Published May 14, 2001

Successful Entrepreneurs: Entrepreneur Tips for Success

"Eighty percent of success is showing up." Woody Allen

It is easy to become discouraged when your business slacks off, the phone doesn't ring and customers are few. If you compound that with an abundance of depressing business news of layoffs and bankruptcies, it is easy to be fearful of the future. Most entrepreneurs face fear, discouragement and what may seem to be insurmountable problems sometime during their career. Recently I had a chance to hear first hand how some successful business owners overcame such trying times.

This past week I served on a committee as a judge to review candidates for the Sarasota Florida Small Business of the Year Award. One of the criteria we looked at was how these owners handled major problems or setbacks during the formative years of their businesses. The problems ranged from running out of money to being unable to obtain inventory. Here is a review of the comments these successful entrepreneurs offered in their struggle to overcome calamity.

  1. Without exception, the candidates told us that their business plan was invaluable to their success. They pointed out that when you have invested your savings or borrowed heavily to start your business it may be difficult to remain calm and objective if you think your world is falling apart. Under such pressure, it is easy to lose sight of your goals and allow the latest problem to mushroom in your mind. To survive the tough times, they said, you need to develop realistic strategies and expectations, and a well-thought-out business plan is one way to combat any sense of failure.
  2. No one suggested a wait-and-see attitude hoping for some miracle to solve the problems. That may happen, but not under your control or schedule.
  3. One candidate stressed planning for problems, offering these questions to ponder: Do you have any kind of backup position? How much loss can you weather and stay in business? She told us if you know you can survive, the knowledge would do wonders for your sense of security.
  4. A candidate who had a business failure in his past told us how foolish it is to fall for pie-in-the-sky planning based on wishful thinking. Your business plans must be real! For example, if you are projecting a million dollars in sales, can you identify where it is coming from? Your plans will be more realistic if you can be specific as to how you are going to get to your goal. Fuzzy thinking can be costly.
  5. High on the list of suggestions was cash and the importance of forecasting your cash needs. Plan for a surplus or shortage. Don't leave your cash situation to chance. Once you begin chasing dollars to cover overdrafts it's tough to feel confident.
  6. A bubbly, brand-new entrepreneur always establishes target dates to complete projects or tasks, stressing that firm dates help to build discipline.
  7. All agreed that it is important to put your plans in writing. Granted, it takes time. However, a new business has little margin of error and your plans must make sense. They must be real, not fantasy.
  8. To-do lists. Lots of to-do lists. When you are keeping many balls in the air, it is easy to forget one.

    A favorite of all.

  9. One candidate with a degree in psychology suggested taking some quiet time at least once a week to reflect on your progress. As any therapist will tell you, our creative juices flow best when we are quiet. It is during such times that answers to some of our problems emerge. Work at reducing your anxieties; tension can be counter- productive.
  10. The owner of a three-year-old business believed in reviewing his progress (or lack of it) vs. his plans. We agree. Circumstances surrounding your business may have changed. Your business plan may need modification. An effective plan is flexible.
  11. Self-evaluation was a strategy offered by a candidate who had experienced many ups and downs with his business. He suggested you ask yourself these questions: Are you still enthused? Are you doing what you want to? Are you still optimistic about the future? Do you still believe in your goals? If you wonder, have doubts, or have lost your zest for your business - stop. You need to carefully look at how you are managing your business and yourself.

Each candidate stressed the importance of taking stock of yourself. They suggested that you check your inner motives, that you be careful about becoming too tired and overly stressed. One owner emphasized that fatigue, physical and emotional, can raise havoc with your efficiency and judgment. Another mentioned that whatever you do, don't entertain the luxury of feeling sorry for yourself, believing your problems are unique, or harboring the misconception that no one understands your situation. During times of crisis, your most important asset is a positive "can-do" you!

May I suggest you save this column, and when you are faced with a bundle of problems you feel too heavy to carry, re-read the suggestions of these winners.

(C) Copyright 2001 Dr. Paul E. Adams. Syndicated by Paradigm News, Inc.