Leading in difficult times is, by nature, hard. And those times are going to come no matter what.
What matters is how we respond to them. We can stick our heads in the sand and ignore the issues – but that’s also how many businesses fail. We can criticize, be negative, and ask for a pity party – but that doesn’t make anything better either.
Or we can choose to face the difficulties, take action, and learn from what we go through.
And though difficulties are usually seen as bad, they also have benefits. As Napoleon Hill, the author of Think and Grow Rich said:“Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.”
To get those benefits, we must have the right mentality, do the right steps, and take action.
Benefits of Difficult Times
What benefit will difficult times have for you? It’s hard to say specifically, but I do know difficulties can bring:
- Greater satisfaction: Something that you work hard and struggle through, in the end, gives greater satisfaction than if it was easy to obtain.
- Personal and professional growth: Going through difficulties can grow you further as a leader, as a person, as a spouse, as a parent, and so on. If you let it, difficult times are some of the best times to learn and grow.
- Ideas and inspiration: Some of the greatest inspirations and ideas come when you are in the darkest moment.
- A more streamlined business: Difficult times help you trim the fat, and become more efficient, and, when better times come again, you are stronger and able to be more profitable.
- The best in others: While these times can sometimes bring out the worst, you will also find that they can bring out the best in others. In these times, you may find some of your employees or those around you stepping out and shining.
How this article is laid out
The first section will dive into seven steps that every business owner or leader should take during challenging times.
We then cover 25+ tips and actions you can take to help you survive and even thrive during these times. Some tips may apply to you more than others, depending on your situation, but take the time to go through them all as you may find principles that can help you in your specific situation.
Finally, you will find a resource of articles and books (many used in this article) as well as links to other resources that can help you.
My hope is that you find hope during whatever difficult time you may face and that you and your business will come out of it stronger and better than ever.
- Step 1: Embrace Reality (Don’t hide from the truth)
- Step 2: Take a Step Back (And See The Bigger Picture)
- Step 3: Get the Right Mindset (Think Right, Act Right)
- Step 4: Communicate Well (Extremely Well)
- Step 5: Be Creative and Innovate (Think Differently)
- Step 6: Connect with Other Like-minded People (& Listen to Counsel, not Opinion)
- Step 7: Take Action (Don’t just sit there – do something!)
- Make sure you are financially savvy and manage your finances well
- Manage your cash flow
- Find ways to reduce costs
- Pay attention to the “little” things
- Have a clear vision and goal
- Prioritize your activities
- Delegate and automate where you can
- Treat your business as a business, not your baby
- Don’t neglect quality & service (& don’t cut corners)
- Do a pre-mortem
- Keep growing yourself
- Keep training your staff
- Don’t stop marketing (just be wiser about it)
- Try to avoid profit-eating sales and discounting
- Expand your vendors (or at least look at others)
- Don’t ignore your current customers
- Ramp up your selling
- Partner with others and joint venture (even with your competitors)
- Barter & Swap
- Reconnect with former customers
- Focus on what you can control, not what you can’t
- Learn from the experience (and write it down)
- Take care of yourself
- Maintain as many routines as possible
- Don’t forget the important
Leadership In Difficult Times: 7 Essential Steps To Succeed
Step 1: Embrace Reality (Don’t hide from the truth)
“When what you are doing isn’t working it makes sense to try something different. Now, this sounds logical, yet I have watched so many businesses slowly go bust simply because they kept doing the same thing, right to the end. We have to be prepared to do new things, try ideas outside of our comfort zone, and look to others for advice.” – Andrew Griffiths
One of the worst things you can do is pretend that everything is okay when it’s not. Too many businesses fail, not just with difficult times, but with any change, because they hide from the truth. They pretend the negative isn’t there, so they continue doing the same thing – until the business is gone.
Others try to have a positive, optimistic attitude, to the point of failure.
Yes, we should be positive, and we should be optimistic; however, when you ignore what’s going on, being positive and optimistic that everything is just going to get better, and don’t face reality, you are in trouble.
David Corbin, in his book Illuminate, talks about the importance of facing our problems. When we don’t face them, when we try to put on a “positive attitude” and pretend that the problems aren’t there, they will only get worse.When we don’t face our problems, when we try to put on a “positive attitude” and pretend that the problems aren’t there, they will only get worse. Click To Tweet
You must face and embrace reality. You must face what’s going on head-on. You need to illuminate your problems. Once you do that, then you can do something to fix them. Ignoring them will just lead you to failure.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- What’s going on with your business right now?
- What really going on?
- How is this affecting you and your business?
- Are you profitable?
- Are you losing customers?
- What’s working and what’s not working?
- How is morale?
- Are sales going up or down?
- What’s the trend?
- How is the current situation affecting your business?
- How is it affecting your employees and their families?
- What fears and concerns do they have?
- How is it affecting your customers?
- What fears and concerns do they have?
- How is it affecting your bottom line?
- What are your fears and concerns?
Ask your employees as well. Talk to your customers. Make sure you have a good grasp on what’s going on in your business. Then, as we will talk about in other steps, do something about it.
So yes, be positive, but do it this way – embrace reality, embrace the facts, and be positive that you can overcome the situation. As Jim Collins says in his book Good to Great, we must confront the brutal facts, yet never lose faith that we will succeed.
- What are the facts of what’s happening? What problems are you facing? Embrace them, know them, and then take action to overcome them. Be positive that you can and will succeed. Ignoring your problems will only make them worse.
Your Next Step:
- Are you embracing reality or hiding from the truth? Take the time to examine what’s going on and the impact it’s having on your business. Once you do that, then you can start doing something about it.
