Where’s the silver lining in that cloud?
We all know at least one of them – people that fall in the proverbial pile of manure and come out smelling of roses. Every single time. So how do they do it and how can we do the same?
There’s no shortage of challenges in running a business. I think of it sometimes as captaining a boat – you leave dock under the guidance of a pilot, but almost before you know it, you’re out in the open sea, often in uncharted water, with rocks all around – some are visible if you look carefully, others are below the water, just waiting to get you. It’s a tricky job, and you need your wits about you, but with skill, the right attitude, a bit of luck and a following wind, you can do it. Some expert assistance from someone who’s navigated these waters before can make a big difference, but the factor you can alter most quickly to your advantage is your attitude.
Don’t panic, stay alert, think carefully, be positive, and know that you will do it. There is nothing you can’t do, there is no obstacle you can’t overcome. Let’s look at some examples:
1. Your best sales person resigns
It’s happened to me. There’s never a good time for this. First reaction: panic. Solution: stop, think, stay calm. In my example I sat down with him and we talked. The first thing he said to me was ‘I know you’re going to try to talk me out of this Paul, and I just want to let you know that I’m not going to change my mind’. So, I didn’t try. We had a very open discussion, and we got to the bottom of his concerns, his real reasons for wanting to leave. And he had a point. So we talked about what needed to happen to make the business better (not for him to change his mind), and with his significant input we developed an amazing plan for the future business direction and how it could be done. Like me, he was very enthusiastic about the plan and direction and wanted to be part of it. And he played a major part in its achievement. One potentially disastrous resignation, a major strategy realignment, and tremendous business success. One of the best piles of manure I’ve ever fallen into.
2. Your bank refuses to lend you the money you need to develop your business
You’ve worked out the plan, you can see and almost touch the end result, but after months of discussions with your bank, the money you need to fund the growth is not forthcoming. What do you do?
The first thing to do is to understand exactly why the bank doesn’t share your optimism. Perhaps they have good cause, in which case you need to re-exam your enthusiasm, carry out more research and analysis, and ensure your plan is genuinely and realistically achievable. If it’s not, that’s a silver lining in itself – it’s far better than going down the route and failing. If it is achievable, then it’s time to look at alternative ways of funding. One option would be to see if you can revise your plan so that it can be funded organically. Might be a slower approach but it’s usually safer too. Or how about seeing whether you can interest an external investor who also brings a level of expertise and knowledge that adds value to your business?
3. You lose your most significant customer
Not fun when that happens, particularly if the customer accounts for a large proportion of your revenue and/or profit. But use the opportunity to examine and really understand why this has happened and take steps to strengthen your business to prevent its reoccurrence. Look at your business model and work out how you can reduce the business’s reliance on a few key customers so that it’s less exposed to this type of situation.
4. A key supplier fails to deliver what you need
Sadly, this is not an unusual situation. When it happens, speak with the supplier, explain the situation, and agree a plan of action that will minimise the impact on your business. Meantime, work out how you can reduce your reliance on key suppliers, perhaps by multi-sourcing, by bringing it in-house instead, or negating the need for whatever it is that is provided by that suppler.
5. You’re selling your business and the buyer pulls out at the last minute
On the face of it, not a good place to be. You’ll have devoted considerable time, resource and expenditure to get to this stage, undoubtedly at least some people in your business will know about the imminent sale, your competitors may well have got wind of it, and it feels like the rug has been pulled out from under your feet.
It’s time to use the experience to re-evaluate your aims and goals, to learn from what went on, and to make your business stronger so that it’s much less likely to happen a second time. Re-focus on developing your business, make it bigger and better, and substantially increase the value you achieve in, say, two years time when you go back to the market.
The answer therefore is to use every cloud to your advantage. Seek the silver lining – which will at minimum be that it’s a personal learning experience plus an opportunity to strengthen your business. And at best will be that there’s an alternative way which is far better than the route you had previously plotted.
Above all, remain confident and positive in the knowledge that you can do it.
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