The depth and longevity of an entrepreneur’s success depends on many factors. Things like industry, work environment, world events, leadership style, personality, grit, and more come into play. In most cases, the motivating factors that drive entrepreneurs to “just start” are the same ones that ultimately lead them to success.
I wanted to personally explore the characteristics/expectations of entrepreneurs and businesses that last, especially those that last amid hardship. I interviewed four CEOs who exemplify what it takes to attain longevity in business and weathered the last financial crisis. I asked their advice on how a business can survive the COVID-19 pandemic and much more.
My lineup of experts include:
Bruce Fikowski, CEO of GetAssist Inc. and Controller of The Crossing Resort
Pranay Rajgarhia, Founder and CEO of SolidCircle
Jeanine Kinzie, Co-Founder of Great Lakes Insurance & Financial Services Agency
Jennifer Ettinger, Founder of Pink Dreams Inc.
While each interview delivered its own set of fruitful insights, all of the business leaders I spoke with agreed on the following thoughts and standards pertaining to business longevity and weathering hardship:
View and treat employees like family
Fostering strong work relationships from the get-go indicates that you truly have your employees’ backs. When you treat your business team like your extended family, trust and open lines of communication remain at the forefront, making tough times feel less tough. Pranay Rajgarhia makes an excellent point when it comes to mindfulness when hiring. “When we hire employees we have to hire them for a cultural fit more than a technical fit,” he said, as “this makes for a family-like environment which makes times like these easier to weather.”
Cut costs immediately so there’s a business to come back to
Cutting costs right away is one of the most painful-yet-necessary things to do when your company is faced with unforeseen circumstances. Our experts suggest taking a close look at all incoming revenue and outgoing costs and cutting anything that isn’t absolutely crucial. This could mean anything from cancelling subscriptions, to temporarily letting employees go, or anything between. The goal is to make the pain as short-lived as possible, according to Bruce Fikowski. “Make the hard decisions quickly. You don’t do yourself, your company, or your employees any favors if your business isn’t going to be there when the crisis is over,” he said.
"You don't do your employees any favors if you business isn't going to be there when the crisis is over."
Relax and regroup to be the best leader you can be
As the leader, your employees look to you and will naturally follow your lead. That’s why it’s crucial to give off calm and collected vibes (even if you’re not actually calm inside). Take enough time to relax, breathe, and brainstorm what you’d like to say before approaching your team with difficult news. Rajgarhia knows all about this calm leadership style, as he implemented it while weathering the early-2000’s recession. “Right now is a time where we need to pull together rather than panic together,” he said.
"Right now is a time where we need to pull together, rather than panic together."
Be willing to make sacrifices
From my research and interviews, it’s very clear to me that entrepreneurs are full of grit and determination. They’re willing to downsize, streamline, get creative, and rise to the occasion when they’re called upon as a leader. In other words, they’re willing to make significant sacrifices in order to keep things going. Jeanine Kinzie and her husband sold their beloved home on a lake in 2010 in order to keep the business going. Pranay Rajgarhia left a secure corporate job with his first child on the way, to create a solution to a need he saw. Jennifer Ettinger shared a story of selling her prized possessions to be able to pay her employees.
"I believe in faith, and that it’s going to work out and that I need to get my ego out of the way during difficult times…"
Maintain a positive mindset, as the crisis will pass
Entrepreneurs can make sacrifices when they hold the belief that things will get better and when they believe in what they are doing. “I really believe in faith, and that it’s going to work out and that I need to get my ego out of the way during difficult times… Whether I create a different program or am wearing a different hat, doesn’t lessen who I am as a business person. And I will find the new people who will attract to the new program, or the new ways, or the new me," says Jennifer Ettinger.
"It will come together, and it’ll be so worthwhile when it does."
The saying “tough times don’t last, tough people do” sums up the grit of entrepreneurs and is an excellent reminder that current hardships likely won’t last forever. “I believe in faith, and that it’s going to work out and that I need to get my ego out of the way during difficult times… Whether I create a different program, or am wearing a different hat, doesn’t lesson who I am as a business person. And I will find the new people who will attract to the new program, or the new ways, or the new me." Jeanine Kinzie decided to “tough it out” with her health insurance business despite threats from the Obamacare implementation in 2010. Sticking it out and remaining positive paid off, as Kinzie’s business actually continued to grow. Kinzie encourages business leaders to simply put one foot in front of the other every day. “It will come together, and it’ll be so worthwhile when it does,” she said. Bruce Fikowski shared the same sentiment when he said, "Be relentless. Don’t give up hope. Dig in, do the work, it will pass."
As businesses start to reopen into a new way of existing with so much still unknown, likely hard decisions will still need to be made. Keep these lessons learned by those who walked before you in mind as you face tough choices and weigh the costs of making them. Know that you are not alone, and there is a community of entrepreneurs to support you. Because that is another characteristic of long-time founders, they are generous in spirit and ready to encourage and cheer on the next guy coming up earning his or her badge of honor.