It may be the season to be jolly and it's always great to celebrate our successes. As the end of the year draws near, though, it's also a time to reflect on the things that didn't get done, plans that somehow got away, and even the dashed dreams that turned out to be heartfelt hopes rather than high-value ventures. As frenetic and frazzled as the holidays can be, they're also a great time to catch your breath, take stock (no pun intended) and look ahead.
Most of the year, when you're up to your ears in alligators, it's easy to lose sight of the long game and the real objectives of your business as well as the goals that you've hopefully set for yourself as well. Those personal goals are every bit as important as anything you've got planned for the company. Your greatest fear should never be that you might fail- there's always another business around the bend waiting to be started - it's the fear that you might spend a significant part of your life working on something that doesn't really matter.
You've only got a certain number of "at-bats" in life and it's important to make sure that you make each and every one count for something and that in the process you become someone to be counted on as well. (See To Succeed, Be the One Everyone Can Count On.) All of this-- the ups and downs, the good news and the bad-- is part of the deal every entrepreneur makes when he or she sets out to change things. Change is never easy and overcoming resistance to it is a lifetime job. But like everything else, it's all about what you make of the situations you find yourself in and how you move forward that ultimately makes the difference. (See So You've Got Problems? That's Probably Great News.)
This can be a time of rebirth, re-dedication and renewed commitment or you can waste time and energy doubting yourself, blaming your circumstances (or the folks around you), and fearing the future. Things aren't ever as good or as bad as we imagine, and the things we imagine are always worse than the things we face up to. You can let yourself get down or you can get busy.
I expect that you know where I come out on that question. So I've got three simple suggestions of things to do when you're getting down.
(1) Get Past the Past as Soon as Possible
Looking backwards is a waste of time. There's not much you can do to change the past, although you can certainly learn from it. Just don't get stuck there. Because it's almost always an invitation to spend your time navel gazing, making excuses, and bemoaning bad breaks. That's absolutely not where you need to be focusing your energies. In addition, by this late date I'd expect that lessons learned from past triumphs and pratfalls have already been incorporated into your going-forward plans. Worrying about missed chances and blown deals won't help you move the business ahead. You can't build a future on regrets and "shoulda, woulda, couldas." And finally, staring too long into the rearview mirror is distracting, making it easy to run off the road or smack into something big and ugly that could have been avoided if you had been looking ahead.
(2) Call on Your Customers While You Still Can
Get out there and talk to your customers before they find someone else who's demonstrably more interested than you are in what matters to them. Listen carefully to what your customers are doing and saying about their own pressing needs and their current desires. Customer expectations are progressive. If you're not on top of these needs, you'll soon be at the bottom of their list. Business plans and strategy sessions are great, but if all that effort is taking place in a vacuum uninformed by real customer feedback, then it's a waste. There's a great big world outside the four walls of your business and you need to get out there because that's where your future will be found. Remember, you'll never get straighter answers to your questions than the ones you get directly from your customers because they're the ultimate users of your products and services.
(3) When You're Thinking About Quitting, Remember Why You Started
There was an important reason you started your business and a problem or problems you set out to solve because you thought you could make a difference by doing things that hadn't been done before in new ways. When times get tough, you need to remember that it's a marathon and not a sprint and the most critical thing you can do is to keep moving.
I'll bet those problems haven't disappeared although your approach to solving them may have changed-- ideally for the better. And that's fine-- as long as you're still addressing concerns that remain important to your customers and so long as they're still willing to pay a fair price for you to solve their problems.
And I'll bet that there are new competitors coming at you from every direction and competing with you in a variety of ways-- price, speed, access, ease of use, etc. That's okay, too, and totally to be expected. Your job is to make it as hard on those folks as possible; the best way to do that is to do your business better than anyone else and to do it that way every single day.
When you're feeling as low as you can go, you need to remind yourself of a simple fact: there's nothing in the world that a true entrepreneur would rather be doing than exactly what you're doing every day. Working on a dream, and doing it with a group of people who are as excited and enthusiastic about what they're doing as you are, is the greatest privilege anyone can have. And it's you that's making it possible for yourself, but also for all those other folks looking to you to lead the way.
It's okay to get down-- just don't let it show-- and don't ever let them down.