Step 2: Take a Step Back (And See The Bigger Picture)
“In the middle of a tough time, it is really easy to start freaking out based on “what could be” as opposed to what actually is. It is imperative to get all of the information about what is going on and to only deal with facts, regardless of what is going on in your head. Most of the things we worry about never actually happen, so don’t let your imagination get ahead of the reality of the situation.” – Andrew Griffiths
Have you ever experienced this?
You are at work, and you are stuck on a problem that you just can’t seem to solve. You work and work and work at it, keep hitting it harder, and the only thing that goes anywhere is your stress and frustration (which goes up).
However, when you step back, take a break and do something else, and come back later refreshed, you find that a new solution or way of thinking came that helps you solve that problem.
It’s easy to get stuck in our problems
Too often when we are in a difficult situation or face a difficult problem, we get stuck in a narrow frame of view. We can’t see past the problem we are in.
We can’t see beyond the “solutions” that we know or the solutions that are right in front of us. And often the problem seems bigger than it really is because it’s right in front of us.
We keep hitting it harder and harder, more and more, but we go nowhere. We keep trying to hit the nail with a squeaky toy.We keep trying to hit the nail with a squeaky toy. Click To Tweet
At other times, we get so focused on certain problems or issues that we are facing, that we miss the big picture, and we make decisions based on the problems right in front of us instead of the bigger picture. It may seem we did something good in the short term, but in the long term, we hurt ourselves.
We get stuck seeing the trees and lose sight of the forest.
Or we get lost in fear and panic. We react out of fear and then make rushed, poor decisions. In those situations, we often start focusing on what we can’t control instead of what we can.
Don’t do that.
In any challenging situation, take a step back. Take a breather. Take a break if needed. Let your brain refresh.
Step back and see the situation from the bigger picture and from a different perspective. Often problems aren’t as big as we think they are, and if they are that big, we can see them from a different perspective.
Bigger Picture Questions
Here are some questions to ask yourself or as a group to help find the bigger picture:
- What do I not know?
- What do I know?
- What do I need to know?
- What can I control and what is outside my control?
- What’s really going on?
- What’s the scope of this situation in light of the big picture, our company status, and our vision and goals?
- What’s the overall situation of the company?
- Compared to other situations, how big is the problem really?
- What other similar situations have you faced?
- What does this situation mean in the context of X (customers, employees, business, etc.)?
- Has anyone you know faced or is facing a similar problem?
- Could this be an opportunity in disguise, and how can you think of it differently?
- What other options are there?
- How much of your reaction is based on reality and how much is based on fear?
- How big will this problem seem five months and five years from now?
- What are your goals and vision, and how does the problem affect it?
- Will your solution push you toward your goal and vision or is it just a temporary “fix”?
- Why does this problem exist? How did it happen?
- What’s the long-term impact of this problem/decision?
- How does this problem/situation affect others (employees, customers, etc.)?
- What can we learn from this?
- Ask the 5 whys: why is the situation this way? Why is that? Why is that? Why is that? Why is that? That helps you get down to the core reasons instead of the surface answers.
- What changes have happened/are happening in your industry? And are you keeping up?
- How have customers’ buying behaviors changed?
- Are they still buying/want to buy what you offer the way you offer it?
Questions to Dive Deeper Into Your Business
Tough times can also be a good time to examine how things are working in your business: What’s going well? What’s not? What could you be doing differently and better? As you do that, remember the Pareto Principle, the 80/20 rule.
Questions to examine what is and isn’t working:
- What is working?
- What is not working?
- What could be working better?
- What are your most profitable products/services?
- What products/services aren’t very profitable?
- How much time and resources are you devoting to profitable products/services?
- How much time and resources are you devoting to the not-very-profitable products/services?
- What marketing works and what doesn’t?
- Are you even tracking it?
- Are you putting most of your time and money into what’s working vs. what isn’t?
- Are there products or services that you should cut?
- What products/services/customers are taking up most of your time and how much income do you get from those?
If you are spending a lot of time on things that aren’t profitable, then you may want to consider making some changes.
Get outside input
Getting outside input can also be vital. Meeting with a group of peers who are in similar situations can give you great advice and help you see outside the box. It can help you see the narrow frame of view that you may be stuck in. They can help you see your blind spots and offer suggestions you may never have thought of.
Talking to your employees can also help. They may have a different perspective than you, and when you put the different perspectives together, you just may get a fuller picture.
Look at the bright spots
Chip & Dan Heath in Switch discuss looking for bright spots instead of focusing on the problem.
- If you are trying to fix sales, for example, look for where a bright spot is.
- Where are sales doing well?
- What are they doing differently that’s causing the success?
- What simple steps can you adjust/change/implement with others to use this bright spot?
- When difficulties come, we can’t react in fear or allow ourselves to get stuck in a narrow frame of view. If we let fear control our decisions or keep looking at the trees instead of the forest, we will end up making bad decisions that we will regret. Take a step back, see the bigger picture, and focus on what you can control, not what you can’t.
Your Next Step:
- Take time to step back to see the bigger picture. Get away from it all if you need to and focus on something else. Take time to go through some of the questions and ask others for their viewpoints as well.
Step 3: Get the Right Mindset (Think Right, Act Right)
“It is more important than ever to avoid the harbingers of doom, those people who are negative all the time, they only ever focus on what they haven’t got as opposed to what they have and so on. Don’t let yourself get caught up in the negativity vortex. Keep away from people who are like this and find the positive, proactive, and energetic business owners who are too busy getting on with it to get caught up with misery brigade.” –Andrew Griffiths
Your mindset affects everything. If you have it right, it will help propel you forward, even in the darkest of times. If you have it wrong, it can bring your business to the ground, even in the best of times.
So what mindset should you have?
