To start a business you have to be part-dreamer. Whether it's the recognition or to change the world for the better, all entrepreneurs have images that keep them driving forward. And on the good days, that's the easy part.
When I started my first business in a shop under my shared flat in London, I felt I had to make every day a successful one. However, business is hard -- particularly in the early days, when you're likely to have your fill of difficult days, weeks or months. Keeping yourself motivated is an absolute priority. Here are four tips from my own experience to keep an entrepreneur going when times seem unbearably tough.
1) Make everything manageable by breaking it down.
This is true of the business itself: Breaking seemingly impossible tasks into manageable actions makes them achievable. With a cash flow crisis, for example, look at individual revenue items, costs and credit terms, and decide what has to be paid and when. And if you've lost a truckload of stock, see if anything can be recovered or replaced, and check if it's insured, when it's needed by, etc.
Breaking everything down is also vital to keeping going personally. This may sound negative, but it provides an easy escape from the mental pressure you're experiencing. Whether a deal is falling through, a client's going under, or you're just encountering a quick succession of big knocks, tell yourself to get to the end of the day with your business intact, and you can return the following morning with a fresh start and feel more in control.
2) Keep work as its own separate entity in your life.
This isn't a cop out for not working hard: You will have to work harder than you ever have before for your business to succeed. I took one day of annual leave in my first four years, worked on at least one day most weekends and averaged around 70-100 hour weeks. While I have woken up many nights at 3:00 a.m. worrying about challenges at work, I have always generally been good at switching it off when I needed to.
I remember working early one Saturday while running my first business: There was little cash in the bank, and credit card bills, loans and overdrafts were exceeding their due dates. I felt exhausted at first, and then very dizzy and sick. I recognized this as a warning sign, so I switched off my computer and went and spent the afternoon in the pub with friends - which along with family I've been lucky to have around to support me. It was probably ill-advised to spend more money but, more importantly, it was the mental break I needed to come back refreshed the next Monday morning.
Find out what works best for you. Exercise can also be very important - I have played various sports at different times and recently have taken up boxing back up again, as I find it great to clear my mind in the morning before work.
3) Put trust in the right people around you.
The worst thing that can happen when you're suddenly under great pressure is to also feel increasingly isolated. Being able to look to someone you can trust is vital.
This could be in a business scenario: For instance, when a major client went under during a difficult time towards the start of my first business, I immediately went to the nearest coffee shop with the two staff members who had been with the business since virtually the beginning. We planned out a way to try to cover the gap the client had left.
4) Look back to the start.
If the present has become a vice that is feeling increasingly difficult to get out of, look at how far you've come to find refuge and motivation. However big the challenge may feel, remember your past accomplishments to build yourself back up to deal with the present.
When I feel the buildup of stress, I make a point to remember where I've come from with the businesses. The one thing that cannot be taken from me is the amazing experiences I have had on this personal and career route I have chosen. The sense of perspective provided by the past can be invaluable in dealing with the present.
I will finish with a borrowed tip from Winston Churchill -- probably the best one on overcoming adversity: "If you're going through hell, keep going."
Tom Chalmers is the founder and Managing Director of seven publishing and publishing-related companies (including the Legend Times Group).