We like to use the analogy that an entrepreneur’s life is like a movie. You write the screenplay, direct the action, and star in the production. Of course, you need a team to help you bring it to the screen, and the people you have around you play a major part in making the movie a success. But ultimately, it’s about you, your vision of what you want to create, and the impact you want to have.
I borrowed this concept years ago from a friend who survived cancer. When she was declared cancer-free, she said that the experience had been very difficult, but also freeing. She realized it was her choice who was in her life and who wasn’t, what she decided to pursue and what not to. She realized that this was her movie, and there was no room for toxic people or wasted energy. It resonated with me that entrepreneurs create the path of their organizations in the same way.
I found the movie analogy especially powerful for the founder of an innovative marketing company that makes high-end, printed t-shirts. In the early years, a talented project manager led the sourcing. She was excellent at managing details and deadlines, but also could be abrasive, and didn’t spare the owner from her prickly nature when she needed a piece of information or a decision.
The owner struggled for two years, vacillating between the company’s need for her unique talent – getting projects done on time and at high quality – with his desire to be happy going to work. He dreaded getting criticized by this employee. Ultimately, he made the choice to part ways, inspired by the knowledge that this really was his movie, and he ultimately could decide who got to have a role in his production.
It took time to find the right person, who had the strengths of the person he let go, but a more pleasant demeanor. Eventually, he found her, and she has been at the company ever since, taking on ever greater roles and responsibility.
While no one would choose challenges that are beyond their control, they can end up being the most dynamic parts of the story.
Of course, the analogy breaks down when our entrepreneurial production meets reality. We likely would not choose to include challenges like the Great Recession, COVID, massive shifts in technology, war, and other things beyond our control.
The CEO of a leading supplier of process control equipment, who was in one of our peer mentoring groups, told me how he had to go back to basics during the Great Recession. As orders dropped precipitously, and collecting accounts receivable became challenging, he had to restart disciplines like careful weekly cash management, which had helped him build the successful company he led. It was a rocky period. The recession was not part of this CEO’s script. As the economy came back to life, the company’s revenue and profit recovered, and grew to new levels. The resilient business he had built was able to weather that unexpected storm.
The same was true for a company in the action sports industry I worked with, whose revenue and profits increased steadily after 2010, but had plateaued by the end of the decade. Then COVID hit, and the company’s supply chain was disrupted. The CEO realized that the next few years were going to be rough, so he and his business partner exited the business by selling to their main supplier. This was not in their script, but the decision enabled the CEO to take a much-needed break from the day-to-day. A year later, he started a new company to pursue business ideas he had been noodling for some time.
The unexpected happens all the time.
Through the Great Recession and again through COVID, entrepreneurs have realized the need to build resilience into their business formula, to maintain their focus on cash, stay close to their customers, and remain nimble as their companies grow. While no one would choose these challenges that are beyond our control, they can end up being the most dynamic parts of the story.
What’s next on your entrepreneurial journey? Who do you want playing key roles in helping you get where you are going?