6 Ways to Thrive During Unpredictable Times

Six out of 10 independent business owners believe that uncertainty in Washington is having a negative effect on the U.S. economy, a March survey by Newtek Business Services shows. The rest blame income and payroll tax hikes.

Whatever’s making you uneasy as an entrepreneur, it’s important not to let confusion and uncertainty get you down. Here are six ways your small business can thrive even if the world around you is a little crazy.

1. Cultivate a new perspective. Business owners sometimes limit themselves simply by clinging to the same, familiar approach. For example, a person who’s great at executing ideas may be too focused on short-term goals and fail to take the risks necessary for long-term growth. “To shift your perspective, look for odd or interesting trends or patterns in your industry, read an inspiring book, or listen to an inspiring talk,” advises Navi Radjou, co-author of From Smart to Wise: Acting and Leading With Wisdom. “Look at the problems from someone else’s point of view, meditate, or intentionally get out of your comfort zone — operate from a different leadership style. All of these techniques help leaders find new ways to find opportunities in uncertainty.”

2. Be prepared to revise your decisions. Savvy business leaders are open to revising or adapting their decisions — or even reversing them — if they feel that it is the right thing to do. In the face of uncertainty, the worst thing to do is stay the course without considering the context, Radjou says. As the context shifts, the decision may need to shift. “Wise leaders don’t let their egos stand in the way of contextual decision-making.”

3. Keep moving while others are standing still. Unpredictability often leads to a “hunker down” mentality under which companies remain stagnant or move backward, says Jared Nichols, principal at the consulting firm Jared Nichols Group. “This gives entrepreneurs a huge opportunity to redefine the rules and branch into places where few are going,” he says. Identify new market spaces where traditional competitors have not gone. “Now is the time to safely test those markets.”

4. Manage your assets. “You can’t sell your way out of bad economic times,” notes Will Shook, managing partner of Accelerence, a consulting firm. “Cash is your oxygen, and you can’t waste a single breath. You have to get out of unproductive assets to give yourself more time to weather the uncertainty.” Let go of people if you have to, he says. “It will be tough, but your team will understand the greater good going forward.”

5. Listen to your customers. “Engage your customers, as they are central to the new value you must create. Listen to them. Find the one or two ways that they need to be served better during this uncertainty and pivot to that solution improvement quickly,” Shook says. “You [small businesses] can go through the listen, learn, and adjust cycle many times faster than your bigger brethren. That is your competitive advantage. Remember the old adage, ‘It’s not the big that eat the small, but the fast that eat the slow.’”

6. Don’t stop believing. You have to trust your vision, yourself, and your team. According to Shook, “This belief has to resonate straight through to your team. You need their commitment during uncertainty, and it’s your job to secure it. It’s like [being] the captain of a ship during a storm: The sailors are looking to him to lead them through to safety and they draw off his confidence. If his confidence waivers, so will theirs. Be rock steady and chin up at the helm.”

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