University of Arkansas

Walton College

The Sam M. Walton College of Business

Confessions of an Entrepreneur: We’re in Trouble!

Life is a ride.

October 1, 2019 | By Mark Zweig

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It happens to many of us at some point—our business, our “baby,” the machine that feeds us—is struggling financially. And of course, if it tanks, it will take us down personally as well. We could lose everything we have and everything we have worked for up to now. Exactly what we need to do to get out of the mess isn’t clear. And naturally, we are worried sick about it!

Fortunately, there is always something you can do. Here are my thoughts:

  1. You have to tell yourself over and over that you will survive this. Fear can be a motivator but too much fear will paralyze you. You have got to develop an inner confidence that no matter happens, you will be OK. I don’t have a lot of suggestions on how exactly to do this other than you can’t be too attached to your material possessions (your stuff). Stuff can come and go. And you can always get more of it or better stuff down the road. Other things matter much more.
  2. You have got to talk to someone who has been through this themselves. No executive coach or therapist is going to suffice here. You need someone you can identify with as having been in your shoes. They will help calm you—because they survived. They will also hopefully be able to give you specific advice on how to avoid disaster.
  3. Get off social media. All it will do is make you unhappy with your life to see everyone else buying new stuff when you are worried about keeping what you have. Or seeing them going out to fun places or going on great vacations while you are either working or staying home stressed beyond belief. The flip side of social media is the incredible amount of negative information and bad news it exposes you to. Save your time and mental energy for what’s important—real relationships with real people.
  4. Get sleep and exercise. You need your energy. And you need a clear head to deal with the tremendous stress of what you are going through. It’s more likely that you will have these things if you eat and sleep. Otherwise, your judgement may be clouded and your emotions run out of control—neither are good things when you are facing a financial crisis.
  5. Make a list of all assets you can dispose of and all credit you have available to you. Sometimes things really aren’t as bad as they seem if you inventory the resources that you could muster if needed. And, by the way, more than once in my entrepreneurial life I have had to pledge personal assets and/or inject six figures of personal money (sometimes borrowed) into my businesses to keep them afloat. When a business owner will not put their own money in, it’s a major red flag to anyone aware of that fact.
  6. If you do go down, protect your reputation. Don’t make excuses. Accept responsibility. Make a plan to pay back everyone you can post-failure. Be very careful of appearances such as driving a fancy car during or post meltdown. I remember the spectacular failure of a local developer a few years ago who went out and leased a brand new Porsche Turbo Cabriolet at the same time he defaulted on tens of millions in loans from area banks and didn’t pay subcontractors. It upset a lot of people. Your reputation is the most crucial asset you have. If you can maintain it, you will have another chance to come back. Many people have done so.

Hope is never lost. There is always something you can do. The important thing is to not become paralyzed and start doing immediately!

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Mark ZweigMark Zweig – a leading expert in management and business for the architecture, engineering, planning, and environmental industry – is president of Mark Zweig, Inc., which has been named to the Inc. 500/5000 list of fastest-growing privately-held companies; chairman and founder of Zweig Group – named to the Inc. list three times – and entrepreneur-in-residence teaching entrepreneurship at the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas.