I Survived 9/11 but My Business Didn't. This Is What I Learned From Rebuilding.
When something is too big to overcome, start over.
On this anniversary of the day that changed the course of American history, I must reflect on how September 11, 2001, changed me both as a person and a businessman.
Seventeen years ago, I was running my first business, AbraCadabra Digital Printing on the 18th floor of the World Trade Center’s South Tower in New York City. Business was booming. We were generating about $4 million a year with 30 employees and five locations across New York and New Jersey.
I was finishing up a meeting with my business manager when the first plane hit the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. Seventeen minutes later, we were standing on the streets of New York as the second plane crashed into the building where we had just stood.
Following the events of 9/11, my once thriving business suffered as many others did at the time. My sales plummeted to $600,000 in 2003. I finally sold the business in 2004 for $325,000.
Seeing so many lives destroyed and losing my business was a major setback for me both professionally and personally that, ultimately, taught me a number of enduring lessons about perseverance, rebuilding from the ashes and the importance of consistently reinvesting in myself. Although it is hard for anyone who was not there to relate to the extreme tragedy experienced on 9/11, the lessons I learned can apply to turning around any struggling business and to every entrepreneur looking to start again with a new venture.
Related: Entrepreneurs Changed By 9/11
Recognize when it’s time to let go and start over.
Business in New York was dead after 9/11. Our most profitable branch had been destroyed and the business was suffering immensely. I had a family to care for and had to let go employees who I’d been working with for years. When my business revenues dropped to just 30 percent of what they’d been just years before, I knew it was time to let this venture go.
Business owners and business persons alike often make the mistake of holding on to what they know, when letting go could be their best shot at future success. As a business owner, when you see your business is failing and know the chances of it improving in the foreseeable future are slim, it’s imperative to know it’s time to move on.
This means reinventing yourself and reinventing your business -- not quitting entrepreneurship for good. Stay in the same field of business if that’s what you’re passionate about, but find that new sweet spot with a brighter, clearer future that gets new energy moving and reignites the excitement behind the business.
When I decided to sell AbraCadabra Digital Printing and join Cartridge Word, I was entering into somewhat unknown territory. I’d known very little about franchising, advertising such products, the top competitors in the industry, etc., but I made the bold move to purchase the franchise rights to Cartridge World when there were zero U.S. locations. Now there are 287, of which 70 are mine. Sometimes letting go of smaller ventures can lead you to greener pastures.
Reinvest in yourself.
As an entrepreneur, you are your biggest asset. You are the driving force behind the business; therefore, you should always seek to learn as much as you can about your business and industry for when big decisions need to be made.
Make the time to take additional courses throughout the year to learn and grow. Whether it be a business course on the latest techniques or technology, or a marketing and advertising course covering modern trends and creativity, always work to reinvent yourself and grow your knowledge base. I typically allott five to 10 days a year to attend a courses so I keep growing and widening my capabilities.
Furthermore, have a mentor to help guide you and advise you during your business journey. As your interests or field of business change, seek new mentors who can guide you along the way. In my experience, those who’ve made it, so to speak, are typically happy to help others make their dreams come true. Do your best to return the favor. Meet with fellow entrepreneurs, learn their stories and share your own. Networking is fundamental to growing your business.
Take responsibility for your business.
Whether times are good or bad, you need to realize that the state of your business is a reflection of how you, and you alone, are running the business. If times are bad, but you insist on running your business like you’ve done for the past 10 years, you can’t expect anything to change. If catastrophe strikes like it did on 9/11, be prepared to make major changes and adapt, even if that means leaving one venture behind and starting a new one.
To run a successful business, you need the energy, goals and dedication to self-improvement to keep it running and thriving. All businesses can get stale, but it is up to you as the backbone behind the company to make changes and keep the energy high.
When I decided to take one of my Cartridge World locations back to the new World Trade Center, I was the only business tenant pre-9/11 to return after the attacks. I knew this was a bold move, but a move that ignited my spirits and in turn, my business.