Small Business Comebacks

Juli Oliver got into the business of professional organizing because it matched her high-energy personality. Since she launched her company, OrganizeNY, in 2005, she's had a steady stream of long-term clients. But by the end of 2009, in the depths of the recession, business was dropping fast and so was her morale. By January 2010, business had slowed 80% from the previous year.

"I never slow down or stop," says Oliver, 34. "Not having anything to keep me going was a very strange feeling. It was awful. [But] I knew I couldn't sit inside my home every day and mope around."

For Oliver, finding ways to socialize with other small-business owners was invaluable in changing her attitude, which helped her make a business comeback. Today, her revenues are back to pre-recession levels.

Here are five steps to get in the right mindset for a business turnaround.

Step 1: Be social, even if you don't feel like it.
Shutting yourself away from everyone is a common mistake too many business owners make when times are tough, says Debra Condren, a New York-based business psychologist and author of Ambition is Not a Dirty Word (Broadway, 2008). "Sometimes you can be your own worst underminer," Condren says. "You start feeling like a fraud."

When Oliver's business slowed down, she started going to more networking events for women and small business owners, while raising awareness of her business through social networks and daily-deals sites.

"[Business] started to pick up because I kept fighting the recession and I kept promoting myself and getting my name out there," she says.

If you don't have one already, create an advisory board you can consult about business challenges, says Condren.

"Talk to people who have been there and done it and fallen through the same hole," says Mark Parkinson, a Somerset U.K.-based business psychologist and author of Using Psychology in Business (Gower, 1999).

Step 2: Avoid naysayers and watch what you feed your mind.
It's easy to start and end your day watching the news, but beware of the negative messages you're getting from headlines, says Condren. She suggests limiting your news intake to once a day. "You want to stay current and skim the headlines, but stay away from the rest of it," she says.

Read something inspiring instead, ideally just before bed and right when you wake up. "The last thing you put into your mind before you go to sleep is what you are going to focus on," says Condren. She recommends books like the 1937 classic Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield (Warner Books, 2003) and The Luck Factor by Richard Wiseman (Miramax, 2004).

Step 3: Get up and move.
Exercise is one of the first things people skip when under pressure. But when we are feeling stressed our body produces noradrenaline, a stress hormone that can affect our attention and quality of thinking. Exercise spurs endorphins to counter the buildup of stress hormones in the body. "Literally, your brain does work better if you exercise. The quality of your thinking is improved," says Parkinson.

Even if you can't make it to the gym, you can still find small ways to incorporate exercise into your day. Condren suggests taking a few flights of stairs instead of the elevator or simply walking around the block to get your blood pumping and help clear your mind.

Step 4: Keep learning and stay on top of industry trends.
While solving day-to-day problems can be all-consuming, taking the time to learn about new aspects of business is an important way to stay focused on solutions -- not just your problems. Condren suggests starting simple, like reading an article related to an area of business that's been giving you trouble, taking a half-day workshop or attending an industry conference.

If you don't have the time or money to spend at a conference, consider online educational videos. Not only can they get you thinking about your business in new ways, they can help you stay current in your industry. "Instead of watching the news while you're cooking your dinner that evening, listen to a home-study course," Condren says. "You have to stay current, or you will feel left behind."

Step 5: Be your own cheerleader.
Studies have shown we remember uncompleted tasks better than we remember what we've accomplished. But even if you're faced with a never-ending to-do list, Condren says it's important to remember everything you've already accomplished. For example, if a client sends over a complimentary note or you close a major deal, print out the email or document and put it in a file you can turn to when you're feeling discouraged. Also, update your resume, even if no one else sees it, as a reminder of your achievements.

It's tapping back into your passion for the business that will ultimately help turn it around, says Parkinson. "You've got to remember all that positive stuff that got you fired up in the first place," he says. "It's like falling in love. You've got to remember what it's like and then you might want to do it again."