Forget everything you were told about xx% of startups going out of business in the first 3-5 years.
I hit my worse year at year 10. Ten years in business and I should have had it made. Instead, I was facing a lot of uncertainty, and an inability to win any work.
I had my worst year of business in year 10
I looked inward and tried to determine was I was doing to wrong; how did this happen? I should have had it made.
And this is what I learned: throughout your business lifetime there will be peaks and there will be valleys. These won't happen according to a schedule outlined in a text book. Why? Because some valleys and peaks you can control (you own work ethic, quality of your offering) others you can't (the 2008 recession).
The only thing you do need to know is this: you must be in business to receive business.
You have to be in business to receive business
This means you have to be fiscally responsible, and mentally tough, to weather the down times. At all costs you have to keep your eye on the long term and retain your most valuable assets (in my case my employees) knowing that when it gets busy you will need them most. This means that when it gets tough, you get tougher, work harder, think of better ways to generate business. But you never give up.
I am often asked to speak to youth and those looking to embark on their entrepreneur journey for the first time. This is what I tell them: there will be slow times in your business and there will be busy times. Be mindful to run your business financially responsible enough to ride out the slow times. There will always be business opportunities on the horizon, but you have to be in business to get them. If you can ride out the bad times you will be able to take advantage of the opportunities around the corner.
Being fiscally responsible for me means ensuring I have a cash flow positive balance in the bank to cover xx months in the event I hit a hard spell. There is no scientific reason for this guideline, other than it works for me in my business.Instead of spending all I have as it comes in, I reserve some to call on during slow periods if needed. This is put into investments to grow and easily accessed if needed. Essentially, don't manage your business finances on a day-to-day basis; plan on, and for, the long term.
Run your company fiscally responsibly
This experience at year 10 also meant that I looked at doing business development differently. I worked on building my network, making connections and using that as a means of business development. I literally bought everyone (that agreed to meet me) in Ottawa coffee, and met some great people as a result. I met with prospects, competitors, other business owners, people I found interesting and wanted to get to know. Everyone.
It can be awkward to contact someone and ask them out for coffee, but for the most part these people understood business and took the time to meet with me, and I am better for it. This "coffee" approach is one I continue doing today, both for my company and for this column.
The other thing I did was to hire people in roles to free up my time to focus on business development. Busy work can kill a CEO or President, and I was doing too much busy work at Fenix prior to 2010 (managing the office, bookkeeping, getting too involved in client projects day-to-day...) and that killed my productivity at being able to network, go to events, respond to RFPs and so on. My focus now is on business development as much as possible. I rely on my staff to fulfill their duties, so I can focus on mine.
I have had my best 5 years in business as a result
Since 2010, I have had the best 5 years of my business ever, both financially and stability with my team.
If I had been unable to ride out those 4-6 months of uncertainty in 2010 I wouldn't have seen my most successful years to date.
That's why entrepreneurs have to love what they do and never give up when the going gets tough.