Being in business means you will go through some challenging times, they simply go with the territory. The big problem is that most business owners tend to keep tough times to themselves. Often we are too fearful or too paranoid about what will happen if anyone finds out just how bad the situation is. Will our customers dump us if they find out that we are doing it tough? Will the staff file out the door en masse if they hear a rumor that we are in trouble? Will my spouse or partner leave me if I tell them that my business is on the verge of going broke? What will people think?
Well, none of these fearful thoughts will help in any way. These are not the times to be ruled by fear, even if you are scared (especially when you are scared). From my experience there are two ways a crisis can be managed:
The first is where the business owner tends to keep a stiff upper lip, acting as if nothing is wrong, telling no one what the truth of the situation actually is and keeping everything bottled up inside until something gives. Generally this is because of embarrassment and a hope that things will work their way out (they rarely do if the issues aren’t addressed).
The second approach is one of engagement. This is where everyone, including your family, your staff, your advisors and any other relevant stakeholders, is told exactly what is going on. In my view, this approach works far more effectively than a secretive, fear-driven approach, with one condition: you must also tell everyone what you are planning to do to deal with the crisis. Of course, people will panic if you say, ‘Our business is in serious trouble and we have no idea what we are going to do about it’.
You need to have a clear plan of attack with a range of options, and you have to let the people around you know what you need them to do to support you during this process. No one wants to see you go broke–well, maybe the competitor up the road, but even they will be realistic enough to know that if you go they may be next or perhaps an even bigger and more aggressive competitor will come along to take your place.
You may be surprised by how people around you will respond when you open up and tell them about the severity of the situation. You may find that your family will throw their arms around you and offer you love and support and a promise to help you in any way they can. You may find your staff are willing to do whatever it takes to get through the crisis, even if it means taking a pay cut, working longer hours, chasing business any way they can, or even just settling for dated equipment. And if you are really lucky, your customers will even rally around you and support you more than you ever thought they would.
The bottom line is that we all go through tough times in business, but trying to cope with these tough times on your own is really hard and probably unnecessary. Let those close to you know the good, the bad and the ugly of what is going on – they might just surprise you at how they react and the help and support they give you.