First, you need to have a solution-oriented mindset (where you focus on solutions, not problems).
Once we embrace the facts and reality of our situation, we need to keep our focus on the solutions to overcome the problems, not the problems themselves.
We get what we focus on. If you keep focusing on the negative and the problems and how bad they are, that’s where you will stay. However, if you focus on solutions to the problems, and how you can and will overcome them, that’s where you will likely head as well.Face reality, but focus on solutions for the problems. Don’t live focusing on how bad the problems are. Click To Tweet
Second, keep a positive mindset.
There are at least two sides to this. The first is to be positive about your future and your ability to get there. As Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”
If you believe that the situation you are in is impossible, guess what? It will be impossible. If you believe that you can’t do it, guess what? You’re right.
You see, if you believe you can’t do it, then you won’t put in the effort to make it happen. Your actions follow belief. Being “positive” doesn’t mean you will always succeed, but it will get you in the mind frame of success.
Focus on the good, not the bad
The second part of a positive mindset is focusing on the good, not the bad. It’s easy to get caught in the negative and ignore the good. Truth is, we all have so much to be thankful for.
Take time to be grateful and show gratitude. There are multiple ways to do this. Some people enjoy writing in a gratitude journal daily (such as writing 5 things every day they are grateful for) or saying out loud in the morning and night what they are thankful for.
Try to go around and tell someone, every day, something you are thankful about them.
You could also get a piece of paper out and write out everything good that is happening in your life and business. Try that, and it may just change your entire perspective.
Third, watch whom you spend time with.
Moods are contagious. If you spend time with people who are always negative and complaining, that will pull you down. If, on the other hand, you spend time with people who are positive, who focus on solutions, and who support you, it will help you thrive.
As Bonnie Fallin, a real estate investor, multimillion-dollar business entrepreneur, author, & founder of Opportunity Specs, says,
“To succeed can be a lonely road. You need to find people, associates, and friends who are uplifting and have achieved success. People who want the best for you. You can find these people by getting involved in groups or clubs or associations that support your dream or vision. Negative Nancy’s will bring you down and make it so much harder to keep going. It’s not easy to reach your dream or vision, in fact, only 7% of Americans will tell you they have achieved their dream or vision in life.”
Fourth, change your self-talk.
Don’t speak negatively to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up about past mistakes or what you should have done. Learn from them, move on, and build yourself up.
Tell yourself you are smart, that you are capable, and that you are confident. Tell yourself that you can do it. If all you do is tear yourself down, don’t be surprised when you fall.
Fifth, focus your mind on what you can control, not what you can’t.
Too often we get hung up on the things that we can’t control, and we waste so much time.
Ask yourself, “what in this situation can I control and what can I not control?” If needed, write it out on paper and separate it into two columns. Then stop focusing on what you can’t and focus only on what you can.
- Your mindset is key to everything. Avoid negativity and negative people, set your mind on solutions, not problems, and focus on what you can control, not what you can’t. Keep a positive perspective by practicing gratitude.
Your Next step:
- Check your attitude. Ask others if you need to. They may see it better than you do. If you find yourself being negative, start working on it. It may take time, but it’s worth it. And, if you don’t do anything else, start practicing gratitude. When you start focusing on what you are thankful for instead of what’s wrong, it can change your world.
Step 4: Communicate Well (Extremely Well)
“The single most important lesson of effective communication is this: Focus on clarity. Concentrate on precisions. Don’t worry about constructing beautiful sentences. Beauty comes from meaning, not language. Accuracy is the most effective style of all.” – David Gerrold
Great communication is important ALL the time in your business, but it is especially vital in difficult times.
Hiding things that should be shared with people generally lead to distrust, lower morale, and more issues along the way.
If you are in a financial crunch, for example, talk to people! Don’t hide it. If you are honest and open with people, they are much more likely to be understanding and more willing to help you. If you ignore the problem and don’t share it, it’ll likely just hurt you.During challenging times, you need to communicate often and be as honest, open, and transparent as you can. Click To Tweet
Here are some suggestions of who to communicate with and how.
- Depending on your situation, you may be in a financial crunch. Talk to your vendors about it! Let them know about your situation.
- You can talk to them about delayed billing, leniency, early payment discounts, or just find a way to work it out. They may be willing to waive late fees – if you talk to them.
- Remember, it’s already a “no” if you don’t ask, and the worst you can get by asking is a “no”, so why not ask?
- Talk to your landlord about the situation. See what you can work out.
- Would he/she be willing to lower rent temporarily (or permanently) until you get your feet back on the ground?
- Is there something you can work out with them to reduce payments somehow?
- Remember, again, you don’t know until you ask, so you might as well ask.
- Talk to your customers. If the current situation is going to affect your service to them, let them know. They will be much more understanding if you let them know upfront what’s going on.
- Are orders going to be delayed? Are you going to have to limit orders? Keep them informed.
- Also, make sure to keep in touch, period. Current customers can frequently be ignored in difficult times. Maintain that relationship.
- Ask how they are doing and what you can do to help them. Ask if there is anything else that you can offer them or that can make their life easier.
- If a lot of your income comes from a few customers, make sure you are on top of those relationships especially. You don’t want them to suddenly leave by surprise.
- You MUST be communicating well with your employees. Again, let them know of the situation and how it may impact them. It’s better to be upfront than surprise everyone.
- More than likely they already know something is up. Not sharing can create drama, gossip, and other issues.
- Get feedback from your employees. Make them part of the solution. If you need to cut 20% of the outflow, ask your employees to help you figure out how to do that. If you are going to have to reduce hours to try to save money and jobs, get the employees involved in designing the program.
