As I write this, the world is in the grips of Coronavirus, also called COVID-19. The economy is shaky, and running a business feels scary. Your business can survive recession—or even have success in recession—if you learn how to manage a downturn (and do some recession planning for next time).
I started my own business in 2005 during a strong economy. Then came the Great Recession of 2008. I was completely unprepared. In 2008, I made $110,000. In 2009, I didn’t even clear $14,000.
At the same time, I was dealing with the deaths of my grandmother and brother, a divorce, and losing my home—all in six months. It was A LOT. Not a pandemic, but certainly an upended of my life as I knew it.
I learned a lot about how to run a business during a recession (and what not to do). So, this is my 5-step recession survival guide for other small business owners facing such tough circumstances for the first time.
1. Feel your feelings
Whether it’s a global pandemic or a routine economic slump, any major change can be traumatic. It can also trigger unresolved trauma from childhood or adulthood, which only compounds the feelings.
Allow yourself the space to feel what comes up. Don’t beat yourself up or do what you “should.” It’s okay not to push or be super productive or be grateful for this time.
Don’t surround yourself with people who tell you to “get over it” “work harder” or not let your “scarcity mindset” or fears get the best of you. Your feelings are real. Your fears are real. Your situation is real. Honor it and yourself. Do what you need to to protect yourself and your family.
2. Ask for help
Asking for help is hard for so many of us, especially for women who tend to be cast int the role of care giver, putting everyone else’s needs ahead of their own. But not asking for help when times are tough is a recipe for disaster. It’s the surest way to burn out and fall farther behind.
Find community wherever you can: Attend networking events, if possible. Have as many virtual coffee chats as you can. Start a mastermind with a trusted group of peers. Talk to other business owners who get what you’re experiencing.
Thanks to this story we tell ourselves, we don’t talk to anyone about our fears because we worry it would be admitting “failure” and looking like a fraud. That’s a lonely and scary place to be. Take a risk and be vulnerable enough to tell others who “get it” about the hard times and your fears. You’ll likely hear a chorus of “me too,” and that support network can also help you devise a plan to turn things around.
If you need help learning how to ask for what you want and need, sign up for my free Gutsy Ask Email Challenge. You’ll get a bunch of mindset and practical tips for confidently making asks that are met with yes.
3. Act like a CEO
I went far too long treating my business like a hobby, even though it was my full-time job and I made a full-time living. Recession taught me that it’s vital to act like a CEO, even if you’re a business of one.
If you haven’t already, set up an LLC and get an EIN from the IRS (to use instead of your SSN). Also, separate your business and personal finances with different bank accounts.
Taking those actions can provide legal protection. If ever you’re sued (perhaps you default on a loan, break a contract, etc.), your personal assets are in jeopardy if you’ve not clearly established your business as a separate entity.
Also, getting serious about your business finances is perhaps the most important thing you can do to prepare for bad times. Switching to the Profit First accounting method is keeping my business alive during the current downturn. It allowed me finally clearly see where every dollar I earn goes.
Thanks to Profit First, I have enough money to pay my business expenses for months, to pay my taxes on time, and a rainy-day fund just for my business to continue to pay myself even when revenue is down or dead.
Finally, track your data. No CEO of a big company would be making decisions without hard numbers in front of them—and neither should you.
It’s easy to spiral from “I’m not making enough money right now” to “I’m a loser.” This is particularly true when we rely only on our bank account and our feelings to assess our success.
The cure is to track more metrics in your business so you can use factual data to assess your progress. Sales may be down, but perhaps you’re growing your email list or appearing on more podcasts—or any number of other things that might later result in sales. Revenues may be down, but perhaps your actual profits are up, or you are getting more repeat clients.
Knowing *all* of your numbers will paint a more complete picture of the ways you’re growing and improving, even if actual sales are down.
You can also use this data to help with the feast-famine cycle of business. If year after year, work slows down every holiday or every summer, you can be better prepared for them, financially and emotionally.
4. Keep planting seeds
A slow time, especially one we didn’t choose, is very scary. It’s also an ideal time to plant seeds that will later help your business grow.
During an economic downturn, resist the urge to let panic stop you from taking action. Instead, use this time to play the long game with marketing efforts that will pay off in the future, including:
- Write content that you can bank and use when you are busy again
- Optimize content that already exists (improve blog post SEO, upgrade your courses or opt ins)
- Launch a podcast, YouTube channel, or Facebook group
- Create new pins for existing content, join more group boards, and share like crazy on Pinterest
- Have as many virtual coffee chats as you can
- Emails current and past customers, and prospects, to ask for new business, referrals, or just to stay top of mind
- Learn new skills by attending events, taking courses, and reading books
A slower time is also an opportunity to do big-picture thinking and planning. How might you need to pivot business to respond to the changing economy? What changes to pricing, offers, messaging do you want to make? How can you improve what you do to boost customer loyalty? What could you do to promote referrals?
