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When the going gets tough…

August 2nd, 2009

A friend emailed me this afternoon with a question:

How do you deal with the negative reviews/press/self doubt phase in this entrepreneurial world?

This is a great question, and one that we all have faced as entrepreneurs and undoubtedly will face again.  Building a business, launching a product, producing anything is incredibly difficult.  It is all-consuming and an emotional rollercoaster.

First, its important to understand that we all go through it.  I’ve felt on the brink of collapse before:

  • I was producing a Mardi Gras event in 2004, and lost control of it before it even started. I can’t bring myself to say what happened but for a little while it looked like it wasn’t going to happen, and I was going to lose $25,000 deposit and refund $25,000 in tickets. Ugh. I went to my good friend Vaughn Mordentti and he bailed me out of the situation (not literally). I went to him hat in hand, and he saved my butt.

  • In December 2008, I pulled the plug on siteMighty, a web app that I had put years and lots of investment into.

  • I had dinner with my wife at Slice Pizza in 2003 and she told me that she felt if nothing happened with Destination VIP, I needed to start making arrangements to close it down.  I had 14 employees on payroll at the time.

Looking back, each of those fit the old saying: things are darkest before the dawn. We pulled off the Mardi Gras event. Letting go of siteMighty allowed renewed focus on Flatsourcing and Launch Pad. And I sold Destination VIP three months after that conversation.

A few thoughts on how to get through these difficult moments when you face the self doubt and are thinking “what the hell am I doing, and how did I get myself into this.”

  • A word on advice – everyone has advice for you. Only you have the complete picture.  It’s OK to tell someone, I’m really not looking for advice here. Or to just listen and take it in.  But always understand that advice or guidance is only one person’s opinion. Only you know what is really going on in your business, and you have the privilege (and maybe burden) of running it yourself.  You’re an entrepreneur and you’re the boss.

  • Dealing with criticism – criticism is like advice.  Easy to give. Hear it, just like advice.  But don’t dwell on it.  It’s much easier to criticize than to produce something for someone to criticize.

  • Forget everyone else -  someone is getting more press, more attention, making more money, and having more fun than you right now.  Forget about it.  It’s not what is important. Focus on your business and let go of any comparisons to, or competition with others.

  • Prioritize and let go – you have a ton to do. How much of it is mission critical, and how much do you want to get done.  During times like these you’re feeling swamped. Make a list of what you have to do, then order the list.  Focus on the top 20% of it.  The rest probably can wait.  Everything may not be perfect, or the way you envisioned, but as long as things are happening, you can improve it later.

  • Ask for help – you know who is rooting for you.  Now’s the time to ask for a little help.  Be as open as you want to be, and don’t be afraid to be specific on what you could use some help on.

  • Find balance – when times are tough, you need your family & friends more than ever.  It is difficult to balance, because your business needs you more than ever, but you need support.  Make time for family.

  • Make a plan – One of the best stress relievers is getting things out of your head and onto a sheet of paper.  Write down everything you have to do.  Break it into chunks you can accomplish and feel like things are moving forward.

  • Persevere – keep putting one foot in front of the other.  Focus on crossing things off your to-do list.  As much as you want to give up, don’t.  Perseverance is one of the most important attributes of an entrepreneur.

  • Everything will be ok – of course there are no guarantees, but you’re going to get through this.  Take a deep breath, and keep pushing forward.  It probably doesn’t feel like it right now, but someday you’re going to look back on this and how much you grew during this difficult time.

This post is based on personal experience.  It’s not a panacea, but hopefully by reflecting on what has helped my during difficult times, I can help you when the going gets tough.

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