- Meet regularly with your staff, keep them up to date, gather their input and ideas, and foster a team spirit, working together through this situation.
- Communicating regularly and honestly can help prevent hysteria, gossip, and lower morale.
Your bank and creditors
- Communicate with your creditors! Let them know what’s going on.
- If you communicate beforehand, you are more likely to work something out, to get fees waived, and so on, than if you just didn’t pay, and you start getting collection phone calls.
- You can ask for concessions, for fees or such to be waived, about refinancing, for leniency, etc.
- There may be other stakeholders in your business, such as investors or your board.
- Make sure you are communicating with them as well.
- Who knows what kind of help and advice they may offer?
- Don’t neglect to communicate with your family. You may need to work long hours some days. That happens.
- Communicate with them. Let them know what’s going on and work together to come up with a plan if needed.
- Let me repeat again, it’s better to be forthright and upfront about your situation than to lie about it or hide it and let them find out later down the road as conditions worsen.
- Communication is VITAL! You must communicate well and often with everyone involved in your company. Be as open, honest, and transparent as you can.
Your Next Step:
- Do you have a communication plan? Are you being open and honest about your situation? Have you talked to your employees? Take the time to contact those listed and see what you can work out.
Step 5: Be Creative and Innovate (Think Differently)
It’s been said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Unfortunately, when things get difficult, that’s what we often do. We just hit things harder and faster hoping it will turn out differently.Creativity is one of the last remaining legal ways of gaining an unfair advantage over the competition. – Ed McCabe Click To Tweet
What we need to do instead is to embrace reality (step 1), step back and see the bigger picture (step 2) and then think creatively and innovate. You’ve got to be willing to try and do new things.
Not doing so is what often kills even the big, established companies. They’ve done something the same way for years, then change happens, and they keep doing the same thing because it’s always worked in the past. It’s what they’ve always done. Then they keep doing the same thing as their numbers fall into bankruptcy.
Two phrases that kill businesses are these: “that’s what we’ve always done” and “we’ve never done it that way before”.
When change happens, when difficulty happens, you’ve got to think outside the box, be creative, and innovate.
How do you do that? Here are some questions to ask and techniques to use:
Questions to help spur creativity in your business:
- What other products or services could you sell?
- What products or services could you do that wouldn’t cost you much more time or money but could add to your bottom line?
- What other products or services complement your main products or services (e.g. if you sell bikes, can you offer helmets or bike pumps or repair warrants or services?)
- What other products or services does your target market want?
- Is there a way to offer a residual/repeat service (instead of you coming when they call, you come every 6 months, check things, etc., or you offer special maintenance on it)?
- Is there a way to market your product or service differently to a different target market?
- How else could you market/advertise your product to your target? (I read of one luxury car company driving their cars to the golf clubs or meeting areas of their target market and offering test drives there).
- Can you flip the situation or do the opposite? For example, If your customers usually come to you, is there a way to come to them?
- Is there a way to use the internet more effectively with your product and sells?
- Think about how you market/sell/your product – if that wasn’t an option, what else would you do?
- If you had infinite money and resources, what would you do then? Is there a way to scale that back to something you can do?
- What do your customers want? What is affecting them? How are they feeling? What’s their state of mind? If they are in fear, is there a way to assure them? How can you help them during this time?
- Are there other ways to reach your market?
- Are there other ways to sell your products or services?
- If I was X (more confident, the best leader in the world, my hero), what decision would I make?
- What advice would I give my best friend?
- If X wasn’t an obstacle, what would I do? Then see if there is a way to overcome that obstacle.
- Is there another company you could joint venture with?
Here are some other techniques that could help spur your thinking:
Think AND vs. OR
- Instead of thinking you can only do this OR this or that or that, think AND. Is there a way to do both?
Widen your options
- As Chip & Dan Heath say in their book Decisive, it’s easy to get stuck on “this or that” choices, and that’s all you will see. Ask, “what else?” What other options do you have?
Practice zero-based thinking
- Sometimes tradition and the way we’ve done things affect our thinking and decision-making. We may have sunk costs – we spent so much time and money on something, we don’t want to quit it because we then “lose” that money and time.
- We must realize the truth: all the money and time you spent is spent. You can’t get it back. What matters now is what you do next.
- Ask yourself, “if we were starting over, if there was no history and no tradition if we hadn’t spent any time or money, what decision would we make right now knowing what we know?”
Look at the situation as if what you have been doing is wrong
- Ask yourself, if what we are doing is wrong, what would we do differently? This can help you spark some ideas.
Ask your employees
- Your employees, especially your front-line workers, can be a huge source of information, in bad times and good.
- They may have suggestions upfront that could save you money or save time or streamline some processes.
- Talk to your employees and share the situation. See what input and ideas they may have.
- They may suggest ways to shave time off the production process or reduce costs or make more sales.
- They may have ideas for other products you could make and sell. Ask them.
Brainstorm with a group of peers
- One of the best techniques is to work with a group of like-minded peers, other business owners, and leaders, who can help you come up with great ideas and see past your blind spots. These can be simple lunches or more formal meetings such as mastermind groups.
- Once you’ve embraced reality and stepped back to look at the big picture, it’s time to think creatively and innovate. What can you do differently in this situation to make the situation better? How can you turn this negative situation into something positive?
Your Next Step:
- Set aside time for brainstorming with your leadership. Ask them to do the same with those under them. Get input from your frontline. Talk with your peer group about ideas.
Step 6: Connect with Other Like-minded People
“It is the principle through which you can accomplish in one year more than you could accomplish without it in a lifetime if you depended entirely on your own efforts for success.” – Napoleon Hill – Think & Grow Rich
Sometimes some of us buy into the myth of this rugged, amazing entrepreneur/business owner/leader who takes on the world alone.
