By Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong, Next Avenue
Every entrepreneur has experienced it. Those days when nothing seems to be going right. Those frustrating times when you can’t see a path to success ahead. Before you throw in the towel and give up, learn from these entrepreneurs on how they push through the tough times.
In October, our company Stage2Startups, an organization that helps older, experienced workers start their own business, invited over 30 “second stage” founders to speak at our first Founders Over 40 Conference.
Speakers came from all backgrounds and industries; they either started their companies from scratch or bought and built a company; and, they started both for-profit and nonprofit organizations.
While every entrepreneur’s journey is unique, we learned that everyone who sets out to start their own business will experience those moments when success does not look possible.
Here is some advice on how these business founders stayed motivated:
Have a Plan
One of the best ways to prevent feeling discouraged as you build your business is to have a solid plan.
Richard Russo, CEO of Endomedix, a biotechnology firm based in Montclair, N.J., notes that when entrepreneurs focus only on the end goal, they can lose sight of what needs to be done in the short term to reach that goal.
“When your goal is so far away, it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel and you can feel like you are not getting anywhere,” says Russo, who counsels every founder to create a plan with concrete milestones and the steps needed to achieve each milestone.
“Now, when you achieve a milestone, you can feel good about yourself and look back on what you achieved. In addition, you can now communicate your success to others, which also builds your confidence.”
Remember Your “Why”
Even with a plan in place, it is never a smooth path to achieving your goal.
Gary Portuesi, founder of the luxury travel business, Authentic Explorations, based in New York City, talked about how easy it is to get overwhelmed by the general chaos of the daily tasks of building a business.
He advises, “Don’t get lost in the day-to-day of your business and lose sight of your mission. Take a deep breath, and remember to keep looking at the longer term view.”
Ngozi Okaro, the New York City-based founder of the nonprofit Custom Collaborative, which offers training to low and no-income women and immigrant women in the fashion industry, planned out where she wanted to be in 3, 5 and 10 years. Then, when frustrations built or nothing seemed to be going right, she could always look to the future.
“When I am in frustrating moments, I step back and remember that this particular moment is not the moment I am living for,” says Okaro. “I remind myself that I am working for the big moments when I know I am making a transformational impact on women’s lives. This helps me get over the short- term frustration and refocus on my bigger mission.”
Build Your Support Group
Being a solopreneur does not mean you have to do it alone when you hit a roadblock. Our entrepreneurs cautioned against becoming isolated and instead take the time to find people with the skills and willingness to help. These people can serve as sounding boards, brainstorm solutions, and help open doors.
“The ability to pick up a phone and ask some people for help is invaluable,” says James Rosseau, Sr., founder of The Corelink Solution, a Wilmington, Del. nonprofit focused on revitalizing communities through programs that help people realize their potential.
Rousseau suggests finding people on LinkedIn with the skills and knowledge you need and do a “cold call” introduction explaining why you want to connect with them.
“You would be surprised at how many people want to help,” he says.
New York resident Deb Boulanger, founder of The Launch Lab, a mentoring program for women entrepreneurs, also recommends building a community of people you trust because “the last thing you want to do is struggle alone.”
However, she counseled that you must build your support group with the right people.
“Friends can’t help you because they don’t have the expertise in what you are trying to build. You need people who are working in the same space as you and who have experienced the same challenges. These people can commiserate with you, share their experiences, and help you work through the moment,” says Boulanger.
Keep Your Grit
Educators talk about the importance of grit for children to succeed. The same is true for entrepreneurs. A consistent theme among our entrepreneurs was the importance of not letting short-term challenges or naysayers derail their long term goals.
But perseverance does not mean beating your head against the wall. Instead, step back and reevaluate.
Tanya Van Court, who founded Goalsetter, a family savings and spending app, says, “Treat any barrier as an obstacle. A barrier means that you can never get from point A to point B, but with an obstacle you can figure out how to go around, under or over it.”
Jeanne Pinder, founder of ClearHealthCosts, talked about what it was like launching a tech startup, focused on transparency in health care pricing, as a 55-year-old woman.
“I encountered a lot of naysaying – I was too old to start a company or I couldn’t start a tech startup because I was a woman. But you have to turn that negativity into something good. I became motivated every time someone said I couldn’t do something. I didn’t take no for an answer and I didn’t give up,” Pinder says.