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Ute Wieczorek-King Headshot

Five Ways to Cope With Unexpected Setbacks in Business

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Do you have days or even weeks when you feel somewhat out of sorts? When you think about your business, for example, does something just not seem right?

When I experienced this feeling a few weeks ago, I found it really hard to stay focused. But then I became distracted by severe bad weather here in the U.K., with storms and widespread flooding which seemed to go on for weeks. Although, fortunately, my own business wasn't affected, others I know haven't been so lucky.

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Photo courtesy of Ute Wieczorek-King

In business, small things that appear outside your control can happen all the time, such as the awkward customer who is never happy regardless of what you do, or the company that's not paying your invoice despite frequent reminders.

Other unexpected events may force you to realize that you made a wrong decision at some point, or failed with a project you once felt confident about. Either way, the small negative occurrences may be your opportunity to test your coping mechanisms and prepare you for the 'bigger stuff'.

I imagine few people will truly know or appreciate the real cost of storms and flooding for small businesses. But I know several female business owners who lost their biggest clients recently. One of them compared it to experiencing a storm followed by a power cut, leaving her unsure how her business would recover from the financial and emotional impact.

See your setback in perspective

When setbacks happen it can be hard not to panic and to stay positive, especially if you have a tendency to beat yourself up when things go wrong. However, being positive doesn't mean that you should ignore or downplay what's happened either -- instead, try to look for ways to help you see your challenge in perspective and trust that you will cope.

Have you ever sat down with a piece of paper and listed everything that you are grateful for in your business? Creating a list of positive events, personal achievements and complimentary things others have said about you, allows you to see everything that's good about your business, in one place.

Read your list on a regular basis and add to it as you go along. Then, when a setback happens, you can see it in the context of your whole business and this may make you feel a little better -- in other words, your gratitude list could provide you with a buffer zone of positivity!

Have a trusted support network to ask for help

Instead of letting challenges stress you out, remember that most problems are easier to solve with the help and expertise from people you can trust. Whilst discussing your situation with a colleague or mentor won't make the challenge go away, two heads are generally better than one when it comes to finding solutions. Plus, it is usually easier to generate new ideas when you can see your problem from different angles.

So if you haven't yet got a good support network around you, make sure you start building a few strong connections with different colleagues and business experts. And don't forget to be there for them too when they need your support.

Keep an open mind and welcome change

Always be mindful that a lot of things in business are completely outside our control. Perhaps your best customer is only leaving because of major changes happening behind the scenes? I lost a good long-term customer once when their company was bought by another one, causing all employees much uncertainty during the transition period.

Flexible and resilient business owners know that their business won't always develop in a totally predictable way. Being open to adjusting your course from time to time, will help you to cope with potentially much bigger changes in the long run.

Prevention is always better than cure

Taking simple measures to prevent financial hardship during difficult times can make things a lot easier and remove some of the worry. A contingency fund, for example, can help you in different ways: it can cover your costs during periods of illness or tie you over any unexpected cash flow problems. Insurance too can cover loss of 'income', but at the very least please make sure all the equipment you need to carry out your business is adequately covered, so you don't find yourself in dire straits because something you need isn't working.

Never ignore the small warning signs

I once met a senior director in his fifties who had been made redundant the day before he was due to start his new job -- when he had already relocated his family. It later dawned on him that he used to look at his work-life in seven-year cycles, i.e. taking stock, assessing and making changes every seven years -- except on this occasion. For the very first time, he had allowed himself to become complacent, missing the end of a cycle and an important opportunity to influence his direction.

According to a conversation I had with colleagues recently, it seems it is not uncommon for people to think of their life in cycles. And it subsequently hit me that my earlier 'out of sorts' feeling had actually been signaling the end of a five-year cycle! Having had a rethink of what I want to achieve, I am now back on course feeling both optimistic and energized about my business.

Why wait for a storm or a flood -- real or metaphorical -- to force you to reassess your strategy and make any necessary changes? Sometimes, being prepared for the worst can be a sign of strength, not weakness.