You should be having a CEO Day at least once a quarter, and a recession is no time to put it on the back burner. Sit down with pen and paper and start dreaming and plotting. You can grab my 20+ page CEO Day workbook for just $10 to guide these efforts.
5. Don’t make big decisions
Don’t make big decisions on your worst (or your best) day. Those decisions are based on feelings, not facts. They are rooted in the story you’re telling yourself, and one that will very likely change.
Feelings aren’t facts!
Take a break and, when you feel more even keeled, analyze the facts before doing something rash like changing your business model or quitting.
It’s easy to panic during a recession. But also, there is so much that is outside of our control.
That’s why it’s also really important to develop some healthy mindset practices to help you weather the storm. Here’s a mindset practice that I use (and teach my coaching clients) that has saved me from diving off the deep end many times.
At least once a day, find 5-10 minutes of quiet to ask yourself three questions:
- What am I feeling? What issues are coming up for me right now? Where am I feeling resentment, frustration, fear? On what thoughts do I keep spinning?
- What are the facts? What do I know to be true? It’s amazing how often when I ask my clients about facts that they start citing feelings and beliefs, not facts. I’ll end up homeless is not a fact. My bank account is at $100 is a fact.
- What’s my choice here? Here’s the hard truth: You only have control over your reactions. You can’t control circumstances like coronavirus, and you can’t control others. You can only control how you react to those things. So, what choice are you going to make?
This mindset practice is designed to take you from reactionary to proactive.
If you need more help quieting the mind and avoiding limiting beliefs, you can learn about my mindset coaching practice here.
Productivity experts, business gurus, mindset teachers…it seems like everyone says journaling can change your life. You want to learn how to journal for success, but aren’t sure where to start.
You’ve tried to journal, but usually the blank page stares you into submission. After one or two entries, you quit. Or, it’s like you’ve been transported back to your teenage years and you can’t shake the silly “Dear Diary” feeling.
Don’t worry! This guide will teach you how to journal in a way that works for you.
This guide is packed with journaling methods and resources to help you get started—and stick with it. It’s specifically for small business owners who want to harness the power of journaling to grow personally and professionally.
General Benefits of Journaling
Life can get hectic, and it can be easy to get consumed by all we have going on. Journaling is a way to slow down and take time for reflection.
Journaling is more than a feel-good, sound-good activity. There is plenty of scientific evidence to support that it actually delivers real and important results.
What’s more, writing accesses the left hemisphere of the brain, which is analytical and rational. This frees the right hemisphere to create, intuit and feel. That means writing harnesses all of your brainpower to find better solutions to problems.
Benefits of Journaling for Business Owners
Journaling is clearly useful for self-growth, which is useful for business owners. Additionally, there are other business-specific reasons that journaling can help create success.
Whether you are hoping to launch a new business or wanting to grow an existing one, journaling can help.
1. Journaling sets ideas free.
The brain only has room for so many thoughts and feelings at once. Keep too many ideas locked up in your mind, and you’ll lose some as your brain makes room for others. Getting your brilliant business ideas out of your mind and onto paper captures them forever.
2. It increases productivity.
By releasing your brain from the responsibility of holding onto #AllTheIdeas, you free up space for others to take root and expand. That’s effectively doubling the number of ideas you can generate at any given time.
3. Journaling fills in the blanks.
Seeing all your seemingly disparate ideas on paper can help you (quite literally) draw connections among them. Finding those creative relationships can be difficult or darn near impossible when they’re trapped in your mind.
4. It weeds out bad ideas.
Journaling allows you to look at your business musings in black and white. This judgement-free space can help you more accurately evaluate which truly have legs—and those that sounded better in theory. Letting go of bad ideas quickly will keep you from wasting time and money on them. Even better, it can help you learn from them and perhaps reshape them into good ideas.
5. Journaling creates a record.
Tracking your ideas from fruition beyond implementation creates a record that can later be quite useful. When an idea comes to life and is successful, you can accurately reflect on how it all happened. This can help you re-create what led to your best ideas, and help lightning strike again.
Small business owners can use journaling to capture and track ideas for new businesses or offers. It can also help with brainstorming content ideas, planning social media, or mapping out sales funnels.
To get even more ideas for how journaling can help you and your business, check out How 14 Business Owners Use Journaling to Grow Their Businesses.
How to Journal for Success
There are as many ways to journal as there are people. Your journal is your own, and you can create it and use it however best suits you.
