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Entrepreneurial Dread[nought]

Consider the dreadnought: A powerful battleship built in the early 1900s, it encompassed an ‘all-big-gun’ armament scheme and steam turbine propulsion. The dreadnought design was formidable, based on long-range strike capabilities enhanced by the uniformity of same-caliber guns (like Southwest relies on a single model of aircraft – the Boeing 737 series).

During the dreadnought era, successive designs expanded on previous design successes to increase the size of the warcraft and improve on armament, armor, and propulsion.

What is entrepreneurial dread? This is the updated, 2009 version of the term “entrepreneurial terror” as defined by Wilson Harrell, the entrepreneur behind Formula 409 (and 100 other companies) and the editor-in-chief of Inc. Magazine. Entrepreneurial terror occurs when (to paraphrase Fritz Braunberger) you realize that your careful planning is running amok…when you recognize that you are about to default on your promises…when you come to the proverbial fork in the road – and both paths lead over the cliff’s edge.

Wilson Harrell, in his book, For Entrepreneurs Only, writes:

“Entrepreneurial Terror” is like a roller-coaster ride. In the beginning, you pull yourself slowly up the first incline, making the tough decisions with a growing sense of excitement and foreboding. When you hit the top, there is a brief, frightening moment of anticipation, then terror takes over as you go screaming into the unknown. It’s a wild ride with terror and exhilaration all mixed together, with a few bumps thrown in along the way. Then, suddenly the ride is over, the terror is gone, but the exhilaration lingers on. It’s time to buy another ticket. Somehow, you know that your first encounter was the worst. You have, to a degree, learned how to handle terror. Unless, of course, you find a bigger roller coaster.

The obvious challenge is to get through that first encounter, as some of you are trying to do right now. Don’t be alarmed if it seems to be more than you can stand. Recognize terror for what it is. Look it squarely in the eye and spit on it. If you don’t, you won’t make “The Club of Terror,” at least not this time. Of course, there’s no limit to the number of times you can apply.”

Entrepreneurial dread, on the other hand, is that gosh-awful, gut-kicked, sickening, heart-sinking realization that you might not make it (whatever it is – deadline, bottomline, payroll). And you’re powerless at that moment to actually snatch your situation from the dripping jaws of defeat. It’s a bad toss of the dice, a miscalculation, a perfect storm of incidents and coincidences and resources that takes your business in the opposite direction you had intended, and the results are not going to be pretty.

Let’s face it – every true entrepreneur and business builder has experienced this terrifying feeling of the floor dropping away from under their feet, leaving them in mid-air, vulnerable, and without a solid structure on which to grab. If your business lived through the 80s oil bust, Enron, the dot-bomb, 9/11, floods, hurricanes, inflation, deflation, and the bank failures of the 90s – just to name a few – you probably experienced entrepreneurial dread during each of those periods.

But since you have grappled with economic challenges and won the match, it’s likely that you’re more experienced, battle-hardened, tougher than before. Terror occurs the first time you face the unknown; dread is the battle-weary entrepreneur bracing for yet another onslaught by the economy.

And entrepreneurial dreadnought? The last two decades have presented some periods of the greatest business volatility in the U.S. ever. But survivors of a single economic slump are better armed to face ensuing ones. Once business owners learn what works and how best to face the enemy, repeating that successful strategy as we “hunker down” for the next-next, using consistent tactics, makes us more formidable…and resilient.

Are you prepared? Really prepared? Like the dreadnoughts of yore, it’s critical that your business be solid in terms of:

  • Armament – cash (it’s still king), lines of credit, inventory floorplans
  • Armor – the business that has been built, revenue stream resources, long-standing relationships with vendors and clients, asset protection
  • Propulsion – marketing, advertising, business development, communications, leadership commitment

If you’re armed and dangerous, with your ankles taped and ready for war, you will survive this economic climate. You can be…will be…formidable in the face of business danger, unflappable because you’re already expecting the assault, and unassailable because you have taken precautions to ensure survival.

You are an entrepreneurial dreadnought. See you on the other side.

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