Starting and growing a business is challenging, but can prove even more difficult during tumultuous times. Business formation requires bringing numerous elements together successfully: dedication, specialization, skill development, resources, careful planning, financial investment, making connections, and the hoped-for clients and customers. Mentorship supports entrepreneurs and people trying to improve their skill sets within their chosen careers. They provide information, guidance, resources, networks, and encouragement. Candice Tal, CEO of Infortal Worldwide, a leading global security and risk management company, recently sat down for a two-part interview with Daniel Ayala and Lisa Beth Lentini Walker of MentorCore, a community focused on helping people grow their careers and skills through mentoring in the security and compliance fields, to discuss “Mentoring & Entrepreneurship During Turmoil.”
Many people rightfully classify the last two years as tumultuous, from the pandemic, growing inflation, shipping delays, and various types of civil unrest. Numerous businesses have folded or suffered loss, but entrepreneurs need to remember that peaks and troughs are the rule, not the exception. It is important to remember that “business fluctuates,” Candice stated. “Business goes up and down. It's a really bumpy road…lots of people think it's going to be smooth sailing all the way. Absolutely not. That is just not going to happen.”
Asked if “different phases of maturity of a business play into that as well,” Candice replied, “Not only the phases of maturity of the business, but our own experience base.” It is that experience of going through prior difficulties that helps entrepreneurs weather new ones though, “that doesn't mean that you're completely prepared for the next level.” So, what should an entrepreneur do? Candice advises “to draw on your inner strengths, your resourcefulness, and to reach out to others.”
There are many ways to be resourceful. One is to study. “Studying is about researching and using other people's resourced ideas that have already been documented for you in books or online.” Still, it is other people that can be your best resource.
Not everyone is comfortable seeking assistance or advice however. They may not even know what questions to ask. In those situations, Candice advises to “start with baby steps…break it down into steps you are comfortable taking. If you’re not comfortable taking a step, you probably won’t take that step.” These small steps begin to add up and provide the forward momentum needed to make progress. “If you have no forward momentum, then your static.”
A personal technique she shared is to think about a question you are too afraid to ask and then try to break it down. “Flip things over and try to create a question from the opposite standpoint. What if I don’t do that? What would happen then? Or what if I turned it on its side…and approach it from a completely different angle? Or what if I imagine I was somebody else asking that question, how would I go about asking it?”
By breaking the question down and looking at it from different angles, it can lead you to “a place you feel comfortable at.” After doing this, if you still don’t feel comfortable “try out your idea with a close business confident or a friend.” The question can genuinely apply to your business and situation or, if it is of a confidential nature, you can “sterilize” substitute a hypothetical question. This is a great way to get feedback and to practice reaching out.
Along with resourcefulness, another important quality to help an entrepreneur through difficult times is resiliency. “You develop resilience over time, and that really has a lot to do with experience…. It's your experience based on handling difficulties that builds resilience.” This can be a challenge these days. “You see that a lot today, where people are moving from company to company, you’re not necessarily developing a lot of resilience along the way.” Resilience is something, however, that can be developed. One way is to have mentors “that help you to navigate difficult areas, that help you navigate into new directions in your career.” This is an “elemental aspect of resiliency.” There are other elements, as well and they “intertwine.” You need to look at: “How do you build [resiliency]? how do you develop it? how do you become a resource yourself to other people? how do you bring people along the way with you? These all sort of intertwine together.
“Then there's actual resilience…. Let's say you're an entrepreneur today going through market turmoil. …. You feel like you're going to fall right into the abyss, you're right at the edge, you're going to fall off.” Things can get very bad in the economy and you may have to make some “very difficult decisions. And even that may not be enough.” In those times you will need to be able to draw on your resilience.
Candice knows this first hand in her own business. “Back in 2007, actually is when the financial crisis started to happen and then deepened by 2008. We had stellar clients. We've always had stellar business clients, and we still do today, thankfully. We didn't lose any clients, but they stopped sending work…. So, we lost about 75% of our business revenue in a matter of weeks.”
“If you're an entrepreneur you know what that means. Your cash flow is going to fall off into the abyss in probably around two months. So, about two months after that started to happen, we got into very difficult decision points. When do you have to let go of staff? As an entrepreneur you never want to let go of your staff, because it took forever to create your staff, and to build them, and educate them, and train them, and then you've developed a great team. I’ve always had great teams around me, and I value all my employees, but when you're in a time of that kind of crisis, you have to make these very, very difficult decisions. And then that may not be enough. So, you let go of employees, but that's not going to be enough either to recover your business.”
There was “a year of very tearful nights. [Then,] One day I was driving home and had a lightbulb moment, and I thought, wait a second, if I was just starting out my company, and I had the revenue stream that I still have today, at that time, I would be breaking open a bottle of champagne and celebrating, because I’d be thrilled with having clients and business... yet instead I’m crying over the business that I’ve lost.” This put a new perspective to what was happening. “If you’re an entrepreneur and you're going through a difficult time, or if you're an employee and going through a difficult time, and you're thinking well maybe I’d like to go out and start my own business, [know]: number one: it's a bumpy road; number two: be resilient; number three: be resourceful; number four: if you face difficulties, think like a startup company, think like a startup, re-examine everything in your business. Does it have to be done that way? Can it be done better? Can it be streamlined? Are there technological advances that you haven't taken advantage of? What are you doing for your networking?”
Which brings us to: “Business networking is essential. Because if you don't network, you’re probably not being active enough in bringing new sales in, new leads, new contacts, and so no matter how bad your business is, you've got to stop and think about what am I going to do next to bring in more clients, more business.”
“And, on the resiliency note, ask other people to give you feedback about what's great about you, what is unique about you, what is unique about your company, what do they think of you, because it will be a big boost for you, because if you are going through turmoil, the biggest thing on your mind is: am I failing? Nobody wants to fail, so how do you boost that? How do you boost and bring yourself out of that sort of negative self-talk? So, reach out. That's the biggest message. Reach out. Speak to other people.” Expand your networks and resources to help you during good times and they will be there for you during bad times.
“If you're not actively mentoring, even in times of turmoil, when you don't think there’s another minute in the day you could possibly do another thing, that’s exactly the time you should think about doing something else. When you reach out to other people, something amazing happens, you get energy from them, you get positive feedback from other people and particularly if they know you’re having difficulties, they’re going to want to support you. People want to help us, and that was the hardest lesson. I learned it back in the financial crisis. I never ever asked for help. I just never did my whole life, but then I learned to ask for help and help came to me in from places I could never have dreamt of! It really helped me to recover my business. And today I have a growing, thriving business, and as a result of that resilience that I learned back then, we are in a much better position to deal with turmoil now.”
Remember, “Turmoil creates that experience and resilience that brings you through another time of turmoil more smoothly. Never give up. Stay focused.... Keep it moving forward. Stay as positive as you can in the moment, and find people who can lift you up.” The last one is emphasized. “That was something I really, really learned back then. I hadn't really paid attention to that in the past, and I think most people don’t,” but it’s something to always take heed of.” Surround yourself with good people.
Read part two of Mentoring and Entrepreneurship in Challenging Times - An Interview with Candice Tal.
Listen to the full interview with MentorCore at “Mentoring & Entrepreneurship During Turmoil.”