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One of the metaphors I’ve been using in my coaching lately has been around the idea of sailing a small boat vs. sailing a big one. If you’ve ever spent any time on the water, you know that a small boat is agile and quick. It’s also subject to more rolls and waves, because it’s small. In contrast, a big boat is slower to turn, and may not be as agile- but you feel the waves less.

Boat sailingWhat does this have to do with business?

More than it might seem. When you consider your business, are you running a small boat or a big one?

If you’re new in business, or in startup phase, you might be a small boat. You WANT the nimbleness and quickness to respond to environmental conditions and turn or stop or speed up. You want the quick feedback from the market about what is going on so you can plan your next action.

The trade-off for that, though, is sometimes you feel the bumps more, and you can become stressed out and discouraged. Part of being an entrepreneur is being able to be resilient- to keep getting splashed with those really big waves and to keep standing up and trying again.

If you’ve been in business for a while, you might be running a more medium to big boat. This means you have some weight and stability in your favor. You may not be able to turn as quickly, but, then again, you might not need to. On a big ship, you pretty much keep everything going along, with less focus on the environment and its sudden changes. In this size of business, as long as you have the weather reports, and use them to make decisions, you can free yourself of the tight feedback loop with your market- every single change out there doesn’t have to mean a lot of changes in here.

Of course, the potential pitfall of the big boat is when it has lost track of the weather report and is running into stormy weather or shallow seas, and doesn’t yet realize it.

(That’s probably a topic for another time.)

The key point here is that to be in business, you need to be able to be resilient and ride out bad conditions. You might have several important clients leave. You or someone in your family might get sick. You might lose a key employee. You might not be sure where your next clients are coming from.

All of these situations leave you with a decision to make – are you going to fold? Or stand up and try again?

The longer I’m in business, the more it seems like victory comes to those who are willing to keep trying. They may not know what they’re doing. They may not know how to do what they think they need to. But they are willing to try, get feedback, learn and adjust.

There are simple practices we each can take to make the stressful and lean times in our businesses easier to manage:

1) When times are good, put aside extra financial reserve. Having cash in hand can quell a lot of anxiety.

2) When in doubt, go back to the last thing that worked to bring you clients or new business. Repeat that.

3) Be willing to do something new to have a different result. Adopt an approach of curiosity and testing.

4) Look for clues that you’re on the right track.

5) Have faith and keep a positive attitude.

The biggest difference between someone who is resilient in business and someone who is not is simply the willingness to keep trying until you find something that works.

When you master the waves of small business, you ultimately take control of your own ship and can steer it in any direction you choose.