Here’s the truth: there is no merit badge for doing it alone. And, in fact, it’s those who work with others (mentors, mastermind groups, peer groups, etc.) who succeed the most. It’s not that no one ever does it by themselves, but even if they “succeeded” alone, they would have gotten much farther with the help of others.
Bill Gates had Paul Allen. Steve Jobs had Steve Wozniak. Thomas Edison had his mastermind group. So did Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, Benjamin Franklin, J.R. Tolkein… and so on.
In fact, Napoleon Hill in his book Think & Grow Rich says that a group such as a mastermind is essential to success. He said,
“Analyze the record of any person who has accumulated a great fortune, and many of those who have accumulated modest fortunes, and you will find that they have either consciously, or unconsciously employed the Mastermind principle.”
If you want to be successful in your business if you want to really overcome the obstacles, be willing to ask for and take the help of others. You don’t have to do it alone.
Talking to other leaders around you and your team or employees can be a good first step. You can get a lot of information and ideas from them.
However, the unfortunate problem with talking with your employees is that sometimes you can’t get honest, unbiased feedback. Their job and livelihood may come from you. Sometimes people don’t want to rock the boat with the boss.
Connect with other like-minded leaders
That’s one reason why, as much as possible, you want to connect with other like-minded leaders (though you do want to create a culture where employees feel safe sharing).
Share with them. Support one another. Share ideas. Help each other see each other’s blind spots. Give each other unbiased, honest feedback.
And make sure they are quality people. Jim Rohn said that “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Find positive, solution-oriented people, not those who are negative and want to sit around and complain.
Veronika Tondon says:
“Having someone who has gone through the same experience can guide you best for your business survival. All you have to do is, to be honest with them, tell them the exact problem, and what you need. They will not take your problem, but advice from them and knowing their experience will give you some motivation and zeal to face such business challenges.”
Counsel Vs. Opinion
One of the many benefits of connecting with peers is that you are more likely to get counsel.
What’s the difference?
Greg S. Reid, author of Three Feet From Gold, Stickability, and many more, says that, if we want to write a book, and we go to our friends or family about it, friends and family who have never written a book, that’s getting opinions. And often those opinions will be that you can’t do it – because they never have.
However, when you go to someone who has written a book and ask how to do it, that’s counsel. You are learning from someone who’s been there, done that.
When you connect with other peers, you find people who have been through or are going through similar experiences that you are going through. And you can get counsel from them, not just opinion.
- There is no merit badge for doing it alone.
- Connect with other like-minded peers for collaboration and support.
Your Next Steps:
- Who is your support group?
- Do you have a peer group to collaborate with, who supports you, and who will give you unbiased, honest feedback?
- If you don’t have one, get one!
Step 7: Take Action (Don’t just sit there – do something!)
“Consider this: Something has already gone wrong. That makes now a great time to try something new. If you keep yourself stuck in the same rut doing the same things and refusing to change, you’re not going to make any improvements.” – Company.com
None of the other steps matter if you don’t act. Sometimes fear can trap us. We don’t know what to do, or we don’t like how things look, so we don’t do anything.
That can be a death sentence for your company.
Sticking your head in the sand is not the answer. You don’t want to rush and make a decision out of fear, but you also don’t want to be indecisive because of it either.
Take what you’ve learned from embracing the facts, stepping back, communicating with others, and from brainstorming, and taking action. Set a goal, a direction, and start moving toward it.Take what you’ve learned from embracing the facts, stepping back, communicating with others, and from brainstorming, and take action. Click To Tweet
You don’t have to have an elaborate plan. You can make and adjust your plan as you go. Too many people never start because they want their plans to be perfect first.
Don’t do that. Know your goal. Know what actions you want to take and to where, and start moving. Adjust as you go. Start small if needed; just get moving.
If you still aren’t sure what steps or actions you need to take, make sure to check the next section. It has a lot of actionable tips that you can follow to help move your business forward.
One of the biggest areas that you should consider focusing on, depending on your situation, for example, is managing your cash flow. A lack of cash flow is a high killer of businesses. You can be profitable and still not have cash. (we’ll discuss more in the next section).
What happens if I take action on the wrong thing?
- First, think about the consequences of not deciding or acting. What will happen if you do nothing? What are the consequences? Sometimes moving in the wrong way is better than not moving at all.
- Second, remember, if you are moving in a direction, and you see something that’s not working, you can adjust and move differently. It’s hard to make an adjustment if you are standing still.
- Third, failure is part of life. It’s what we do with that failure that matters. Learn from it, adjust, and keep moving forward.
- Fourth, everything is much clearer in hindsight. When you are making decisions, you don’t know, 100%, the result of most actions you take. All you can do is do the best you can and adjust as you go.
Also, you don’t have to put all your eggs in one basket – you don’t have to risk everything for one action or decision. You can set safeguards.
But for heaven’s sake, take action.
If you don’t take action, action will happen to you, and that action will likely be a failure.
What about if you feel the best choice is not to take any special action?
If you analyzed the situation and in your best judgment not doing anything different is the best route, that may be okay. But that’s a decision you made, not indecision. There’s a big difference.
It doesn’t have to be a big change
Sometimes we get the impression that if we have a big problem then we have to have a big solution. That’s often inaccurate.
According to Dan and Chip Heath in their book Switch, often it’s small simple changes that make difference. Sometimes simple changes in habits or processes can make a big difference in whatever problem we are facing.
- Action is key. Nothing matters if you don’t take action. Take what you learned from the other steps, apply it, and take action. Set a goal and start moving toward it.
Your next step:
- What is your next action?
- What steps do you need to take during this time and situation?
