will be shouting, demanding, and pressuring you to make decisions without yourself even knowing all the facts. You must become the voice of reason. You must be the steady rock during the turbulence – the captain who can navigate through the storm. But first, you must not do anything except breathe.
Next, I put a silence to all the noise and static, and then remove myself from the fury and the fire. This enables me to approach the matter with a clear head. I do my best not to allow the panic of others to wash over me, which would only hurt my ability to see the situation with clarity. Then I can proceed in taking on the challenge head on without the opinion of others that in many cases do not have all of the facts.
When you first find out about the challenge, it’s important to know the situation and work through the emotional shock yourself. I have felt a series of emotions at the same time when seeing the challenge ahead, face-on. Feeling the emotions of anger, frustration, anxiety, fear and doubt are a normal human reaction; however, you must get command of your emotions. Much like a general on the battlefront, you must put the emotion aside and take command of the situation.
I inform my closest circles that I am aware of the situation and I am in process of gathering all the facts. As a small business owner, your support system may be comprised of a manager, your spouse, your accountant, your attorney, and close mentors and advisors. It is important to demonstrate to them that you are aware of the situation and are willing to deal with the matter head-on.
Before I make any decision, I collect all pertinent information. I take out a sheet of paper and write down the facts. I make two columns: facts that support our ability to overcome the issue, and facts that are outright against the business. I further dig for the source of the issue. Sometimes the motive of where the challenge stemmed from will provide great insight on your ability to discern what are the facts, and the rumor. Knowing the source of the issue and the facts places you in a position to develop a plan for combating a challenge.
Next, I put together a battle plan based on a few scenarios. Just as with life, rarely do things go according to plan, and so I prepare a few options that I could be comfortable with depending on any change in circumstances.
I also research what other business leaders have done in the past in a similar situation. I compare the severity of their business crisis to my business crisis. I compare the choices they made as well as the results. If the results were positive, and in the direction of the business’s vision, then I enhance my action plans based on proven results.
Once I have a set of battle plans drawn up, it is time to propose them to my team. Then it is time to sit back and listen. Your team may have a different perspective which is based on their experience. Their vantage point and wisdom will help you to remove poor choices and options, scaling down the battle plan so that it can be as effective as possible. New ideas may also be proposed, and so you must be flexible in changing the plan if the ideas are more relevant to the situation. As a collective, ask the question, “is this attainable?”
Once a plan has been decided on, invest the time to implement it. Set up meetings with staff and managers, and assign tasks. It is important to also assign yourself some tasks to handle, for your role in taking action is the example of true leadership others will follow. If you are passing the plan to others without yourself having any role in it, you will send the message that you are just trying to shift the responsibilities down the line, which others will resent and feel like the scapegoat if the plan fails.
While explaining the plan to overcome the challenge, you must transfer a sense of confidence so others will also have faith in the plan. If you have no faith in the plan or its potential outcome, then others will be hesitant to take action. The ones that do, will be acting from a place of feeling obligated. Not because of their personal connection to you, or because they believe the plan will provide a positive result. This means you will want to provide supporting facts to your plan.
Once the challenge has been conquered, review with your team about what practices were the most effective. This will allow for your team to be empowered for solving challenges. It is very important that you and your team reflect on what they have learned from the adverse experience. As a business owner, you will want to reward your team for doing such a great job.
While handling the challenge, I still always have a focus with the bigger picture in mind. Knowing your why and having a love affair and obsession with your vision will help you see past the adversity, where some of your energy is always being directed toward your vision, your chief aim, your goals. Challenges are short-term interruptions you and your business experience in its long-term business plan. You must see adversity as an opportunity to strengthen your business, your character, and your market presence.
Samuel K. Burlum is an investigative reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur who lends his expertise as a consultant to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water, Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses, and Life in the Green Lane-in Pursuit of the American Dream.