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Small Business Owners' Mindset: How to Survive in Tough Times

By Dr. Woody Woodward Ph.D. Columns FOXBusiness

How Small Business Owners can Find an Edge

Dr. Woody with some things to consider when trying to survive in these tough times.

The American economy has always been rooted in small business, so when one gets sick, the other catches a cold.

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According to the Small Business Administration, “the 23 million small businesses in America account for 54% of all U.S. sales.”  The SBA adds “small businesses provide 55% of all jobs and 66% of all net new jobs since the 1970s,” which makes their recovery vital to repairing the current weak labor market. However, access to capital remains a challenge for small business owners, making it hard for them to expand their business and increase payroll.

A recent survey from Pepperdine University found that 46% of small businesses under $5 million in annual revenue have tapped personal assets in the last six months. This is most likely the result of the number of bank loan approvals slipping backwards. For small business owners, success is more than just business--it’s personal. Thriving in these tough times will require focused thinking and deliberate action.  

From professionals like lawyers and doctors to the owner of your local convenience store, small businesses run the gamut, yet their struggles are fairly similar. In these tough times, the businesses that succeed will be the ones that find a way to really dig down deep, draw on their strengths, and find a way to stand out. In these trying economic times, here are some things every small business owner focus on:

Focus. Small business owners have to wear many hats: salesman, boss, marketer, human resources, the list goes on. The challenge is knowing when to wear what hat. It’s easy to lose focus when being pulled in too many directions.

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Small business owners might want to calculate hiring or outsourcing tasks that overwhelm them and take away from other responsibilities. Right now, the labor market is a buyer’s market. For example, owners can hire freelancers to deal with short-term marketing campaigns or inventory. Small business owners need to offload certain tasks that consume too much of their time to focus on their strengths and the most important duties.  

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Adapt. Many small business owners are so focused on day-to-day operations that they fail to see what lies ahead. Good entrepreneurs are always looking around the corner; they need to keep one eye on the present and one eye on the future.

Owners needs to pay attention to what customers want, and evaluate whether they are meeting these needs and adapt. However, they must walk a fine line and be sure to stay within their zone of competence. Many businesses, large and small, fail because they pursue ventures that are too far outside of their zone of competence.

Adaptability isn’t changing for the sake of it. Long-term success will not come from following the latest fad or diving into the unknown too quickly. Owners need to know their core business and adapt within the parameters of what they know.     

Live Your Brand. Too often a business’ brand is an afterthought. A strong brand can make the difference between success and failure. When people have choices they go with what they know. Small business owners need to ask themselves: What is my unique selling proposition? What sets my business apart from the rest? A brand is a promise, and owners need to uphold that and distinguish it in a deliberate way to stay on consumers’ minds. Every owner should aspire to be the “go-to” brand for their specialty.    

Hustle. There’s a great book by small business expert Tory Johnson called Spark & Hustle that emphasizes the basics of getting out there and making things happen. When it comes to hustling, she points out that small business owners should always be troubleshooting.

 Johnson points out that small business owners often misdirect their marketing efforts and target the wrong customers. Hustling in small business is about grass roots efforts, so owners need to pay close to their actual customer, find out who they are, where they live, and how to get out in front of them.   


Michael “Dr. Woody” Woodward, PhD is a CEC certified executive coach trained in organizational psychology. Dr. Woody is author of The YOU Plan: A 5-step Guide to Taking Charge of Your Career in the New Economy and is the founder of Human Capital Integrated (HCI), a firm focused on management and leadership development. Dr. Woody also sits on the advisory board of the Florida International University Center for Leadership.Follow Dr. Woody on Twitter and Facebook