- Know it and start doing it!
Actions and Tips You Can Take To Keep Your Business Moving Forward
These suggested tips and actions are a combination of knowledge from multiple articles, resources, and people’s knowledge and experience. You will find links to many of the sources in the “Sources and Resources” section at the end.
Some of these may apply to you. Some may not. But take the time to go through them and see what could help you and your business during this time.
1. Make sure you are financially savvy and manage your finances well
It can sometimes be easy to leave the financial stuff to your accountant and bookkeeper. Don’t.
While you don’t need to enter all the information yourself, you do need to be on top of your finances and know where you stand. If you don’t know how to read financial reports, it’s time to learn.
It’s hard to plan, make cuts, and really see where you are at to make a decision if you don’t know about your financials. Especially during difficult times, take the time to see where you are on a frequent basis, even daily.
2. Manage your cash flow
According to Keap.com, 82 percent of small businesses fail because of cash flow issues.
If you want to keep your business running, you need to have cash. You can be profitable and still not have enough cash flow.
How can you help your cash flow?
- Stay on top of your finances (as mentioned above).
- Reduces expenditures (we’ll discuss how next).
- Watch your inventory. Avoid overstocking items. See if there is a way to go lean on some of your inventory so that your cash is not held up in unsold inventory. Look at other options. Can certain items be eliminated? Can you drop ship some items?
- Be careful trying to grow too fast or throw your money into capital expenses if that will keep you from having the cash on hand that you need.
3. Find ways to reduce costs
Reducing costs not only can help your overhead but can help your cash flow as well. Here are some ideas to help you reduce costs.
- Check your monthly bills and subscriptions. Is there anything you can reduce? Is there anything you are paying for that you aren’t using or using enough to justify it? Is there a bill that you can start renegotiating with someone?
- Double-check for those subscriptions and small things that can eat up your money. Do you need to spend $100 on those specialty pencils every month? Do you have a monthly subscription for some online software that you don’t really use?
- Are there yearly payments on software or subscriptions that you can cancel?
- Going through your financial statements with your accountant can help you see where you might save money.
- Make sure to look at discretionary expenses as well as travel. Are there some new guidelines or restrictions that you may need to put there, at least for now?
- Can you renegotiate with some of your creditors or vendors? Can you renegotiate with your landlord?
- Talk with your employees. If you say “we need to cut 15% of expenses” and ask for their help, they are likely to help you be able to do that, especially if it means saving jobs.
- As mentioned before, if you must reduce hours, communicate and involve employees.
- Is overtime needed in the current situation? Can you cut that for now?
- Delay capital spending. If you are in a financial crunch, wait till you are on firmer footing.
- Separate the “nice to have” from the “need to have”, the essentials. Look at the different items. Are they necessary? If not, consider cutting them.
4. Pay attention to the “little” things
This not only applies to your finances and the little things that add up, but to every step that brings in customers (or pushes them away).
As Glenn Curtis says:
“A large tree obstructing the public’s view of the business or the company’s signage, inadequate parking, lack of road/traffic access, or ineffective advertising are examples of small problems that can put a big dent in a business’s bottom line.”
If links aren’t working on your website, if it’s done poorly, if something is wrong with your process, all those can push your customers away. It may not have been as big of a deal when things were running more smoothly, but now that things are more stretched, checking customer flow and touchpoints could make a drastic difference in your business.
5. Have a clear vision and goal
Make sure you have a clear goal of where you are trying to go, your destination.
Goals are powerful because they help you make better decisions and help you accomplish more. They give you direction.
As Bonnie Fallin says, “You can’t build a roadmap till you have a destination”.
Make sure you have a clear goal, that your employees know it as well, and that you are taking steps to move toward it.
6. Prioritize your activities
When you are taking a step back to see the bigger picture, you could also take time to examine how you use your time.
- Are you putting it toward activities that only you can do?
- Are you doing things that should be passed on to someone else (are you having trouble delegating)?
- When you look at the 80/20 rule, are you wasting time on things that don’t produce many results? Or are you spending your time on the activities that bring the most value?
If you’re not sure, take the time to find out. Take note of what you spend your time on. Know what’s important and what’s not.
- What activities are most important for YOU to do?
- What can you pass on to others?
- What can you outsource?
When you start a task or are planning for the next day, ask yourself, “Is this task truly important?” If not, cut it out.
Remember, your time is limited. When you say yes to one task, you are saying no to another. Make sure the activities you are saying yes to have the greatest impact.When you say yes to one task, you are saying no to another. Make sure the activities you are saying yes to have the greatest impact. Click To Tweet
Also, as a company, are you wasting time on activities/services/products that don’t bring much return? Should you prioritize what your company focuses on?
7. Delegate and automate where you can
One problem we may have, especially as business owners or leaders, is that we try to do everything ourselves. Whether we see it as a badge we earn or we don’t trust those around us, we try to do it all.
This is a good time to stop. You shouldn’t be trying to do it all. You should only be doing what only you can do.
Pass tasks along that others can do at least as mostly well as you. Be willing to train them.
It takes time upfront, yes, but down the road, it will save you time that you can put into more productive and profit-building activities.
8. Treat your business as a business, not your baby
Your business may be your baby, your passion – and there’s nothing wrong with that on the surface; however, don’t let it being your baby cause you to make poor decisions.
Always treat it like a business and make decisions like a business. One reason people fail in their business is that they don’t treat it like a business, they treat it as their baby.
When they do, they often try to do things they should pass on to others, and they can be slow about changes (or not change at all) when they need to.
Love what you do. That’s great. But make decisions like it’s your business, not your baby.
Check out the last chapter of Wealth Made Easy by Greg S. Reid for more about this.
