2016 is shaping up to be quite the annus horribilis. Quite apart from the passing of such legends as Bowie, Rickman, Cohen, Wogan and Corbet, there has been unprecedented political turmoil, with UK’s vote to leave the EU (“Brexit”) and the election of Donald Trump to the US Presidency.
It’s these last two events that have caused all businesses – but particularly start-ups – to face increased uncertainty, difficult markets and most of all, higher levels of risk. Though I think Brexit is likely to affect UK businesses more than Trump’s success (it’s going to be a key topic of discussion at the ‘TechCrunch Disrupt London’ event in December), even sectors such as renewable energies are facing disruption after the election, according to Elon Musk.
“An Entrepreneur is someone who jumps off a cliff and builds a plane on the way down” Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn.
So what’s the problem? Entrepreneurs thrive on this risk and uncertainty – without the thrill of riding out the waves of uncertainty there would be little interest in venturing into the world of start-ups to begin with. When uncertainty hits, it’s natural for your brain tell you to panic, but those with entrepreneurial acumen automatically begin thinking rationally – how can they effectively assimilate and deal with this new information? How do you keep your head and continue building your plane?
When I started my last business I had absolutely no money, no staff, no business plan and a sizable amount of unsecured debt to my name – not to mention my wife, Viki, and Ofelia, our six-month-old baby, to support. And it was slap bang in the middle of a recession! Five years later, at the age of 31, I sold my company, E-Tale Marketing Solutions Ltd., in a multi-million-dollar deal; after selling to, and competing with, some of the biggest businesses in the world. Despite the challenges it was something i felt compelled to do. I simply had to do it, and i trusted myself that, whatever the challenge, I could overcome it. The journey was peppered with a huge amount of risk and uncertainty, but it’s how you deal with it that marks you out for success. These are some of the mental strategies that kept me going:
1. Think Positive
During the good times, entrepreneurs can find is easy to forget about focusing their mood, because the smiles come easy. But when the tough times present themselves – and they will – try to find a happy or positive thought to rebalance the panicked reaction. Whether it is a business breakthrough from recent weeks, or a promising event happening soon, remind yourself that good things can (and will) happen and that focusing on negativity will not help you to get through it.
2. Let Go
As much as the entrepreneurial instinct is to micro-manage everything, there are some things that are simply out of your control – such as the outcome of an election. When these situations arise, you need to be able to accept that, yes, this will affect your business, but no, you cannot prevent it or ignore it. So your job is to ride it out and decide the best course of action to see the other side with minimal damage. Try not to exaggerate the situation to yourself or those around you – acknowledge it with a level head for exactly what it is and plan using the information you have available.
Understanding the difference between a make-or-break decision and an inconsequential one is vital for when tumultuous situations arise. The truth is that every decision made during the running of a start-up brings uncertainty, but by using the information available and focusing on the most important decisions first, whilst weighing up a range of possible outcomes will save a lot of your energy and relieve enough stress to allow you to wiz through the small choices later.
4. Trust Yourself
You started the business on your own and sometimes you must trust the same instincts, that used to scream at you that this was a good idea, to carry it forward. Start by listening to your instincts on small matters and learn whether your first impressions are to be relied upon or if you’re the kind of person who needs to research more thoroughly. Many top entrepreneurs know how to settle their brain and focus on the issues – Steve Jobs took walks to make decisions, whilst Einstein went sailing to clear his mental blocks.
5. Stay Agile
I’ve said it before, agility to is the best defence against uncertainty and by adopting an agile, or flexible approach to your business, you gain a competitive advantage. Now is the time to take a progressive view, remain dynamic and revert to Entrepreneur 101: remain agile and look for opportunities.
Knowledge is the key, and whilst it is vital to remember that there will be things you cannot possibly know – you can take the information you do have and build upon it to make plans. Whether it’s finding funding, or choosing the people you want to be by your side, plan ahead and never let negativity hold you back.
How do you see it? Is your business facing new challenges as a result of Brexit or Trump? How do you handle uncertainty? – let me know below.