The highs and lows of entrepreneurialism



By Mark Wardell

If you’re an entrepreneur, then you know it takes vision, guts, hard work and inspiration to grow a business. And if you’ve been an entrepreneur for more than ten minutes, then you also know that no matter how hard you work, you’re going to get knocked back on your tail every once in a while.

So what do you do when times get tough? Here are a few strategies to help you weather the inevitable storms of entrepreneurialism and get you back to sunnier days.

Switch the picture to success. Everyone runs low on inspiration from time to time. As in life, high points and low points are simply a part of business. You can’t be on the upswing all of the time. The trick is to acknowledge your current reality, without letting go of your optimism.

For example, when a massive business deal falls through, sales are at an all-time low, or one of your (expensive) creative marketing ideas falls flat, how do you manage?

Years ago, I unwittingly lost a significant amount of money to a crook in a real estate deal. My nemesis ended up in jail, but I was left heavily in debt. The experience made me bitter, and I realized that moving past self-pity quickly isn’t easy, but I knew it was necessary. When you get burned it’s easier to just get down on yourself and start the “negative self-talk” cycle. Unfortunately, this is a bad habit that cripples many potential success stories. If you find yourself getting on the negative self-talk train, you can practice changing your negative thoughts by focusing on positive thoughts instead. This will help you regain a healthy perspective. Let’s face it, we’re all on the learning curve of life, whether we’re the local start-up or Bill Gates. Learning to weather the tough times with a healthy perspective is the starting point for lasting success (and sanity).

Give yourself a deadline. For some of us, managing our own schedules gives us too much flexibility, when what we really need is a good solid deadline. In fact, one of the best-kept secrets of the successful entrepreneur is the self-imposed deadline. It almost sounds too simple to be true, but when you set deadlines for yourself—and treat them the same way you treat the deadlines you give employees—you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can rev up your own work mojo and tackle the things on your list!

There are a few tricks to making this work for you. Make an exact deadline and don’t allow yourself to go over it, not even by one second. Increase the pressure you put on yourself to keep the deadline by involving other people in it. Tell your plans to people who will hold you accountable for your actions. And put your deadline in writing before your team, so it feels more like a commitment.

Face your fears and stop procrastinating. One of the biggest causes of entrepreneurial lows is avoidance. Many of us simply choose to avoid facing the things we don’t want to face because of an underlying fear or the habit of procrastination. Yet, we typically build up in our minds and exaggerate our fears exponentially. So what we need to do is begin the habit of tackling our fears head on, thus developing a realistic perspective. By doing this, you’ll reduce your fears to a manageable level and enjoy a fear-conquering high that may just see you delving into all sorts of personal fears as well. Be warned. Here are a few techniques to try:

Negative Reinforcement is the practice of imagining your life as it will be if you never confront your fears, if you allow your fears to stop you every time they get in the way. If this paints a more unpleasant picture than your immediate fears, you will be motivated into action. With this exercise, try giving yourself a more unpleasant alterna­tive to not confronting your fears, i.e., “If I don’t meet with Joe by 1:00 p.m. today, I’ll have to work through the whole weekend and I’ll still have to meet with him on Monday.” Keep in mind that this will only work if you are fully prepared to follow through.

Positive Reinforcement, conversely, is the practice of imagining and mentally enjoying the achieve­ments you will accomplish once you push through your limiting fears. With this technique, allow the inspiration of your goals to take your mind off of your fears and to motivate you into action. Offer yourself a small reward for con­fronting your fears. A walk in the park, an extended lunch break, a small gift ... any­thing that will make you feel good. Just make sure that you don’t reward yourself until you complete your task.

Time and again, when I’ve found myself low on inspiration, these strategies have helped me get back on track, quickly. Sometimes it helps to combine more than one strategy. For example, I may give myself a deadline to accomplish a goal, write it down with a timeline, share that timeline with my advisors and offer myself a reward for hitting my target on time. Next time you’re on the verge of hitting a wall, give one of these tactics a try and let me know how it goes!


Mark is President & Founder of Wardell Professional Development, an advisory group that helps business owners plan and execute the growth of their companies. The author of seven business books, Mark also writes regularly for several national business publications, including Profit Magazine, the Globe and Mail, and CGA Magazine. Email him at [email protected]

By Adam

August 13, 2010