Surviving the Great Recession: Tips for business owners losing heart

Doing business in today's economy requires a steady hand, a sharp eye and most of all, a calm mind.

Andy Manis/AP/File
Lara Miller, left, along with her son, Lincoln, 15-months-old, and Natasha Sattin along with her daughter, Charlie, 18-months-old, watch a screening of "Babies" on May 13 in Madison, Wis. Taking the time to focus on being a good parent and spouse is important when starting a new business venture.

I have been observing more and more business owners who, although their businesses have survived the economic downturn, seem to be losing heart.

The stress and strain caused by these difficult times has worn on them. But doing business in today's economy requires a steady hand, a sharp eye and most of all -- a calm mind. There are four steps that can be taken to help to cope with the emotional toll of being an entrepreneur in difficult times.

First, adjust your expectations. The growth in revenues and profits that you experienced during the good times may not return for quite some time, if ever.

Don't burden your business with unrealistic profit goals. It is time to reset your personal budgets to reflect the new reality of what your business can generate for you in terms of income. Also, be patient and understand that it will probably take longer for you to get to retirement.

Creating wealth from your business will be a longer process that will take careful management and planning.

Second, celebrate each small step forward. Set short-term, realistic milestones for your business. What can you get done this week, this month, to make modest improvements in the performance of your business?

While you still may have big dreams for your business, take the time to enjoy the smaller accomplishments. For over time, it is those small victories that will lead to achieving your long-term goals.

Third, focus on the things that really matter. There is so much more to your life than your business. Work hard at being a good spouse. Strive to become a better parent.

Pay attention to your friends. Be a good citizen in your community. These are the things that ultimately define who you are as a person, not how big you can grow your business.

Finally, let go of the things outside your control. Even under the best of times, entrepreneurs who have been well trained in what it takes to start and grow a successful business still face about a 20 percent failure rate. Failure comes from many things that you cannot predict or plan for. Call it uncertainty, call it risk, or call it plain old bad luck.

The reality of 2010 is that entrepreneurs face much tougher odds. Nationally, the prolonged recession has led to skyrocketing business failure rates. And Nashville small-business owners face the added pressures created by the recent floods. For years, I have put a prayer on the syllabus for every entrepreneurship class I teach. It reads:

"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference."

It is known by many as the "Serenity Prayer," but I like to call it the "Entrepreneur's Prayer" as it helps entrepreneurs remember that the best course is to focus on those things that they can control.

While times may be tough, it's still possible to truly enjoy the entrepreneurial journey.

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