It Takes Courage

Keeping Your Eyes on the Prize

Know the Price You Are Willing to Pay
Sometimes you get so entangled in saving your company at all costs, you might realize too late that you've gone past the point of recovery. The devastation of business failure and bankruptcy can destroy your personal relationships, ruin your health and generally make life miserable. So before you get caught up in the adrenaline rush, ask yourself, "What price am I willing to pay for success?" Draw a line in the sand-commit to a time limit or level of debt, and don't cross that line.

"At the end of the day, you must keep your family together. You may have to take a second job while growing the business," notes B. Tyler Sory, founder of benefits consulting firm SCA Corp. in Brentwood, Tennessee.

Sory ought to know. His business is successful now, but that certainly didn't happen overnight. "My family has struggled for my dream," says Sory, 31. "We have been broke; we've eaten Ramen noodles for three weeks, had our utilities disconnected, our cars repossessed and been evicted. When you start with nothing, you have to risk everything."

If you find yourself in this type of situation, you have to know where that line in the sand is. Says Sory, "Money is money-but losing your family is the biggest risk."

Refocus & Redefine
As an entrepreneur, you have to constantly evaluate what is and isn't working. You have to refocus, redefine and even reinvent your business to meet a changing market.

When Schutz returned from the 2000 Sydney Olympics, she went through a divorce-not to mention the transition from constant training to running her business full time. And after 9/11, the demand for design services slowed dramatically. So Schutz shifted gears, studying construction basics to take her designs off the page to three-dimensional. She is considering becoming an architect and helping to reconstruct New York City. "The down times are a perfect time to focus on new skills and techniques," she says. "When the opportunities do arise, you will be better prepared."

Both Frumovitz and Tarzian underwent similar transformations. When Frumovitz's firm went from boom to bust, he re-evaluated his business model, diversifying his client base from technology firms to include traditional brick-and-mortar companies. He also merged his practice with established tax and real estate attorney Robert A. Briskin, forming Briskin & Frumovitz, and refocused the practice on corporate, tax and intellectual property law for growing companies.

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Likewise, when the economy slowed and unemployment rose, Tarzian redefined her business plan, developing a niche market. She created a survey linking brand image to the hiring process that was published in multiple mediums, generating over 22,000 hits on her Web site. Still, Tarzian doesn't ever allow herself to get too relaxed: "The moment I get too comfortable is the moment I will make a mistake. I'm always on the lookout for how I can further differentiate myself from my competition and add value."

Partner With Your Partner
Isolation extinguishes the entrepreneurial spirit. Often, the hardest part of having a small business is not having anyone to bounce ideas off of and help shoulder the stress. Given the right circumstances, partnering with a trusted friend or your spouse can relieve some of the pressure.

When the Internet company where Daisy Ramirez had been working as a distribution center manager folded, she and her husband, James, talked over the possibility of Daisy joining him in his two-person Placentia, California, business. Although the newlyweds were confident that Daisy's strategic thinking and financial background, coupled with James' technology skills and customer relationships, could take the company to the next level, they knew it was a gamble-Daisy had provided the couple's financial stability.

The couple decided that the benefits of working together and supporting each other outweighed the risk. Daisy joined James in Pacific Time Systems, a time and attendance software and hardware solutions company, in September 2001, and together they struggled through the slow economy. Daisy did consulting work for her former employer to tide the company over while James worked on building the business. "We would have been in dire financial straits without the consulting work," adds Daisy, 31. "But the biggest advantage of being in business with James is that we have control of the outcome. If we work 15-hour days, we see the benefit-in my corporate job, my salary stayed the same. If I'm going to work this hard, let it be for me and for my family."

Find Your Courage
In judo and in life, there is a difference between pain and injury. You must never surrender. If you can withstand the pain and keep fighting, you might go on to win the gold. "When you train for the Olympics, you expect things to go as you plan, just as you do in business and in life," says Schutz. "When they do, it's great. But I've discovered that I learned the most during times of struggle. I came back stronger each time."


Rebecca Smith is the author of numerous business and sports articles (online at www.winningyourway.com) and Winning Without Losing Your Way: Courage and Honor in Leadership, scheduled for publication by Executive Excellence in October 2002. Smith, a black belt in judo, coaches, competes and referees.

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This article was originally published in the June 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: It Takes Courage.

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