The importance of perseverance for your small business

Early last week while conducting an interview, I heard a story that has stuck in my head ever since. It was a story of perseverance in the face of daunting odds. The person I was interviewing heads the foundation at Indian River State College in Fort Pierce, FL. Fourteen years ago, the college began giving out an annual Entrepreneur of the Year award to a high successfully member of the Treasure Coast community. Here’s the story I was told about one of the winners of this award:

“I don’t think we anticipated how much we would learn from these entrepreneurs over the years. It’s exciting when you learn of someone who started with very little and has taken an idea and made it a success. If there’s one word I would use for everyone we have honored, it is perseverance.

“One award winner told me that when he didn’t know how to borrow the money he needed to grow his business, he studied The Wall Street Journal for a year, reading about leveraged buyouts. Then he went to 37 different banks before someone finally said yes. That’s perseverance. So now when I’m raising money for our foundation, if someone tells me no six times, I think I’ve got 31 more times to go!”

Perseverance. Grit. Determination. Resolve. Tenacity. And, yes, even stubbornness. These are different words that describe that certain something you must have if you are to survive the ups and downs that go with operating a small business.

As I close in on my 25th anniversary of self-employment in October, I can look back and acknowledge the perseverance it took to keep going through three recessions, including one so bad it earned the title “Great Recession.” I have numerous friends who are self-employed or operate small businesses who not only survived bad economic downturns but also made it through personal disasters that easily could have caused them to take their eye off the ball long enough for their business to falter. But they persevered.

Why do some people show tenacity in the face of large challenges while others buckle as soon as they meet the least amount of resistance? We’ve all known people who have excitedly started a business only to be back looking for a new 9-to-5 gig a short while later when they didn’t find instant success. They got the capricious gene instead of the perseverance gene.

On the downside of perseverance, we’ve also witnessed people who keep insisting their business model is fine and doesn’t need to change when the market is definitely telling them something much different. There can be a fine line between perseverance and pigheadedness. We admire the entrepreneur who went to 37 banks. But would we admire him as much if he had gone to 137 banks, still was getting no for an answer and was headed to bank number 138? Where along that count of banks would we go from admiring his perseverance to thinking he was just being downright stubborn and wasting his time?

We all benefit from inspiring stories of entrepreneurs who persevered and beat seemingly overwhelming odds. But perseverance needs to be tempered with frequent reality checks lest you be in danger of morphing from determination into obstinacy.

Equally important, if you’re not someone who does well in the face of adversity, perhaps owning a small business is not the right path for you since I know of few small business owners who have not faced major challenges of one type or another. Sooner or later your ability to persevere will be tested and you don’t want to be found wanting.

2 comments

  1. klutgoff says:

    Thank you for this post! It's very perceptive and beautifully written. I enjoyed reading it very much.

  2. Marla Michel says:

    I think I'll have to go check my genome…. Great article, Jeanne. -Marla

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