Written by: Michael Dermer
Revenue is at risk. Cash is hard to keep and find. Expenses are too high. And there is no end in sight. In normal times, the entrepreneur sits in front of the dam. A hole pops open and she fills it with her finger. Then another. And another. Soon she is using all ten fingers. And then another. And another. No problem. We are creative. She uses all of her toes. Problem solved. And then one more. What to do? She uses her tongue. Welcome to the life of the entrepreneur.
Leading an entrepreneurial venture is a 28 hour job when the world is not in crisis. When it is, it takes a certain mindset to lead your organization through. Once you put the big “E” on your chest, you signed up for being a superhero. Being that superhero in these challenging times will require you first to have a few key mindsets:
There’s Always a Way Entrepreneurs may lack capital and resources, but they don’t lack the ability to think differently. There are so many times when things seem impossible—times when you don’t have the resources, money or wherewithal to accomplish the things you need to make the business successful. There will be times when your chance of success with a customer, vendor, investor or employee seem slim. You don’t have the money, resources, experience, capital, partners, team-members, investors, facilities, capacity, technology—the list goes on. Forget all that. As we used to say at IncentOne, “We can find lots of people who can’t get it done.” One of the core beliefs you need to practice daily should be the faith or confidence that “there is always a way.” Entrepreneurs have access to creativity that can energize a business. Don’t be deterred by the fact that there isn’t an established path. Most individuals don’t have the inclination or wherewithal to color outside the lines. You do. Many great ideas and visions buck the trend. Amazon told us we would never buy a book in a store again. It’s your innate ability to see things differently and try different approaches that is one of your greatest skills. These are the same skills that allow you to mastermind creative solutions when it does not seem like there are any. There is always a way. I don’t care how many times you fall down, or how little your bank account has in it. Challenges are only speed bumps along the way. If you are as good as you think you are, you will find a way to achieve results even when it seems impossible.
Only Spend Time on What You Can Control Being resilient in the face of challenges requires an incredible amount of energy. Entrepreneurs have to dedicate day and night to solving the challenges of the day. That energy and the time of the entrepreneur is scarce. In order to be resilient, and take on the task at hand, an entrepreneur needs every ounce of energy dedicated to what he or she can control. You must resist the temptation to expend energy on things that don’t make a difference.
Focus on Building and Executing Your Plan – Not Emotion Throughout an entrepreneurial venture, there will be highs and lows. And certain during COVID-19. First and foremost, an entrepreneur must learn not to react to the ups and downs of the day. This is easier said than done when you are talking about something that is your passion. Nonetheless, it is a must. When we are emotional, we can’t put in place the actions and activities that move you forward. The focus must be on the activities that make a difference. In the movie "Apollo 13," the spacecraft suﬀers damage and the astronauts move through a series of procedures to prepare the spacecraft for reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere. Given the damage, success is hardly assured. While they are working, Bill Paxton (who plays astronaut Fred Haise Sr.) questions whether Mission Control in Houston is giving the astronauts accurate information. Tom Hanks (who plays captain Jim Lovell) says: “All right, there’s a 1,000 things that have to happen in order. We are on No. 8. You’re talking about No. 692… We’re not going to go bouncing oﬀ the walls for 10 minutes, because we’re just going to end up back here with the same problems!” Work the problem. Focus on the items you determine require your attention that day. The entrepreneur’s path to success is rarely built with “giant leaps for mankind” but steadily-won, determined, daily progress. When we chip away at today’s to-do list, we build powerful momentum for our business.
No Time for Doubt In normal times, doubt is a very productive emotion. It often makes us question ourselves in a way that leads to introspection and greater focus and achievement. Unfortunately, when you're in a crisis, there is no time for doubt. Take all of the time and energy you spend doubting yourself and use it to focus on building and executing your plan. Remember, it's not just about you. You have an obligation to yourself and your passion for your business of course. But you also have an obligation to those around you – your employees, your customers, your investors and your family. You need to lead your company through this mess. So take all of the energy and emotion you spend doubting yourself and act quickly, decisively and with an understanding that the better you execute your plan, the more success you have. And when you get through this all, you will have a very little reason to doubt yourself.
Demand Accountability, Teamwork, Discipline and Candor You will need the best of your team. Demand these four attributes:
Accountability: everyone should “own” their stuff. Take action. Be proactive. Own. Not “own but..” Own.
Teamwork: accountability only works well when we are a team. We are all here to help.
Candor: it’s all about performing and any feedback or constructive dialogue is not only welcomed but expected.
Discipline: have it all together. On time. Prepared. Proactive.
Everyone will need to be on the same page, focused and at their best during these times. These behaviors will help you give yourself a greater chance of success.
Pick the Tasks of the Day and Execute Every entrepreneur faces an overwhelming set of tasks to be accomplished. The list is endless. Strategy. Technology. Team. Business models. Plans. Tactics. Functional areas. Branding. Staﬀ. Money management. Oﬃces. Fundraising. For every 10 hours of time, there are 100 hours of work. So how do you be resilient in the face of 100 hours of work and 10 hours of time? It is not surprising then that entrepreneurs come to work, and instead of focusing on the tasks of the day, they worry about what is not getting done. If you focus on the 99 things that you can’t do that day or mentally jump ahead to tasks that require multiple days, you will waste time and effort. Once you have decided on your tasks for the day, stop worrying about other tasks and finish the ones in front of you.
Overwhelming is par for the course for all entrepreneurs – especially in the midst of a crisis. If you can find an entrepreneur that says, “We’ve got everything under control,” then I have some unicorn hooves I’d like to sell you. When “overwhelmed” is the norm for entrepreneurs, why is one business able to make progress and another can’t? What we need to learn is how to develop the mindsets to be and do better.
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Michael Dermer is an international entrepreneur authority, lawyer, speaker, coach, author and founder of The Lonely Entrepreneur. The Lonely Entrepreneur was born from Michael's harrowing experience of living through the "perfect storm" - watching the company he built from scratch to over 500 people nearly get destroyed overnight by the 2008 financial crisis. What resulted was not only a business success story, but the discovery of a unique method on how to thrive under the pressure, chaos and burden of being an entrepreneur.
Michael is an informed advocate for entrepreneurs everywhere. He has championed their struggle in national and international media outlets including MSNBC, CBS, ABC, Entrepreneur, Forbes, Huffington Post, and Telemundo. A sought-after consultant and speaker, Michael has keynoted and acted as judge in over 100 events serving entrepreneurs in the United States, Mexico, China, India, the UAE, Croatia, Singapore, Spain and Israel.