Glenn S. Phillips, Forte Inc., Birmingham, Ala.
Seven years ago, Phillips was financing his computer-consulting firm with credit cards. He ended up $300,000 in debt. Struggling through a painful divorce made matters worse and, at his lowest point, he was living in a rented room because he couldn't afford even the cheapest apartment.
"In retrospect, it's real obvious what the problems were, but at the time it wasn't," said Phillips, who acknowledges he had issues establishing personal and professional boundaries. He worked around the clock, but charged a pittance for his company's consulting services.
"There wasn't any further down to go without being bankrupt," he said. So did he throw in the towel? N-o.
He went into counseling for his personal struggles and reached out to mentors for business advice. Business began to rebound. "It was kind of like a big ship starting to turn," he said.
Today, debts are paid off, he remarried in 2006 and bought a house last year. He'll also finish 2009 with $1 million in revenues for his eight-employee company.
"There are people who will help you if you're not in denial, and not looking for someone to fix your problems," Phillips said. "Be very candid with yourself, and then very candid with people you can trust."
Chris Denny, The Engine is Red, Santa Rosa, Calif.
Chris Denny, 27, and his partner Dan Sartin, 26, planned to start their event-marketing and production company while they were both working full-time corporate jobs last year. But, the day before the launch, Denny was laid off.
"We decided it was a sign to move forward faster," Denny said. But it was Sept. ‘08, the height of the recession, when the financial industry tanked, and the corporate event business followed suit. By Thanksgiving, his savings was gone and “the company was within a month of running out of money." Did this stop them? Negative.
"We called a time-out and realized very quickly, if we have a pity party, we will fail," Denny said.
They gave themselves 10 days to come up with a new business plan, and re-launched. Today? They're on track to complete their first year with $250,000 in revenues.
"Today we celebrate every step along the way. A new file management system? Let's bake a cake," Denny said. "Everything is challenging, but it's about moving forward.”
Tina Servis, Maid 2 Clean, Rochester, NY
Reeling from a divorce and personal bankruptcy in '05, Servis was suddenly a single mom raising two children. But, it didn’t stop her from climbing.
By hook or by crook, within two years, she saved $100,000 and enlisted a wealthy friend to put in double and become her partner in a franchise. He took 60 percent ownership. Then he morphed into a tyrant, and long story short, she lost her entire investment.
"It was like going through another divorce," she said. Did that finally kill her drive? Nope.
"I bought a magnet that says, 'Dwell on possibility,'" she said.
Last year, with a Craigslist ad, a mop and some cleaning supplies, she opened Maid 2 Clean, a residential and commercial cleaning company. Today she has eight employees and $140,000 in revenues.
George Burke, BookSwim.com, Newark, NJ
George Burke, 28, started his online book-rental business with a pal in '07. The setbacks started early. First, they paid a consultant to draw up specs, but never saw any results. They were out $1,500 and still had no plan.
After finally cobbling together a Web site, the company started operating with a little help from his partner's parents, and from their basement. Then the township's zoning board learned of the home-grown operation and forced them to move. Next, Burke's partner decided he wanted out.
Meanwhile, Burke's chief financial officer unwittingly let bills "slip by," which led to the company losing its line of credit. Burke slipped into a depression. After hitting rock bottom, he underwent hypnotherapy to conquer his fears and give it another shot.
Today, he has eight productive employees. In 2009, revenues are expected to top $1.5 million.
Natasha Nelson, Yogurtini, Tempe, Ariz.
In 2007, Natasha and Chelsey Nelson were living in California and in the early stages of planning a self-serve frozen yogurt shop. But, then the phone rang and they learned their 56-year-old mother had just been diagnosed with a rare form of Parkinson's disease, a degenerative and terminal illness.
"When it hit us, it hit hard, but we already had one foot in the business," said Natasha Nelson. "We knew we had a great idea and our mom was our biggest supporter, but could we all emotionally handle it?" The sisters moved back to Tempe, Ariz., to join their dad in taking care of their mother, and that's when they decided the answer was …
"But there were a lot of times we wanted to back out. We were even tossing a coin, at one point," Nelson said. Then came an especially inspiring moment.
One late morning, while the sisters were doting on their mom, who had lost her speech by now, they noticed her typing emphatically on the computer at her bedside. "Doesn't anybody work around here? Get to work!" their mom wrote, in an effort to cheer her daughters on.
"She made us realize life is going to go on," Nelson said. "You just get up and put one foot in front of the other. It's better than crawling up in a fetal position in my closet, because that would have been my other option."
Today, Yogurtini is profitable and the sisters are turning it into a national franchise. They already have four commitments.
"We're ecstatic that we've done something our mom can be proud of," said Nelson.
Are your business struggles knocking you down? Before you consider wallowing in those daily dilemmas, tap into the determination of entrepreneurs who found a way to succeed despite the most trying professional and personal hardships.