Maintaining Your Mindset as a Business Owner During a Recession

Tim Denning Insights

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A recession can be a mental nightmare for an entrepreneur.

I’ve worked as an entrepreneur through two recessions and they always seem to take you by surprise. Things look good, then bad, then good, and then okay again. You don’t see the crash coming. A random event you weren’t aware of that was bubbling away behind the scenes is usually the cause. The cause of a recession seems obvious in hindsight but never when it’s occurring.

The stress of a recession on your business comes from the uncertainty. When your business has been on cruise control for a while and you can predict your monthly revenue, it all seems manageable until it feels like it’s not.

Recessions can lead you to feel overwhelmed but it doesn’t need to be that way. You can learn to manage your mindset during a recession so you can come out the other side better for it. Here’s how I did it.

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Avoid Being Attached to a Number

The problem for us entrepreneurs is we fall in love with a number. We get used to a certain monthly revenue number. Seeing that number go backward seems like an impossible scenario. It’s easy to attach your idea of success to a number without even realizing it. This is bad because you start to chase that number in a recession.

You make bad decisions in your business because you’re trying to maintain a number that feels like success. The customer you would normally have said no to because they don’t fit your business model becomes a customer you chase out of your online store and down the street of social media.

You desperately want their business because they can help you keep the number. The problem is when the recession hits your customer, that customer hits your business. A customer you need to maintain your revenue number becomes a customer that has a bad debt or won’t pay you or expects you to deliver more than you can.

Manage your mindset in a recession by disconnecting from your pre-recession numbers. It’s okay to have your business’s revenue number go backward. In fact, in a recession, it’s completely normal.

Recognize That Helplessness Is a Part of It

The uncertainty in a recession is difficult to manage because it can make you feel helpless. When your business always made sense, and then it doesn’t, you start to doubt your entrepreneurial ability. You wonder whether it’s you, not the recession, that is making your business suffer.

If that helpless feeling is left unchecked then it can cripple your mindset. You need your mindset to tell you, “Everything is going to be okay; this storm will pass.” Your mindset saves you in a recession; it shows you what you can do after the recession. Your mindset sees the hidden opportunities in different corners of the internet that nobody is looking in. Why? Fear is blocking your competitors from seeing the opportunity. A recession is a magical time because while everybody is distracted with the chaos, you can be pivoting and finding new ways to make money.

If I told you there was a way to distract your competitors for a year or more so they wouldn’t be a threat, would you not want to pay me a lot of money for that privilege? Well, you don’t have to. The recession gives you that gift.

The feeling of helplessness is normal and you have to fight it. You have to notice when you feel helpless. You have to write down on paper why you feel helpless. Then you do this.

Get outside mentorship

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What’s better than one mind? Two minds. What’s better again? A mind that has seen what you’re witnessing.

Those gray-hair moguls that you avoided talking to previously because of their lack of understanding about tech are now your superpower. Many of the entrepreneurs that came before you have seen a lifetime of recessions.

They can tell you how to manage your cash, cut expenses, or talk to your staff/freelancers. It’s comforting knowing recessions have hit businesses just like yours.

The outside mentorship doesn’t have to come from entrepreneurs either. One of the best people I used to talk to was my 104-year-old grandma. She lived through two world wars and the Great Depression.

A recession doesn’t look so bad when you’ve seen war. Now that she has passed on, I still have my nana, who is about to turn 100 years old. I’ve asked her several times what previous recessions were like. She always has some witty advice to offer. Again, to her, a recession is not a big deal. Tough times and hardships are part of life according to her. “Tough times make you stronger” is her motto.

Take Days Off

The best way to relax your entrepreneurial mind is to have several consecutive days off. The key is to switch off your devices. You can’t relax when the dashboards that run your business are notifying you of impending chaos.

Go to the beach. Escape to the countryside. Take a long drive in the car with no end destination point.

Spend Time With Family

Your family acts as a reset button in a recession. Seeing your family reminds you why you do what you do.

I often like to visit my relatives when times are tough. I go to the nursing homes, or the country, or their house by the water and just listen. No agenda other than, “How have you been?”

I leave at the end with a new perspective. Suddenly, the recession doesn’t feel so big anymore. The recession actually feels small.

Let a Virtual Assistant Take the Load Off

I have a virtual assistant in the Philippians who is the kindest mother with two children you could ever meet. Sometimes I feel like I hire her for the reminder she gives me about how to treat people than for her virtual assistant services.

When it all gets too much, I fire up the computer and send her a message. I write out a list of tasks that I can’t bear myself to do and she gets them done. Yes, it costs money and perhaps I should be saving that money during a recession but the mental load it takes off is far more important.

Outsource the work that screws up your mind during a recession. Focus the precious mental energy you have on running your business and surviving.

Use This Secret Practice From Silicon Valley

I have been lucky enough to spend some time in Silicon Valley. One hidden secret I discovered by studying the valley was just how many entrepreneurs practice meditation and don’t ever tell anyone.

Meditation can be for non-spiritual people. You can sit there and observe your thoughts with your eyes closed without an app or looking weird. I find the Calm App helpful because it has background nature sounds that make me feel chilled out when the world is going through a period of chaos.

The weird thing about mediation is it feels like it’s doing nothing. You can do it for weeks or months and feel no different. Then, all of a sudden, meditation hits you in the face. You start to see small changes in your mindset after enough time has passed.

Trust the science and let meditation cure your entrepreneurial mindset.

The secret practice from Silicon Valley

Take Walks (Ideally With Your Partner)

I used to think walking was stupid. That was until walking led me to discover I was suffering from mental illness and changed my entire life (a story for another day).

Walking helps you think. When you practice thinking you can see your problems with the momentum of walking attached to them. As you walk towards your problems, you can come across small insights that you wouldn’t have sitting at your desk and looking at the revenue numbers.

A recent strategy I’ve used is to invite my partner. We walk together and it helps us spend quality time away from the laptops full of stress. Each walk, one of us decides the route. We’ve spent so much time walking that we’ve discovered parts of our neighborhood we didn’t know existed before.

Walk off your business stress.

Let a Recession Be an Opportunity

Your mindset changes when you see a negative situation as an opportunity. A recession can be good for your business in the long term. Your mindset can become fixed by accident and a recession can make you rethink your business (a gift).

Try this strategy: Ask yourself every day during the recession, “How can I make this recession good for my business?”

Focus on What You Can Control

Much of what happens in a recession is outside of your control. The economy tanks; the banks need a bailout; the tech bubble bursts; the travel industry is switched off; a real health threat emerges.

You can’t control any of this and trying to will make you go mad. What has helped me in past recessions is to focus on the elements of my business I can control like showing up for work, being nice to customers, finding ways to surprise and delight customers going through hardship, and working on my own personal development. The parts of your business you can control will distract you from the outside world you can’t control.

You manage your mindset in a recession when you take responsibility and see the opportunities bursting through the underneath of your home office door.

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Tim Denning
Tim Denning
Tim Denning is an Australian writer for CNBC & Business Insider, and his blogs have reached more than 100M people since 2014. His website is timdenning.com