Some call it Murphy’s Law (if anything can go wrong, it will), while optimists simply call it “going with the flow”. No matter how you slice it, there will be obstacles to overcome when running a business. What matters most is how you handle these tricky situations.
But at some point, optimism can only take you so far when confronting challenges for your company. A plan of action is needed to navigate hard times, and that means being ready with a strategy and executing at the right moment.
All theory aside, it’s time to talk about how to overcome hurdles when things don’t go according to plan for your business. It’s a matter of “if, not when”, so why not plan ahead, starting now?
We asked experienced business leaders about how to address this universal dilemma, and they shared some valuable info that can benefit us all.
Assess Obstacles (Objectively)
Not all business obstacles are equal in size, scope, or severity.
Your first priority as a leader should be to objectively assess obstacles when they first appear so ensure the proper allocation of resources and attention.
“Far too often in life do we make an incorrect assessment of a problem and pay the price, whether that’s an over-or under-estimation,” said Ricky Nariani, President and Co-Founder of WANTD. “Before you make any moves or do anything rash, always take a minute to breathe deep and assess the problem in front of you in a measured, informed fashion.”
This isn’t always easily done, however, since our judgment can be clouded by pressure from within and without. When in doubt, zoom out, and take a wider perspective on the issue.
“You can look at recent crisis situations and think about how people responded to them, in order to learn some key lessons here,” said Jason Sherman, Founder of TapRm. “Situations can be bad, but not the end of the world, and rationality wins at the end of the day. When bad news hits your business, the last thing you want is to lose your cool. Weigh all of your options, make your choice, and move forward with confidence, because that’s all you can really do.”
Keep Up On Communication
Not only must business leaders keep an even keel when obstacles emerge, but they also need to exude that calm and collected attitude to customers, clients, coworkers, and the public in general.
“There is definitely a PR element when encountering business challenges, even if the story isn’t making it to the media,” said Adam Shlomi, Founder of SoFlo Tutors. “Part of your job is to lead the charge on communication in a way that conveys a measured, logical state of mind. Even if you’re feeling shook up internally, the outward projection needs to be one of certainty so that everyone in your sphere can get a grip.”
In terms of communication tactics, there are so many channels and ways to get in touch with the right people. From bulk text messaging to emails and social media, you need to focus on the channel that your target audience uses the most. The content of these messages must contain relevant information as well.
“Be careful about just sending out fluffy memos with no real content when your business faces a challenge,” said Adelle Archer, CEO, and Co-Founder of Eterneva. “Assure your staff and customers that the situation is under control and that you have a plan to move forward. Email is typically the best way to do this, but social media can work as well. If the issue is internal, keep it to a small meeting with key players. Any way you do it, this will help solidify your strategy and lock in that commitment to a certain game plan. It means no backpedaling or flip-flopping, and that’s a powerful mental shift.”
Showcase Your Work
It’s important for a business to showcase its best work as often as possible. This might be on social media, your website, or in person. A lot of business owners, depending on the industry that they’re in, will go to trade shows and business events. It’s common to buy photo books in bulk and fill them with high-quality images. These images will show off the work you’ve done for other clients and fill new ones with confidence. Don’t forget good banners and posters to attract people to your booth too. Being able to showcase your work is a key method of overcoming a business downturn.
Implement New Tech (Out with the Old)
The majority of business obstacles in the modern era are technical, or technological in nature. Overcoming them might require the implementation of new technologies or the removal of tech that no longer serves a purpose.
“After a career in quality management, I think back on those times when I wanted or needed to implement something new, replace an old test method with a new method or even buy a new machine for testing,” said Bruce Ferree, Independent Consultant at Eurofins Laboratories. “Of course, the first few times were really basic: We need this, and it will cost $X,XXX. As you can imagine, that approach didn’t go over very well. I received loads of questions trying to figure out if the new thing will do the job better, faster, or in some way save us money. What do we gain by having this new machine or test? I learned from those experiences that everything must be justified.”
Watch out for the never-ending tech trap, however, because some “solutions” merely cause more problems than they solve.
“All of us are somewhat guilty of buying into a tech trend, believing that it will be an instant fix to whatever problem we face,” said Trisha Bantigue, CEO of Queenly. “Marketers do a great job at making us believe their software is the magic bullet we need to navigate choppy waters. This is sometimes true, but more often than not, it’s our own ingenuity and creative thinking that will get us to the other side.”
The lesson here is to take technology seriously, but don’t expect it to be a cure-all for every type of business woes.
Learn to Love Change
It’s a thin line between being stubborn and simply being committed to your goal as an entrepreneur. When obstacles appear, you must be ready to make some compromises.
“The problem with stubbornness isn’t necessarily the insistence on a single path forward, because in another context, that trait would be viewed as confidence or dedication,” said Daniel Osman, Head of Sales at Balance Homes. “The real issue is the inability to incorporate new facts and pieces of information needed to make a change at the right time. The best business leaders are stubborn when it matters, and flexible when they need to be.”
The silver lining of a business obstacle is the opportunity to overcome and thrive in a new era of your industry, capitalizing on a situation that would otherwise be devastating.
“It’s exceedingly rare for founders to build their companies exactly as they envisioned on the drawing board,” said Dylan Arthur Garber, Co-Founder of Audien Hearing. “Far more common is for a founder to confront an unexpected challenge, make an informed decision to move in a different direction, and profit tremendously from that choice. You see this play out over and over in history, so learning to love change is just part of the game.”
The Power of Pivots
What is the difference between a pivot, a retreat, or just powering through a problem to get to the other side? Every tactic has its place, but pivots offer the most versatility and upside potential.
“Maybe you’ve launched your brand and noticed that your perspective and vision have shifted over time,” said Jacob Sever, Co-Founder at CPO at Sumsub. “It’s common for founders to fear these kinds of shifts and double down on their original goals. Nobody wants to be seen as inconsistent. This is understandable, but it can be the wrong move. Customers and investors value credibility, but they also value effective decisive action. As long as the pivot is done gracefully, your team and customers will appreciate the transparency. It may even inspire more loyalty.”
Yes, some business leaders may survive hard times by simply ignoring obstacles or pretending they don’t exist. Other companies backtrack and play it too safe. By pivoting, forward momentum is maintained, and the challenge is met with a proportionate strategy.
“This is what more people need to understand about pivots,” said Nancy L. Belcher, Ph.D., MPA, and Co-Founder of Winona. “It’s not a matter of changing your entire business model, restructuring your organization, or giving up on your dreams. It’s just responding to the challenges in front of you with a custom, well-considered solution. You can make slight changes to your plan that have a beneficial effect on the outcome, so don’t worry about losing sight of the bigger picture.”
Lesson Learned: Plan Ahead
Regardless of your industry or the challenges you face, one thing is clear: planning ahead is the best thing you can do right now to get through the next challenge.
“Just having a backup plan isn’t enough anymore,” said Amaury Kosman, CEO of Circular. “You need to have contingency plans established for a wide spectrum of possible events. It may not be long before they go from theory to practice in real-time.”
To map out a complete game plan, look at how your business and its competitors have navigated past scenarios.
“Set aside the ego and ask: was there something we could have done better, or that our competition did better than us?” said Dylan Trussell, Co-Founder of Culprit Underwear. “That’s the only way you can plan for what’s to come.”
With a combination of resilience, transparency, and future planning, your company can face any challenge and leap over obstacles with ease moving forward.