When punches ruin plans, fight back

Mara Hardy

Boxer Mike Tyson once said: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” For many, 2020 was that punch.

I’m a planner. I like to organize and work out the details. It’s comforting. But if the past year has taught me anything, it’s that plans go sideways. And if you own a small business and want to survive and grow, you need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

My husband and I purchased a business in January. Two months later, the pandemic hit. We were new business owners with no cash reserve in unprecedented times. I learned a few things really quickly and a few more things over time. Looking back, three things stand out:

Choose people like you’re going into battle with them. The strength of your team is measured by their actions when times are hard, not when business booms and life is good. I now seek out people that rise to a challenge; step up to help even if it’s not in their “job description;” and choose to support their team, especially when it would be easy not to.

Someone might look perfect on paper. They have all the qualifications and credentials. But how do they show up for you and their team? When it’s stressful and chaotic — like during a pandemic — will they try their best and keep trying? When they could easily get by with the status quo, will they choose to go the extra mile? It’s admittedly hard to determine these traits in an interview process while wearing masks, but it’s worth it to try.  Remember, life experience counts, too.

Write it down and do it now. Policies and procedures take out the guesswork and diminish the margin of human error. These documents provide standards that allow your team to excel, offer a framework to make smart decisions and protect you when something goes wrong. But they only help if they’re in place before you actually need them. Whether it’s an operating procedure or communicable disease plan, document it so the expectations are clear and there’s continuity.

You might believe a long-time employee plans to work with you for years to come. But life is unpredictable. If that employee leaves for some reason, do you know exactly what they do and how they to do it? If a new hire starts tomorrow, will they know what to do? Write a job description and a process and procedure manual for all aspects of a job. Yes, it can be tedious, but it’s well worth it.

When a plan explodes, you can fall back on the policies, procedures and processes you have in place. These are the foundation of the business. You might never need them. But I’d  rather have them and not need them than need them and not have them.

Don’t go it alone. There’s a lot at stake for business owners, and their actions and decisions have far-reaching effects. We think because we’re the “boss,” we must have the answer or know what to do. We often feel we can’t look weak to others.

I’m a young and new business owner. There have been countless times when I didn’t know what to do, and I felt the pressure because people were looking to me for answers. I felt I had to be strong and all-knowing and try to solve problems myself. The past year has taught me to get over myself. Asking for help is a sign of self-awareness, not weakness. Every time I’ve been authentic and open about my experience in business, I’ve learned something. Even if it’s not the lesson I thought it would be.

I’ll continue to plan. It’s just who I am. I know my plan will probably change or go way off course. But I take comfort in the realization I’m surrounded by great people, and we have a strong business foundation.

I know I’ll get punched in the mouth again. It’s part of owning a business. I also know I’m not alone.