9. Don’t neglect quality & service (& don’t cut corners)
Unfortunately, when difficult times hit, one of the things that can suffer is our quality or the level of our service. Now, this doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t adjust the services you offer. That’s different.
But don’t let the quality or level of your product or service or customer service diminish. That cut hurt you not only in the short term but in the long term as well.
And don’t cut corners! It’s one thing to offer a cheaper version of a product or item. It’s another to just start using cheaper materials or doing less of a job or shoddy work to save a few dollars. You may save a little money now, but down the road, it will come back to haunt you.
10. Do a pre-mortem
A post-mortem is where you determine the cause of death AFTER the death. A pre-mortem, on the other hand, is where you determine possible causes of failure beforehand.
Why would you do this? If you take the time to analyze the possible pitfalls of the actions you take and the direction of your business, you then can work to avoid those pitfalls from happening.
Set a scheduled time for you and your team to meet. Think about where your business is, the current conditions, and the possibilities of what could happen. You can ask, “It’s 6 months/1 year from now and the business failed. What happened?” Then plan contingencies to overcome the possible failures.
Also, as you brainstorm and come up with ideas to move your business forward, you can do a pre-mortem with them as well.
“It’s 1 year from now and the plan flopped. What happened?” Then work to see if you can mitigate those possibilities.
11. Keep growing yourself
During difficult times, we can sometimes stop taking time to grow and learn – but these are some of the best times to be growing.
Keep growing and learning. See how you can improve yourself, your team, and your company.
Remember, too, that your business or team is limited by your growth. John C. Maxwell in The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership discusses “The Law of The Lid.”
Your team is limited by your level of leadership. It is you as the leader who limits how far your business or team will go. You are the lid.
12. Keep training your staff
Don’t let the training of your staff fall to the wayside either. You may not be able to do everything you did in the past, but there may be training you can do in-house or that can be found online or at community colleges. You want to keep everyone in top shape and morale as high as you can.
One area that suffers even in “good” times is sales training – many companies don’t have it or it’s not consistent.
If you find your company fits that bill, one option for you is to get Gene McNaughton’s book, The Sales EDGE. It guides you step by step on how to develop an effective and powerful sales system. (This is not a paid promotion – it’s just a great book).
That’s just one option. There are many books and online resources you can use to help your employees stay on top.
You may also want to consider cross-training. That way if one of your employees is out due to a virus or kids or who knows what, you still have everything covered.
13. Don’t stop marketing (just be wiser about it)
One mistake some businesses make when situations get difficult is that they stop marketing. That’s the opposite of what you want to do.
In fact, if you find a way to keep marketing more, not only can it help your sales pipeline, but if your competition stopped, it could help you grow even more.
Now, all this is said with a caveat. You must be doing what works. You must be tracking your marketing and its results. If not, you are just throwing money around.
You also don’t have to keep spending as much money on marketing. You can try different low-cost marketing options to continue to keep your name out there. This could include content marketing, social media marketing, PR, webinars, and much more.
Find what you can do and what works for you and your company. Just don’t stop.
“At the first hint of a bad economy, many small businesses panic and run for cover. They slash their advertising and sales budgets and try to sit out the downturn. At times like these, you can practically have the field to yourself as your competitors make themselves invisible, grab the chance to stand out and be noticed.” – Jenny Fulbright
“However, studies have shown that those maintaining or increasing ad outlays during slowdowns wind up outselling rivals who cut back.” US Small Business Administration
14. Try to avoid profit-eating sales and discounting
It’s not that you should never discount or offer sales, but be careful doing it as a reaction. Not only could you lower the amount you make from the transaction, but you also start to train your customers for those low prices.
If possible, it’s better to focus on your company or product’s uniqueness, quality, and service.
15. Expand your vendors (or at least look at others)
Some businesses sometimes get into bad situations because they rely on one single vendor for their goods. If you just have one vendor, now is a good time to look at other options, including local ones, that you can use when difficulties happen.
If nothing else, looking at other options could help you save money by finding less expensive vendors or setting you up to negotiate a better price with your current one.
16. Don’t ignore your current customers
One area that sometimes gets ignored as times become challenging is current customers. Sadly, that only makes things worse.
If you ignore your current customers, they may feel devalued and find someone else. They may also question the health of your company.
As discussed earlier, make sure you are staying in contact with your current customers. Don’t ignore them. Make sure they are happy and know that you appreciate them.
Doing this not only helps cement your relationship with them, but it helps prevent competitors from taking them from you.
17. Ramp up your selling
Another activity that sometimes diminishes during tough times is sales. We can get in a depressed mood and then sell less.
Don’t. Do the opposite. Do even more. Keep prospecting, keep selling, and keep pushing forward.
18. Partner with others and joint venture (even with your competitors)
One way to help ramp up a business is to partner or joint venture with others. Is there someone else who works with your target market that you can work with? Could you offer each other’s products? Could you do something together? Could you cross-promote?
You can even work with your competitors. If you are in the automotive sales industry, for example, is there a way you can team up with the other lots around you to help draw traffic in? Could you promote together?
19. Barter & Swap
Don’t forget about bartering. You may need help with your website or something else, and someone else may need what you have. Especially when cash is tight, finding a way to trade services or products can help you save cash and still get what you need.
20. Reconnect with former customers
If the business is getting low, why not try to reconnect with former customers? It’s possible that their situation has changed and that you could help them. And, if your competition is doing a poor job of maintaining that relationship, maybe you can get those relationships back.
21. Focus on what you can control, not what you can’t
Too often we waste time worrying about and focusing on the things we can’t control. Don’t. Focus on what you can. Think about what you are focusing on.