Not sure where to start? Here are a few ideas to help.
Journaling for success
As a business owner, a journal can be incredibly helpful in going from probable hunch to profitable reality (see above). You can use a journal to do biz-y things like hone your elevator pitch, brainstorm solutions to your customer’s problems, keep track of competitors and how you can separate from the herd, reflect on your values or your “why,” brainstorm ideas for scaling, dream about the future, and more.
No subject is off limits
Using a journal for business is great, but you don’t have to stop there. You can capture ideas of all sorts. Record your nightly dreams, write out a bucket list, jot down favorite mantras, or just jot down any random thing that pops into your head. If you do this all in one journal, you can later look for connections between seemingly random ideas. Or, you can use separate journals for different concepts.
Put pen to paper
Many studies have shown the benefits of handwriting vs. typing. Not only does it help you better retain information, it activates more areas of the brain to better unlock memories and trigger creativity. If you’re physically able, put pen to paper when you journal instead of typing or dictating.
Let it flow
Freewriting is a powerful journaling method. You write without stopping for a set length of time or until you fill a certain number of pages. Even if you only write, “I don’t know what to write,” you just keep going until time is up or the pages are full. The purpose is to free your brain from editing (or censoring) in real time. This allows our deepest feelings and ideas to flow.
Too much can be too much
For journaling to have the greatest affect on your life and business, it helps to do it consistently over months and years. That said, too much of a good thing can actually be too much. Research suggests that doing it every day can be overwhelming, and that three to four days a week for 15 to 30 minutes at a time is ideal.
Shake things up
It can be easy to get stuck in a rut with anything, including journaling. If you’ve been doing it for a while and are feeling creatively stunted, do something unexpected. Write with your nondominant hand, try audio entries rather than handwritten, head outdoors or somewhere new to journal, use crayons, etc. Experiment from time to time to keep the creative juices flowing.
Let go of perfection
Nothing is a bigger killer of journaling (or any creative outlet) than perfectionism. Remind yourself that your journal is a private space only for you. Write quickly to help free your brain from worries about spelling, punctuation, and grammar. The more you can learn to accept and embrace bad writing, the freer you’ll be and the more rewarding journaling will become.
Try using prompts
There’s nothing worse than staring at a blank page. When you encounter writer’s block (and even the best writers do from time to time), journaling prompts can be a useful tool to help the words flow. More on that next.
The only rule with journaling is there are no rules! Treat your journal like an accepting, loving confidant, or like a free therapist. The more you open up to it, the more it will reveal to you.
Journaling can be messy, and that’s okay. In fact, in journaling and in life, in the mess is often where we find the magic.
Best Journals to Buy
If possible, use old-fashioned pen and paper to journal. Research has shown that people learn better and retain more information when they write things down instead of type. Even so, journaling in any form can be incredibly beneficial, so don’t let this be the thing that keeps you from starting!
Most stationery designers offer blank journals that are beautiful and may help inspire you to start writing! If you’re like some people and don’t want to “ruin” a pretty journal by actually writing in it, then consider using a basic notebook.
You can also maximize productivity (and ensure you don’t forget to do your journaling) by having your planner double as a journal. Most daily, weekly, and even monthly planners have space for taking notes.
Prefer digital journaling? You can use the notes section in your phone or computer, or choose among the many online options for capturing your thoughts. Penzu is a private, totally customizable online journal (also available as an app) and Evernote has a very robust notekeeping desktop and mobile app that can be used for journaling (along with any business/personal notekeeping). Both programs have free versions.
Still unsure how to get started? The easiest journaling practice is to simply take a few minutes and reflect on your day or dream about the future.
Each day, take out a sheet of paper (or your journal or planner) and answer one or several of these questions:
- What made yesterday great?
- What could have made yesterday better?
- For what are you grateful?
- What do you want to accomplish in the coming years?
- How could you push closer to those dreams today?
Some other journaling exercises include things like writing out a simple pro/con list for a challenge you’re facing, doing a brain dump to get all of the thoughts in your head onto paper, a to-do list or a list of big-picture goals, or just writing uninterrupted for 10-15 minutes about a thematic word of the day (family, community, mindset, change, hope, etc.).
If facing a blank page feels overwhelming, but you want more variety than what I’ve already suggested above, then you may love using journaling prompts. These are questions or other starters to unlock your brain.
A few examples of prompts include:
- Words to live by…
- What I wish others knew about me…
- I’m most content when…
- What I’ve learned from mistakes/failure
If you love journaling prompts, check out these posts: Morning Journaling Prompts, Creative Journaling Prompts, and Journaling Prompts for Self-Discovery.