The Ultimate Five-Step Guide to Surviving a Crisis [Self-Help for Entrepreneurs]

Never let a good crisis go to waste.

Taking full responsibility of your life is hard. It sets you free, but you have to take chances, make difficult decisions, exercise commitment and avoid blaming others for your problems and mistakes at all costs. It’s no wonder that most people struggle with this.

As an entrepreneur, you must take complete responsibility, though. Not only are you responsible for your own deeds and actions but, also, for your business and employees. Your workplace turns into your second home and your employees become your second family.

This is exactly why, when a crisis hits, you do everything it takes to protect your “home” and “family.” As the metaphorical breadwinner, you want to save your business and the jobs of your employees. Unfortunately, they may not share your “pastoral approach” to the process of running a company. Let me explain what I mean.

Sometimes It Hits You Back

As the owner of several small businesses, I have always been adamant about treating my employees with dignity. And while I still am today, I also know that extra kindness can be extremely toxic.

I started my first company, a digital marketing agency named Singree.com, in Ukraine (Eastern Europe) in 2009. A severe economic crisis was raging across the United States, Europe and the rest of the world, but, thanks to my commitment, dedication and long hours, my agency managed to survive.

Years went by. In 2012, Singree was already a strong local player and provided for 18 developers and digital marketing experts. At the time, all my thoughts were fixed on what I could do to transform my agency into a global leader. I decided to move to the USA. Starting up a business in that massive market, an entrepreneurial heaven with over 320 million potential clients, seemed logical. Little did I know that life had other plans for me.

After several weeks, I stepped off of the plane in NYC. I quickly began to realize that something was terribly wrong. Managing a company from overseas turned out to be a very complex task. In my situation, absolutely insurmountable.

The designers, developers, digital marketers and salespeople who I trusted so much couldn’t do anything without me. I played a critical role in my company’s success for such a long time that my team literally forgot how to be on their own.

My inability to delegate authority hit me hard. Treating my employees with a little too much kindness and dignity affected their ability to do their jobs. I was on the brink of bidding farewell to New York and returning back to Ukraine to start it all from scratch. But then I realized what I could do to save my agency. Here is what I did.

Dealing With a Crisis. Five Steps to Success

#1 I admitted that I had a real problem to solve

While it’s more comforting to deny a crisis, admitting a crisis is always the first step to solving it.

Humans are psychologically hardwired to avoid stress and getting out of our comfort zones. Not surprisingly, many entrepreneurs would prefer to not mention that their businesses are in the red.

Our brains are powerful enough to distort reality. Your brain will do anything it takes to lull you with comforting thoughts about your company’s successful past and awesome future. It doesn’t want you to waste extra energy by thinking and doing — just stay calm.

Life is not rainbows and unicorns, though. Denying a crisis won’t help your company survive. Never mentioning a problem is a clear path to failure. Thinking without doing is futile.

Get real! You are responsible for your business — nobody else. Admit when you are in a crisis and move on to the next step.

#2 I figured out that workforce optimization was entirely up to me

Firing people you have worked together with for years is painful. There’s no denying it.

But do you know what is even more painful? Realizing that your employees take advantage of you, use you as a source of money and prestige but never pay you back with their performance, commitment and value.

Hard choices must be made so that is what I did. I fired everybody who dragged my company down by finding endless excuses not to work hard.

Terrible? Yes! But I didn’t have a choice.

And believe me, when your company is pressed for money, you will do the same thing. Eventually, you will have to cut spending and increase efficiency, even if you have funds to get you through your crisis.

Barely surviving on a shoestring budget but ending up without any resources after is even more awful than complete and utter failure. Why? Because it is easier to fail a business and start a new one than to deal with plateau for years.

Only the best of my team kept their jobs. And you know what? Since that crisis, I have managed to triple the number of people I employ! But then I had to learn to survive with a larger team, so…

#3 I cut expenses and dropped unprofitable projects

I love my company and I love what I do. I cherish every project and every campaign. Cancelling projects that lost money but were interesting broke my heart. But I did it, and I strongly advise that you do, too.

Surviving a crisis is all about taking a fresh look at your business, employees, projects, niche and so on. But, while you cleanse your company of non-productive workers, you should also cut expenses by getting rid of unprofitable projects and customers.

The crisis I faced wasn’t about second chances. I had to act quickly and, within several months, put a stop to twenty projects. I loved them and was 100% sure that they would be profitable in the long run, and yet I dropped them.

Because even lizards sacrifice their tails to survive.

Only several projects remained. Here is what I did next.

#4 I invested heavily in profitable projects

By the end of 2013, Singree.com shrank to a team of only five people (me including). I had to drop many projects and customers to make ends meet. This was my last frontier.

The good news was, I managed to save the most profitable clients. I swore to invest every minute of my time into their businesses and I did. I prioritized those projects and delegated only the best talent to work on them.

The employees’ focus improved which immediately resulted in increased efficiency. The remaining projects became profitable enough to keep my company afloat for a full year. I used that time to build a strong foundation for future success.

#5 I acknowledged that I lacked business management skills

Italian writer Antonio Gramsci once said:

The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born.

He was right.

The crisis in my company was triggered by the “death” of the old me. I moved to the United States, leaving my employees without a boss who had always been helpful and knew precisely what to do. I could no longer babysit every employee and that immediately caused a crisis.

Analyzing those events, I realized: If I ever wanted to grow a strong business, the new me must be born — a Sergey Grybniak who knows how to manage his employees and isn’t afraid of delegating authority.

I pledged to improve my business management skills and ended up with a newer, much bigger and wiser version of me. Within a year, I learned to:

  • Stay calm in the face of crisis. Emotions could have ruined everything for me. That’s why I intentionally transformed myself into a wiser person by leveraging the power of reading, reflective thinking and meditation.
  • Think strategically. This crisis made me learn to eliminate reactive thinking from my life. Problems no longer easily trigger me. I stay calm and focus on the important tasks at hand.
  • Manage employees without babysitting. My employees know that their tasks are up to them. I don’t check on what they’re doing every minute because only our results matter.
  • Delegate authority. I’m not afraid of delegating tasks to my subordinates. This has helped a lot as I focus more on our top-performing projects, company vision and mission.
  • Be flexible and adaptable. Problems come and go. If I come across a problem implementing a strategy, I just change it. I acknowledge the fact that I can’t see the future.

Final Thoughts

The new Grybniak was born in 2014. I didn’t give up, and I managed to withstand the crisis. Instead of losing hope, I used this as an opportunity to optimize and renovate my company. I invested in learning business management skills to become a better version of myself. And it helped me take a huge step ahead of our competitors.

Crises are hard, and yet, they are also amazing. They push you to step out of your comfort zone and into the territory where actual growth and development takes place. Dedicate all of your time and energy into surviving a crisis. If you do, you will inevitably end up with a much stronger business model, more competitive products and services and a better version of yourself.

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