10 Tips for Tough Times

Everyone goes through adversity -- here's how to come out in the right frame of mind.
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Every businessperson goes through ups and downs. I had a friend who ran an Internet company whose market capitalization was bigger than that of General Motors (GM) - Get Report, and his personal net worth was over $2.7 billion. When the bubble burst, he was worth a few million.

Another business colleague went to bed on New Year's Eve of 1999 worth $1.3 billion and went to sleep the following New Year's Eve owing $36 million. My father went through a period where he lost his business and both cars died on the same day. A mentor found out that his potential blockbuster drug wasn't approved and that he had brain cancer.

You don't have to have catastrophic disappointments to know what it's like to deal with adversity. It's true that adversity tests our mettle, giving us, friends, family and business colleagues an indication of how we handle disappointment and failure.

Like everyone else, I have had my share of failure, sleepless nights and self-doubt. How do you prepare for tough times, and when they come, how do you survive and thrive after being punched in the gut? Here is what I have learned in my quarter of a century since leaving college.

1

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Save money

. The reason most people lose sleep is that they are afraid they can't pay their bills. When I was a preteen, my father went bankrupt, and I remember feeling his anxiety over how he was going to support his family. A friend was a successful IT executive and thought the good times would never end, so he saved so little money that I had to bail him out, even though he had been making 25% more than me for about five years.

This applies to companies as well. You want to work your way up to having a year's worth of running money.

2

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Reinvent yourself and your company

. Business is constantly changing. People need to develop new skills, and companies need to develop new products and services. Look at what happened to Smith Corona, the typewriter leader, and Wang Laboratories, the premier word document software company.

I started out as a sportswriter and changed to business; I went from property management to trade association management to marketing to financial services. I learned how to develop spreadsheets and PowerPoints and how to speak a second language.

3

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Network

. You should never stop networking, no matter how good your business is at the moment. It's easy to fall into the trap when you are busy with work and success to believe the faucet will never turn off.

4

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Market yourself

. Send out newsletters or offers to speak, develop a blog or offer a seminar for prospects and clients. The key is keeping your name and your business' name out there.

5

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Do some competitive analysis

. Take time to look at what competitors are offering and the prices at which they are offering their product or service. See whether your product or service stacks up at the price you are offering. You could be too cheap, or you might be too expensive.

A former client who did pharmaceutical marketing said that new drugs that tried to undercut old drugs by being cheaper gave the perception to doctors of not being as good as the old products.

You have to keep increasing your pipeline, because there will be clients who will change their mind and shorten their contracts. I lost 20% of my business in one month in this quarter, but I had a list of prospects, and two have replaced the two who left.

6

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Avoid desperation

. This is the toughest thing to do. Business isn't coming in, and you want a sale so bad that you are willing to do anything. You end up calling people three to five times a day. People can smell panic, and it stinks, so get a hold of yourself or ask a friend to throw a cold bucket of water in your face.

7

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Read

. Take the time to read a few books that will give you new ideas and inspire you. I like reading biographies of business leaders who have ridden the roller coaster of business and come out the other side.

8

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Exercise

. The worst thing you can do is pump yourself full of carbohydrates. I typically ride my bike an hour a day, but when I'm feeling depressed, I will ride longer.

9

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Take time off

. Most of us want to dig in and try harder when things aren't going well. My experience is that it is essential to step back. Take a week off, go to a conference -- just do something totally different so you can clear your mind.

10

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Think positive thoughts

. This is the most important key. You have to think about past successes. I think about my family, the fact I have a college degree, clients who have been happy with my work, books I have written and the fact that I live in the greatest country in the world.

Just remember that life is like a traffic jam -- eventually it will break, and you will speed ahead.

Marc Kramer, a serial entrepreneur, is the author of five books and is an instructor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton's Global Consulting Practicum, where he serves as Country Manager for Chile.