Sink or Swim: How to Keep Your Head Above Water as an Entrepreneur

Not sure how much longer you can tread water?

By Danna Korn (CEO (Chief ‘Energizing’ Officer, Sonic Boom Wellness)

Being a business owner is tough. Anyone who’s dreamed of starting their own business can relate to the constant state of fear and self-doubt that comes with the day-to-day entrepreneurial grind.

The road to bringing our dreams to life is, at times, both scary and overwhelming – especially when we’re forced to sacrifice the personal luxuries we worked so hard to earn before risking it all and diving headfirst into the unknown.

If you’ve been there – when you feel like you’re watching all your hopes and dreams go up in flames, when you don’t know how much longer you can keep your head above water, let alone reach the point of smooth sailing — these just-keep-swimming tips are for you.

Keep Moving Forward… Even if the End is Nowhere in Sight

In 2007, my co-founder-turned-handsome-hubby, Bryan, and I decided to start a corporate wellness company that would change the face of the entire industry. From the beginning, our outside-the-box thinking generated a ton of opposition. In fact, the majority of our peers didn’t even think of us as peers – confident that our newfound concepts would surely fail.

The concept of “gamified” wellness was admittedly a little wacky at the time, but we stood our ground and grew increasingly determined to prove our doubters wrong. We knew it would be a challenge, but it proved to be substantially more daunting than we could’ve possibly expected, stripping us of luxuries we’d worked so hard to gain in our previous careers.

In an effort to keep our business going, when our software was still in development and before we landed any major revenue to pay the bills, we burned through five total properties and moved into a cheap rental house a quarter the size of our previous home. We also sold off two luxury cars, our brand new Ducati (we called her “Stella”), depleted our entire savings (even contemplating dipping into our kids’ college funds) – leaving us with only four months of money for food and rent before we’d become completely homeless and broke.

At this point in our venture, we were truly struggling to keep our heads above water. But as bleak as the future looked, we pulled ourselves up and acknowledged (and learned from) our mistakes.

Sure, we could’ve easily given up at that point and gone out to get “real” jobs again, but it’s simply not in our DNA to leave a job undone – especially when that job is tied to our dream. Those who succeed (in business or otherwise) are those who find a way to overcome adversity, and that’s exactly what we did. As long as you can keep your head above water, your dreams still have a chance to survive.

Own It

Running a business requires thick skin – don’t take anything too personally, own your mistakes, and learn from your failures. There are going to be times when you’re forced to make sacrifices (loss of sleep, damaged personal relationships, struggling with debt or bankruptcy, etc.) and deal with countless other snags that arise along the way. Don’t run from it. Own it.

When faced with these struggles (and then some), Bryan and I had the option to either throw in the towel or fight for the success of “our baby.” We chose the latter. The key to entrepreneurial survival is adapting to your (sometimes chaotic) surroundings and making changes on the fly that will differentiate your company from your competitors.

Remember the passion that made you start this journey to begin with, and you’ll be surprised by how easy it is to get back on track.

It’s OK to Break the Rules

Break the mold and never fear rejection (remember that stuff about having thick skin?). Once you establish a successful business plan, the only way your company will get to the next level is by completely “breaking the rules” and causing a little disruption.

Staying inside the lines has rarely resulted in a profound discovery or new innovation. Of course, there may be an element of fear when it comes to presenting new ideas. But overcoming this fear (or at least learning how to cope with it!) is the first step in tearing down the walls of your comfort zone. Will some of your risks fall short, leaving you treading in (sometimes hot) water? Absolutely. But how you handle these failures will determine whether you sink or swim in the long-run.

YOU Control Your Own Buoyancy

Getting over the fear of failure is all about having the right attitude (especially when you’re feeling discouraged or down). You may be asking, “How do I stay upbeat and productive when nothing seems to be going my way?” The formula is simple: Daily exercise + healthy eating habits + optimism = a better you.

A large part of success stems from convincing yourself that you’re content with your current stage of the journey. When I’m facing a particularly challenging time, I’ve learned to turn my focus to the positives (e.g., my passion for wellness and sharing it with others, our clients’ personal successes over the years, the growth of our small-but-mighty team and our future goals) to keep myself on track. Your employees will feed off your positivity – resulting in a happier, more productive workforce that will catapult your business forward. They’ll also feed off your negativity if you choose to let your stressors get the best of you.

Once you’ve mastered this newfound perspective, don’t forget that you’re still likely (read: guaranteed) to experience some failures. A few years ago, when Sonic Boom began to gain some serious traction, we decided to shift our focus to the super-hot market of fitness trackers – a short-sighted move that ended up as a major no-no for our longevity. We lost sight of what made us unique, and chose to go down a road that everyone else had chosen at the exact same time.

It was pretty painful, but we fell on that sword hard and fast. We recognized our mistakes, pulled ourselves together as a team, and improved our program as a result. The lessons we learned from previous failures allowed us to make it through yet another big storm – business is booming once again, and we recently experienced our most profitable quarter to date.

Keeping your head above water as an entrepreneur requires some serious treading (occasionally some panicked bobbing as well). It’s a constant challenge. There will always be failures and there will always be naysayers. The key is to maintain focus on your goals and remember why you started your business in the first place. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes – the greatest successes often arise from the greatest failures (tied to the greatest risks). Be confident (and calculated) in your risks, defy the status quo, and remain unfazed by the daunting possibility of sinking. Swim on!


About the guest blogger: Danna Korn is the Co-Founder, CEO, and Chief Energizing Officer of Sonic Boom Wellness in Carlsbad, CA – a software company specializing in fun, innovative corporate wellness programs that improve employees’ daily health habits. In her “other life,” Danna Korn is a motivational speaker and best-selling author. Follow her on Twitter at @dannakorn.