02/28/2014 04:21 pm ET Updated Apr 30, 2014

Resources vs. Resourcefulness -- A Key to Greatness

According to a popular saying, "Shit happens," and most business owners, successful or otherwise, would be quick to agree. In fact, they'd probably add " the worst times."

This is a reality all business owners face. Regardless of how successful or talented you may be, you will be tested by adversity countless times over the course of your career. Obviously, the better run a business is the less frequent the testing will be, but that doesn't mean you'll be immune. Think about the recession of 2008, when banks stopped lending -- not just to businesses and individuals but also to each other, resulting in the credit markets drying up. Because of that, several once-great companies found themselves fighting for survival, in bankruptcy, or going out of business altogether, while others just treaded water as they tried to figure out what the future would look like.

Faced with such a dire situation, inexperienced or ineffective business owners, not to mention a lot of well-meaning politicians, thought the way to deal with the problem was to throw money at it. The fact is, though, that the most successful owners, those whose businesses have the most cash available, don't believe more money is the first, second, or even third best way to fix a problem. Successful owners know it's always best to search for other options before they reach into their wallets.

Of course, there's no question that cash is king, and it's always better to have more than not enough. But what's often forgotten is that money can make owners and their staffs "soft" when it comes to fighting adversity. That is, it tends to make them simply throw more money at a problem rather than try to determine what the problem really is and do whatever's necessary to fix it. For example, technology can be incredibly helpful to entrepreneurs, and they constantly look to it as a way to improve their businesses. The problem, though, is that no matter how much money you put into it, technology can't fix problems that humans create for themselves. If an internal process isn't being used the way you intended, or a key employee isn't doing what you want him or her to do, then spending money on technology isn't going to help. Before you spend a dime, you have to find out what the problem really is, and find the best way to solve it.

Those who survived the recession, and survived it well, were not necessarily the ones with the most financial resources, but the ones who were most resourceful. They knew that their overall business environment had changed, and that their businesses would have to change with it. So first, they took stock of the assets they had available, financial and otherwise, and then found new ways to use those assets, even if for purposes they might not have been originally intended, looked for short cuts and breakthroughs their competitors hadn't considered, and in the process not only saved their businesses, but enabled them to flourish.

Being resourceful, though, isn't just a way to deal with adversity. It applies to making the most of opportunities as well. For example, in the late 1990s my partner, Billy Sterett, and I had an opportunity to buy a business that would make us the dominant company in our market. We both wanted to make the acquisition, but we didn't want to take the cash from our other businesses because they were growing and needed cash to continue doing so. Borrowing more money was an option, but we didn't want to tie ourselves to more debt. So, being resourceful, we came up with another option -- changing banks and renegotiating our banking payback requirements, which freed up a large amount of cash and allowed us to buy the new company without threatening the growth of the others. In other words, by using our resources in a different and more efficient way, we were able to make our company both bigger and better.

Sometimes, of course, spending more money is the answer to a problem. But it isn't necessarily the first answer, even if you have lots of it. When the sh*t hits the fan, or you find yourself with a promising opportunity, the first thing you have to do is determine what the real issues are. Then you have to use your experience, courage and visionary leadership to find the best way to fix whatever is broken or take advantage of the opportunity before you. In other words, you have to do what all great entrepreneurs do -- be resourceful.