Owners sometimes hate the small businesses they used to love
By JOYCE M. ROSENBERG
Thursday, November 16, 2017
NEW YORK — No matter how much small business owners love their companies, they also have moments — maybe even weeks or months — when they hate what they're doing and feel ready to give up.
Teana McDonald had been in the social media marketing business for nine years when a company she'd long wanted to work for agreed to consider a contract proposal from her. McDonald and the staffers of her Fort Lauderdale-based company, 3E Connections, spent weeks creating the 40-page pitch, but came in second. It was a huge disappointment.
"I asked myself, 'Why am I doing this? If I can't get this level of client, what am I doing wrong? Do I really want to do this?'" she says.
Many owners find a way to get through tough times is to get some support, either from family members, mentors or other business owners. They realize the go-it-alone mindset common among entrepreneurs have doesn't always work when products don't sell or associates let them down. And some realize they need a break to reconnect with the non-business parts of their lives.
McDonald decided to take a weekend off and go away with her family. That helped her realize that not getting her dream client shouldn't define her. And so when another company soon asked her for work, she says, "my head was in a better place to get that client."
Uncertainty can kick in even when a company is doing well. Chris Post's website design business acquired a competitor in mid-2016, a sign that Post Modern Marketing was a success. But one consequence of the acquisition was that Post's role changed dramatically — instead of working on client projects, his focus was bringing in business.
"It sent me into a slight depression around the holidays and early January," says Post, whose company is based in Sacramento, California. To get back on track, he took his family on a monthlong trip to Argentina and Chile, where he could "disconnect from work, relax, and have the space to see things clearly."
When he got back to work, he was ready to plunge into building his merged company.
In the three decades Jeff Hoffman has owned ACT Network Solutions, he's had to respond to tectonic shifts in the computer industry. His Cary, Illinois-based business began as a retailer selling computers and software to consumers, but was getting beaten by superstores with lower prices.
"I went to the office one day resigned to the fact that I was going to have to shutter the company," Hoffman says. But an order for 50 computers revived his spirits, and he has been able to shift his business model several times to keep pace with the industry. Now, ACT focuses on computer security and protecting customers' data.
That first blow didn't make Hoffman immune to despair: "Each event hits you like a baseball bat alongside the head, so you never really get used to it."
Hoffman's support system is his wife, Deborah. "She adds the air of sanity whenever I go off the deep end," he says.
Prayer helped Adrienne Smith get through a crisis. A year ago, Smith, who owns Adrienne's Classic Desserts, had to find another company to produce her cakes after her baker unexpectedly went out of business.
"This was probably one of the lowest points of my business existence," says Smith, who lives in Deptford, New Jersey, and whose company supplies cakes to restaurants and retailers including Whole Foods. She was suddenly without the means to provide goods to her customers.
"I prayed and asked for guidance, I reviewed my business plan to remind myself of why I was in business, and then I began the search for a new contractor," she says. She found one, and was selling cakes again within four weeks.
New owners can be particularly susceptible, and can feel crushed when inevitable setbacks occur. Chris Gronkowski hoped to get his water bottle, called Ice Shaker, into stores for the 2016 holiday season. But there was a problem with every prototype as he tried to make a bottle to keep drinks cold longer and not absorb odors from beverages. And Gronkowski, a former NFL fullback and the brother of New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, was used to the idea of "win or lose." He began having sleepless nights.
"I started asking, is it something that maybe they can't get right?" says Gronkowski, who lives in Colleyville, Texas. "You don't know if you should continue."
The bottles were finally ready the week of Christmas — too late to ship to stores. Gronkowski turned to his father, who'd had his own company for 26 years. He helped shore up Gronkowski's confidence, but also gave him some realistic advice.
"This is how business is. You can't expect everything to be on time. Nothing's going to be perfect," Gronkowski recalls his father saying.
Ryan Hertel took it hard when his marketing company, Socialocca, lost a prospective customer to a competitor.
"It's hard to stay motivated when there are days you feel like you're about to hit the jackpot and the very next day you feel like a failure," says Hertel, whose year-old company is located in New York. Sometimes, the funk could linger for months.
Hertel's solution was to bring in a partner, someone he could brainstorm with and ask for help.
"That gave me significant peace of mind," he says.
Rafael Romis' website design business just wasn't taking off; six months after starting Weberous in 2012, he had few clients and was barely covering his expenses.
"I started thinking, maybe I screwed up with this one. Maybe I should have gone and gotten a steady job," says Romis, who lives in Los Angeles. The disappointment even became a cloud over plans for his wedding.
Romis realized he needed help. He began following founders of other web design firms on social media, reading their posts about how they overcame obstacles in their companies. He contacted some near him, and took one out to lunch. The man became something of a mentor to Romis, telling him, "To be successful, you need to knock on doors."
Romis began reaching out to local businesses and convincing them they needed websites. When they hired him, he asked them to refer other businesses to him. That began to work.
"I closed my first referral deal just days before the wedding," Romis says.