Ask, “Is this something I can control”? If not, then stop. Then ask “What can I control?” And focus on that. Make a list if you need to.
For example, you can’t control the economy, you can’t control the governmental mandates, you can’t control the virus, you can’t control your customers’ reactions, and so on.
What you can control, however, is how you respond to it all. What can you do differently? How can you help customers? How can you market differently?
Don’t waste time focusing on what you can’t control – focus on what you can.
22. Learn from the experience (and write it down)
Our hope, and your hope, is that you are able to weather whatever storm you are in and come out stronger and better than before. Use this experience to not only grow and learn but for future motivation and actions.
Veronika Tondon suggests putting your entire experience on paper – the challenges, what you did to overcome, the problems you faced, how long it took to overcome them, lessons learned, etc. This then can act as a guide in the future.
However, you do it, learn from this experience, and plan ahead for the future so that, when something happens again, you are ready for it.
23. Take care of yourself
One of the things that can often be sacrificed during challenging times as a leader is ourselves. We get stressed, we eat less healthy, we get less exercise, we work longer hours, and we get less sleep.
That leads to less productivity, less creativity, and worse decisions.
Make sure that, no matter what happens, you are taking care of yourself. Get exercise, eat healthily, get your sleep, and take some time to destress.
You will often find that doing these non-work-related activities bring greater clarity and productivity to your work.
24. Maintain as many routines as possible
Richard E. Gordon, the Grand Master at CEO Dojo, says that in situations like these, we need to try to maintain as many routines as possible.
Gordon says, “Your mental and physical health are most important during these uncertain times. Even though we are in an isolated mode continue to communicate with your employees, customers, and vendors. Network, you are not alone.”
What can you do to keep up your routines?
25. Don’t forget the important
Another important area that we can sometimes overlook during difficult times is our family. Make sure you keep your priorities straight.
There may be days you need to work long hours, but don’t neglect the people that are most important to you. Communicate with them about it when you have to.
They can be a support during this time. It’s hard for them to be if you don’t see them or spend time with them.
Final Thoughts on Leadership In Difficult Times
I hope this guide helps light your way during this daunting path. You may never face anything like this again, but whether you do or not, how you react to it now, the steps you take, and the lessons you learn during leadership at turbulent times, can make you and your business better than ever as time passes.
Make sure to examine these steps and suggestions and apply what will help you in your business.
Make sure to check the next sections out as we list a lot of resources that you can use to help you get through and succeed in your challenging times.
I wish you the best, and I look forward to hearing your success story in the future.
*This article was originally written as a free ebook for business leaders during the recent pandemic. It has been adjusted to the format of this article. The ebook was written in conjunction with Bonnie Fallon, founder of Opportunity Specs and author of If It Was a Snake, It Would Have Bit You & Richard E. Gordon, the Grand Master at CEO Dojo.
Articles used in this article ( and/or related to leadership in difficult times):
- Survival Tips for Managing During an Economic Downturn* – by the U.S. Small Business Administration
- 11 Ways to Get Through Any Tough Time in Business – by Andrew Griffiths
- 5 Ways to Keep Your Business Going in Hard Times – by Glenn Curtis
- How to save a struggling small business – by Besma Bihnam
- 5 Winning Tactics to grow your Small Business in Tough Times by Fundthrough
- How to Operate in All-Out Survival Mode as a Young Entrepreneur – by Matthew Toren
- Top Ten Tips for Pushing Through the Hard Times in Business – by Company.com
- 10 Rules for Surviving the Recession – by Donald Todrin
- 21 Small Business Survival Strategies – by Janet Attard
- Small business hard times survival guide – by Accounting Weekly
- How Your Business Can Survive Tough Times – by Jenny Fulbright
- 7 Tips to Stay Afloat When Times Get Tough – by Doug and Polly White
- How This Entrepreneur Turned Hurricane Harvey into an Incredible Breakthrough – by Matt Mayberry
- Here’s Why You Need to Stop Worrying About the Worst-Case Scenario – by Mitch Rothschild
- Top 9 Small Business Tips for Hard Times – by John Taylor
- The Small Business Hard Times Survival Guide – by Darrell Zahorsky
- 12 Survival Tips for your Business – by Veronika Tondon
- 4 mantras that got me through difficult times in my solopreneur journey – by Joseph Liu
- SURVIVING TOUGH TIMES FOR SMALL BUSINESS – by Anne Nalder
- The Quick Guide For Goals At Work (That Actually Work)
- The Definitive Guide to Business Goals (How to Set & Implement Them In Your Organization)
- Your Guide to SMART Goals: How You Do Them Wrong, and How to Do Them Right
Time Management & Productivity
- 117 Time Management Tips That Will Skyrocket Your Productivity (in 2020)
- The 40 Top Tips to Improve Your Time Management at Work
- 15 Poor Time Management Habits That You Need to Quit Right Now
- The Ultimate Guide to Time Management – by The Tony Robbins Team
- 6 Simple Steps on How to Make Great Decisions (In Life and Business)
- 21 Decision-Making Techniques You Need to Start Using Right Now
- 29 Decision-Making Mistakes You Are Making (And Don’t Even Know It)
- The Sales EDGE: Your Ultimate Guide to Finding, Keeping, and Growing Accounts – by Gene McNaughton
- The Ultimate Sales Machine: Turbocharge Your Business with Relentless Focus on 12 Key Strategies – by Chet Holmes
- Think and Grow Rich: Stickability, The Power of Perseverance – by Greg S Reid
- Good to Great – by Jim Collins
- Illuminate – by David Corbin
- If It Was a Snake, It Would Have Bit You – by Bonnie Fallin
- Meditations – by Marcus Aurelius (suggested by Richard E. Gordon)