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5 Survival Tips for Running a Successful Small Business

4 Mins read

For the past seven years, I’ve hosted a group of fellow small business owners on a trip to the Grand Canyon. It’s an adventure that I look forward to each year. Planning has already begun for 2024.

It’s a chance for all of us to get out of the day-to-day grind and push ourselves physically and mentally while having impactful discussions about life and business along the way.

Carrying 20 pounds of supplies, with temperatures ranging from 40 to 105 degrees and 24,000 feet of elevation changes, we covered 56 miles this year.

At one time or another, everyone was tested and pushed to their limit.

A perfect metaphor for running a small business could not be found.

With no cell phone service, we had no choice but to focus on the task at hand. Although we were all at different stages of our entrepreneurial journeys, we were able to share our visions for ourselves and our companies and where we wanted to be both personally and professionally in the next five to ten years. Advice was shared, and tips were traded on how to get there.

What I realized, having run my own businesses, along with advising countless others, is that much of how we approached those 72 hours can be easily applied to running any successful small business, including:

Be Prepared for All Conditions

In both undertakings, being unprepared can have catastrophic results. On the trail, that means having the proper clothing, food, supplies, and water to get you through the extremes each day brings in variations in terrain, weather, altitude, and energy levels. This year, due to record-breaking snowfalls, many water lines we’ve relied on in the past were broken. It could have been deadly had we not done our homework. But because we had, we were able to plan ahead.

As entrepreneurs, we must also be prepared to weather any storm, be it a recession, weather event, or pandemic. You never know what’s up ahead. As a result, I have the owners I work with create not one business plan for the upcoming year but three–when they have a clear head and time to work through all the variables. Covering a good, better, and worst-case scenario, each option includes different triggers to pull depending on external factors. Say a recession was predicted, but the economy is doing better than expected. Because they have thought through such a scenario, they can quickly pivot and, without missing a beat, add to the headcount or spend more money on marketing. Or if the reverse is true, they know where to cut expenses.

Be Flexible

The only constant on our trip is change. We’ve experienced snow and ice one minute and temperatures over 100 the next. Energy levels fluctuate, along with overall health, too. This year, the North Side of the Canyon opened later than usual. All our months of planning had to be scrapped and reworked for the South Rim in just weeks, from updating our itinerary to finding new routes and lodging to obtaining all the necessary permits.

The same goes for running a business. Markets, trends, and customers are continuously in flux. As a result, leaders must be agile and ready to adjust their game plans. Sometimes, that means mid-course corrections, and other times, starting all over. In hiking and business, I’ve found you can’t get too fixated on the path in pursuit of the goal. You have to focus on the goal.

Know There Will be Peaks and Valleys

In both pursuits, actually in life in general, there will be highs and lows. And while it’s easy to keep moving forward on the easy part of the trail, or when business is booming, it’s just as important when the going gets tough.

To get through these difficult times, both personally and professionally, it’s essential to understand that it’s going to happen. I remind myself and my clients it’s not a bad thing. It’s not a good thing. It’s just going to happen. And you know what? It’ll happen to all of us. By acknowledging and accepting this fact and taking emotions out of the equation, I’ve found it’s easier to plan and move through it.

Give Yourself a Moment to Take it All In

On the trail, much of your energy is focused on the actual path itself to avoid slipping, tripping, and falling. It’s easy to get caught up in how your body is responding to the physicality of the trip. A lot of the time, you’re not actually aware of the beauty of your surroundings or how far you’ve come. You’re just focused on the current challenge.

Sound familiar?

We entrepreneurs are often guilty of the same thing. We get caught up in the day-to-day or the next deadline, with time flying by in a blur. And while we often remember more easily the failures and what didn’t work, it’s essential to make time to take it all in and celebrate the progress you’ve made. Keep a tally of the wins, easily accessible, to pull out in times of uncertainty. Not only will it provide a jolt of confidence and a sense of progress, but also a jumping-off point to diagnose and solve the problem.

 Most Importantly, Have a Support System

Throughout the trip, we all struggled at different times. Some had difficulty getting started in the morning, while others lost their mojo in the afternoon. But together, we motivated one another to get through the hard times. Maybe it was by carrying someone’s bag for a bit so they could catch their breath or sharing food to give them the fuel and energy needed to continue.

Having a support system is just as crucial for those running a business. The most successful entrepreneurs I know have a team to lean on–family, friends, mentors, coaches, partners, and co-founders to turn to help them through the tough times. And we all know there will be plenty of those. That’s why connecting with those who have first-hand knowledge of the challenges and opportunities you’re going through is essential.

And you don’t have to come together by hiking the Grand Canyon. It’s extreme, I know. Start small by grabbing a cup of coffee, going for a walk, or attending a local networking event. But make sure you get out of the office. With 72% of business owners saying they are directly or indirectly affected by mental health issues compared to 48% of non-entrepreneurs, it’s vital to have a community to rely on for support, outside perspective, and advice. You owe it to yourself, your business, and your family.

Jeff Rendell is COO and Partner at Cultivate Advisors. The coaching firm has helped thousands of small businesses in 160+ industries grow, scale, and become exit-ready. Clients that work with us for 12+ months grow on average 43% in top-line revenue and 65% in bottom-line profit year-over-year, and regularly make the Inc. 5000–an accomplishment Cultivate itself has achieved five years in a row. Connect on LinkedIn with Cultivate and Jeff, or email him at jeff@cultivateadvisors.com to learn more about our services and any upcoming trips.

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