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Look at the camel.
This desert mammal may not be the most attractive being. But a camel is built to last. Unlike other animals, camels can withstand extreme changes in body temperature and water consumption. You likely envision camels in the scorching, arid desert – but they can also survive in cold mountain climates.
Why is it? Camels have evolved to be resilient, allowing them to adapt to conditions in which other animals are killed.
I love using camels as a metaphor for entrepreneurship in today's economy. Over the past few years, many of us have embraced the unicorn mindset and tried at all costs to disrupt our respective industries.
However, during a global pandemic, rapid growth is no longer as realistic as it used to be. This perspective of growth at any price can only occur in the strongest economies – and it is currently associated with considerable risk.
It's time for entrepreneurs to think like camels instead of unicorns: to harness the resilience and adaptability that come with slow growth. It may not be all that exciting – and turning down risk taking isn't easy – but we will only survive with a weatherproof approach.
Here are three easy ways to increase your company's resilience and ensure your growth and success in the long run.
1. Embrace a slow but steady trajectory
Back in college, I had a friend whose parents paid for his entire degree. At first, I was a little jealous as I had to rely on scholarships and part-time jobs to make it through those four years. But in the end I am grateful that the money was not just handed over to me. I developed the work ethic that built my startup while developing key skills like responsibility, initiative and long-term planning.
This strength is also a key benefit in building a business from scratch. Yes, landing VC funds could be a quick way to grow your business. However, this isn't always the most promising way to ensure success over time – especially during times of such economic uncertainty.
Related: How to Strengthen Your Personal Resilience
I started JotForm long before the pandemic broke out, but we still chose Bootstrap just because it fits our mission as an organization. It was a slower process, admittedly, and admittedly difficult to watch other entrepreneurs gain momentum overnight.
Our decision to build on our own terms, however, enabled us to do things the way we wanted to: make decisions that will improve our customers' lives over the long term and in return keep them coming back to us again and again. The slow but steady process has also helped us acquire and hone skills that we continue to adopt to this day.
As venture capitalist and author Alex Lazalow put it, a long-term strategy allows time to "build the business model, find a product that resonates with the market, and develop a business that is scalable". Sure, the timing might not be ideal. But it's not about who goes to market first, as Lazalow notes. It's about who survives.
2. Be strategic, not opportunistic
Entrepreneurship is often seen as pure opportunism: just come up with a great idea and do whatever you can to bring it to life. (Usually that means finding a source of money.)
However, I am convinced that starting a startup is more about strategy than about opportunities. Taking risks is required for any new business, but entrepreneurship without a card almost always leads to chaos, especially in such uncertain times that we now live.
Remember that strategy and opportunism are not mutually exclusive, and that planning ahead does not mean that you have to give up dreaming. In my experience, having a firm understanding of your purpose actually enables innovation. No organization or group can be innovative if they are completely derailed.
Related: 11 Tips for Building Emotional Resilience
Think of your strategic plans as a protective buffer. "Companies that lack strategic boundaries try to do too much and stretch too thin," writes author and Harvard lecturer David Collis. "Because they cannot concentrate their available resources, they cannot win in any key market."
How can you create this buffer? One way is to hire the right people – people who care about and invest in your vision, and have realistic ideas on how to connect them to your target market, especially when obstacles arise.
Second, don't put all your eggs in one basket. It is tempting to respond to an initial demand for your product or service. However, if you concentrate on your target market right from the start, you will be protected from hasty and derailing decisions.
Sometimes this means adjusting when things don't go as planned. The Frontier Car Group used car platform is a perfect example. They initially launched their service in five markets, but not all of them caught on. Faced with a difficult decision, they closed the unsuccessful markets and instead focused their efforts on the successful ones.
It might sound counterintuitive, but only when there are limits can you focus on new opportunities when it matters.
3. Improve your mission
Like most people, when the pandemic started, my family and I struggled to cope with our new lives. Home life stayed bleak indefinitely, and it was difficult at times to find motivation to get things done every day. Even the hobbies and projects that once got me excited.
Then, on a timely Zoom call with an old friend, I was reminded of something important: We all need a sense of perseverance in order to persevere. As I pondered my intentions as a husband, father, friend, and business leader, it was much easier to hold on to in difficult times. Like gasoline in a car, it is a sense of purpose that drives us to break new ground.
I firmly believe that this is similar for companies. Focusing on your purpose – the problem you wanted to solve when you started your startup and the people whose lives you want to change – is the most effective way to deal with difficulty. Because even if you take unexpected turns, one thing remains constant: your goal.
Instead of measurable metrics like sales and deadlines, focus instead on your company's mission and vision – and always use them as lenses to make tough decisions about how you want to advance your business.
I've found that remembering what you originally set out to do makes big problems manageable because you always have a clear goal in mind: when things get difficult, just do what you set out to do. Finally, Collis writes: "A company develops through incremental decisions that are made every day."
It may take you some time to emerge from the battle or expand your business to what you envisioned. But over time, you will see growth – the kind of growth that remains constant in any climate.
Related: 3 Reasons Why Investing in Employee Resilience Pays Off