6 Steps to Starting a Business Successfully During the Worst of Times

Three founders talk about starting businesses during a downturn.
6 Steps to Starting a Business Successfully During the Worst of Times
Image credit: Luis Alvarez | Getty Images
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Writer
Performance and Transformational Coach
7 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

I successfully started and grew two coaching businesses during the 2008 economic and 2020 pandemic, respectively. Although I wish the world’s circumstances were better when I chose to start these businesses, the truth is sometimes those harsher conditions make a better

How do you create and grow these brands when all warning signs are telling you to wait? I asked three other people who started or grew their companies under seemingly dire circumstances and used our collective stories to give you a six-step plan for starting a business at any time.

Take advantage of forced conditions

Although we can never control outside conditions like a pandemic or economic recession, we can choose how we respond to them. In 2008, I started my business because I needed to get out of my parents’ house after graduating college. I didn't choose the circumstances, but I also didn't let them dictate how I reacted. 

Here’s an impressive list of companies that started deep in the economic recession of 2008 to 2009 when we were told “no one was spending money.” 

  • Uber
  • Airbnb
  • Slack
  • Square
  • Venmo
  • WhatsApp

And those are the big ones. Hundreds, if not, thousands of other successful companies we don't hear about also launched during that time.

“Once the pandemic hit and the company I was working for was forced to layoff the entire recruiting team, I was left with a decision of whether to join a large and secure company or try my hand at making TenX Recruiting a reality,” says Freddie Gonzalez, whose company does recruiting and recruiting operations consulting for startups and mid-sized companies.

Related: Working Crazy Hours Is Exhausting, Draining and Painful. But Sorry Entrepreneurs, It's Necessary.

You don't need to be perfect

What holds so many people back from taking the plunge and starting their business is that they feel they need to "have it all together." We’ve seen entrepreneurs and businesses receive funding just from a simple idea, without a tangible product or even a website available.

“Following all the rules can be limiting. Not everything will go perfectly, but that’s part of the gig,” says Christine Perkett, founder of Yup Sup, an active lifestyle brand that offers custom stand up paddle boards, beach apparel, art and accessories. “As a marketer, I would never suggest this strategy but COVID made Yup Sup’s launch an exception. We had just sitting here — our boards and were ready ahead of our website.”

Even though its website wasn’t ready, Yup Sup still sold out its inventory through other methods, which shows customers care more about the product than the experience. When you let go of what the experience of starting a business "should" look like, so many opportunities will follow. 

Related: 4 Tips for Discovering a Great Business Idea During the Pandemic

Fill a specific need

Over the past several months I've read about the number of people losing jobs and PPP money running out, but I've also heard about friends getting hired, starting businesses and experiencing growth. No matter what happens in the world, there will always be a need, which will provide opportunities for those able to fulfill it.

When I started my first coaching business in 2008, I noticed a surge in people looking to get into relationships as they sought cohabitation as a form of economic stability. When they were having trouble making that happen, there was a huge opportunity for me to provide a service to support them.

There's always opportunity if you look for it. Take Yup Sup's Perkett's experience: “When the warm weather started just after the initial stay-at-home orders, people wanted to get outside, but they still had to socially distance. Throughout the industry this summer, sales skyrocketed, factories were flooded with requests and people were clamoring to find stand up paddle boards. We felt it was the right thing to do to sell our inventory even though the site wasn’t yet launched.”

Yup Sup executed a company launch via social media, and its boards sold out in just days. “As an entrepreneur, you have to recognize unique opportunity, be willing to take calculated risks and find innovative solutions," Perkett says. "Our decision to launch early encompassed all of those attributes.”

Create urgency by giving yourself a timeline

When I look back at all the times I committed and stepped up in my business, there was one thing in common: a timeframe. Time is the essential factor in doing something important, especially if fear has been holding you back from starting.

“I gave us one month,” TenX Recruiting's Gonzalez told himself. "If I couldn’t get a client in one month, then I'd go work at one of those large companies.”

When you give yourself an uncomfortable window of time, your level of urgency and effort ramps up immediately. “At first it was a little quiet, but after about two weeks, the responses started to trickle in and I was getting a lot more interest,” he says.

Notice key results, not what others think

When you’re hesitant to get started, it doesn’t help when you have others who doubt your ability to succeed. The way to clear the noise and know if you’re on the right track is by looking at results, either yours or others'.

“During lockdown, I became a lot more aware of my surroundings and the energy my home could hold,” says Kelly Welch, founder of Organized by KW, a professional organization and interior styling business. “I knew I wasn’t alone. People were feeling overwhelmed and claustrophobic in their homes, because I saw a huge increase in inquiries for my organizational services.”

If you don’t have specific results to validate what you’re doing, you can try applying simple logic to the business idea you have, like Gonzalez did. “I was getting conflicting advice from mentors and people I really respected, saying, ‘I wouldn’t do that’ or ‘I’d hunker down with a stable company.’ After doing some serious thinking, it became clear to me –– if companies are laying off all their recruiters, what’s going to happen when they need to hire?”

Related: How One Startup Went From Almost Shutting Down to Raising More Than $1 Million

Take care of yourself and find your fun

This is the most important step of all. If you are not happy with your current situation, you might not have a better chance to explore new opportunities for greener pastures than right now, when things appear “slow."

“There’s never a time to start something new,” Welch says. “For the first time in a while, I’m truly happy waking up and doing what I’m passionate about. I’m glad I took the leap.”

You have a great chance to focus on what you want to do and what makes you happy. Although we can’t control the outside world, the two things we can control are our attitude and effort. Perkett sums it up well: “Surround yourself with positive mentors, do your research, and don’t forget to make self-care and wellness a part of your journey.”

Not only is it vital for long-term success, it could also inspire your next business.

Related: Tired of Being Kicked to the Curb? Maybe It's Time To Be Your Own Boss.

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