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When the Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Coffee

It's not natural to reach out when your business is struggling. But that's exactly when you need to do it the most. Here are three ways a coffee can boost your business.
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Running a small business is like riding a gigantic roller coaster. Sometimes you just want to close your eyes and scream.

When you’re on a steep downhill -- when the cash in your bank account is plummeting just as you need to make payroll -- the natural human instinct is to pull in, like a tortoise. We want to hide from the world in the safety of a hard shell that could pass for a rock.

But one of the best pieces of advice that I have ever received came from an accomplished and brilliant entrepreneur, just as I was going through a particularly rough patch: Do not become disconnected. Reach out to others.

Fine. What normal person reaches out to others when they feel like crap?

Here are three good reasons to fight your tortoise tendencies when your business hits bottom:

  • You (and your team) may be in a rut. Entrepreneurs focus, drive hard and hold themselves to high standards. The flip side is that we can be our own toughest critics and run our teams ragged. Before you know it, everyone has lost their mojo. An outside voice can reset this parasitic dynamic and reignite the team. A new person may have some positive insights into the business’ strengths, constructive suggestions, or new areas or opportunities to think about. Either way, an outsider can break the stalemate of group think.
  • Your next big opportunity could be a coffee away. The truth is that you never know where your best leads are going to come from, period. This is particularly counterintuitive for the analytically minded, high-tech entrepreneurs of my world. We think our leads will come from people who are as well-versed as we are in our specialized technology areas, replete with acronyms no one else understands. Wrong, wrong, wrong. How wrong? After attending a seminar by author Debra Fine, I got a terrific lead on a customer needing some very specialized optical scanning technology – right up our alley --  for a fellow entrepreneur in…the furniture business. Corporate furniture. Go figure.
  • The world is not going to wait for you. Hiding in your office is not a winning strategy for unearthing new trends. Get out and see what is going on. Some areas of business are being turned on their heads. That’s a frightening prospect for incumbents. But these trends also present enormous opportunities that entrepreneurs can’t afford to miss.

Right now, I am seeing a tectonic shift in the business of manufacturing equipment, the kind that cranks out your beloved iPhones and iPads. In the “old days” of equipment, only big companies were players. It was a highly capital-intensive business with expectations of instant worldwide support. Then the other day, I saw a manufacturing system the size of a modest house, financed by a manufacturing company in China, and entirely designed and built by a network of small businesses in Silicon Valley. The system will be shipped to China in large containers and reassembled there. The value is in the design. The big infrastructure, cash reserves, and support of the big companies is not valued by the customer. It’s a huge opportunity for small companies, especially those that know how to collaborate.

The next time you are feeling down, fight against your instincts, and text a fellow entrepreneur. Coffee? Tea? If things are really tough, maybe you need something stronger. Just get out of your shell.

IMAGE: photo courtesy trublueboy http://www.sxc.hu/profile/trublueboy
Last updated: Dec 8, 2011

LAURA SMOLIAR | CEO, Peppertree Engineering

Technology expert. Global entrepreneur. Mentor. Laura Smoliar, with over 15 years professional experience and a Ph.D. in physical chemistry, specializes in the commercialization of technology.




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