In 1994, Celita Schutz left a lucrative art director position to train for the 1996 Olympics and start her own graphic design business, Celita Schutz Designs, based in New York City. Six months before the 1996 Olympic trials, the judo Olympian broke her leg in two places while competing in Brazil. The doctors predicted a six-month recovery, which would have eliminated Schutz from the Olympics. "I could either sit back and accept my injury, feeling sorry for myself, or I could fight. Win or lose, I had to try," says Schutz, 34. She made it back onto the mat in three months, winning a spot on the 1996 and 2000 Olympic teams. All the while, her graphic design business provided a mental diversion during the painful rehabilitation.
As an entrepreneur, you ride a roller-coaster of emotion every day--from the exhilarating highs of making a sale to the deep lows of lying awake at 3 a.m., wondering if your company will survive. As the economy sputters through recession, you count dwindling cash reserves. Months of massive layoffs have torn gaping holes in the corporate safety net--there are fewer jobs to catch you if you fall. How can you find the courage to face your fears and make your business successful? How do you push past discouragement and the darkness of self-doubt?
Return to the Reason You Started
Entrepreneurs work for a purpose far beyond a paycheck. Staying focused on your company's original mission will give you the stamina to last through the tough times. Dust off your earliest business plan and re-read it. Why did you start the business? Did you have a vision of great service or an innovative product to meet an unmatched need? Were you going to make the world a better place in some small way? Recommit to your company mission, and rewrite your vision to match the urgency of the moment.
For Kimberly Ogilvie, keeping her company's original mission top-of-mind is all she needs to forge ahead. The 31-year-old started Transcending Concepts, a disability and accommodation consulting firm in Kansas City, Missouri, out of frustration: As she watched a friend with muscular dystrophy go from walking, to relying on a walker, to being wheelchair-bound, Ogilvie felt called to make a difference. Today, she works with employers to make their companies more accessible to disabled individuals. She has learned from her disabled clients to never give up, to never take no for an answer--a lesson every entrepreneur could use these days.
Sometimes, sticking with your entrepreneurial venture is as simple as considering the alternative: a corporate job. That was enough to keep Andrew Frumovitz in the game, even when the market correction of 2001 dried up his financing and brought business at his Los Angeles law firm to a screeching halt in the span of one week. Frumovitz went from advising his high-tech clients on achieving success to advising them on how to close their businesses without hurting anyone. With a new marriage--and a new mortgage--on the line, he was tempted to return to a handsome corporate salary at a large law firm. But going back would have meant giving up on his dream--a prospect far scarier than failure. "The reason I became an entrepreneur was that I wanted to create something," explains Frumovitz, 31. "You can sleep at night when you've given your best on your terms."
Face Down Your Fears
For Wendy Tarzian, president of Tarzian Search Consultants Inc., a Chicago-based recruiting company, facing her fears motivates her to put in the long hours necessary to make her recruiting firm a success. "I'm putting everything I have into this business. That is a little bit terrifying at times," admits Tarzian, 34. " I don't want to end up knocking on the door of the homeless shelter, asking if they can spare a cot, [so] I have to bear down and work through the fear."
Realistically facing the worst scenario for your business and preparing a contingency plan can build courage. Ask yourself, what is the worst thing that could happen? Laying off your employees? Bankruptcy? Losing your home? Losing your family? Facing down your fear at the faintest death rattle can help you plan to avoid financial and familial ruin.
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.
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.