Tough times need gritty entrepreneurs

I hear people talking about the times we live in as being strange, frightening and unusual.

Certainly, as a mature person (that means just over 60), I cannot recall a time when the world has faced a similar challenge.

Small businesses are facing tough times that impact hugely on their lives.

I have the privilege of exposure to thought leaders in the entrepreneurial world, and am pleased to say that many of them are actively sharing platforms, tools and strategies to navigate the way forward.

I would like to start with an extract from a weekly letter I receive.

Catherine Wijnberg is a business growth specialist and leads Fetola, a business that helps people to grow the economy and create jobs, by building businesses that last.

She writes: “Like many others, I was awake at 3am today, reading about the coronavirus – its health implications, economic impact and global spread. I am most grateful for the strong and confident stance President Cyril Ramaphosa took last night, but there is a lot of information out there and it is still easy to feel anxious.

“The alternative is to crush it by taking the fight to the crisis. By this, I mean deliberately addressing the problem and mining it to capture every learning opportunity so that you, your family and business can become stronger.

“This is how I am using the coronavirus crisis as a learning curve:

“On a personal level: I am meticulous about washing my hands, avoiding kissing and handshakes, boosting my immune system by eating well, minimising unnecessary stress and getting enough exercise and fresh air.

“I have a plan if I get sick: Know where to go, who to contact and how to care for myself.

“I have a plan for the business: Educate others about personal hygiene, health and key actions. Agree on alternative working arrangements should they become ill, or the business go into quarantine. Now is also the time to store cash in case of added financial strain in the future.

“Identify how this crisis could benefit the business: Write a list of possible business opportunities – perhaps pivot into related products or markets. Check for financial viability and risk, then go boldly forward.”

I want to share five thoughts regarding the last point of her letter, identifying how the crisis could benefit your business.

Before I do that, however, I want to encourage you regarding the value of choosing a right attitude.

We can become drained as we struggle with bad news overload.

This may blunt a resilience of attitude required to navigate the journey ahead.

We can respond to the economic challenges of the coronavirus news in one of three ways:

“The ostrich” – preserve the status quo, and just hope for the best;

“The bull in the china shop” – blindly cutting expenses across the board;

“The fox” – use the downturn to make your business more effective so when growth returns you’ll be in an even better position to move quickly.

I suggest that acting like the fox requires character, grit and the choice of a great attitude.

Here’s what a writer, Charles Swindoll, had to say about attitude. “The longer I live, the more I realise the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more im-
portant than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think, say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play the one string we have, and that is our attitude… I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our attitudes.”

Here are five things to consider that may add to your grit in navigating the journey.

Focus on the facts when considering the news.

The authorities take the impact of “fake news” so seriously, that spreading the same is seen as a crime which could result in serious consequences.

I remember the wise words of a past financial mentor, “What are the facts?” Make sure that the quality of your decisions around managing your business is based on solid facts.

Play to your strengths and what makes your business different or unique.

The traditional model for growth holds that we should focus on those areas we are weakest in.

The strengths model holds we should focus on the areas we are strongest in.

It doesn’t say we should dismiss or down-play managing weaknesses, but rather play to our strengths.

“What’s more, we had discovered that people have several times more potential for growth, when they invest energy in developing their strengths instead of correcting their deficiencies,” says author Tom Rath.

Remember too that you can tilt the field towards what makes your business offering unique, but you need to work on this consistently.

Ask what hidden opportunities may be found within the challenges.

The front page of a newspaper only had four articles on the coronavirus, nothing else except one advertisement a plumbing/electrical service provider – who proactively demonstrated they were prepared to serve in a most hygienic way. That’s seeing opportunity.

Consider innovative ways of delivering on your value proposition.

All schools have closed last week in response to the crisis.

School boards and teams are working hard on building capacity to deliver learning online. My wife’s school is at the point where this could strengthen rather than detract should the need arise.

Turn up the relational dial with your customers and clients.

Social distancing has already been put in place and many obvious points of connecting with customers and clients are now heavily restricted or even removed.

How about exploring valid ways to strengthen your relationship with your clients?

What social media platform can you leverage for this purpose?

Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t.

Finally, “A crisis can be a jump forward or a leap backward, depending on your attitude.”

Here’s to gritty entrepreneurs.

Steve Reid is the manager of the Centre for Entrepreneurship at False Bay College. Contact him on