Why you need to embrace adversity

To be truly successful as a small business owner, you need to learn to love the struggle as much as the rewards, writes Hellen Ward

Many entrepreneurs are very good at spinning you a line. In fact, some are so genius at hyping up their own brand it’s hardly surprising that they’ve ended up being so successful. Forget the political spin doctors, just talk to those business owners who only remember to tell you about their successes and not their failures.

I read a fascinating interview with Gary Vaynerchuk, chief executive of brand and social media consultancy Vaynermedia (check him out on Twitter – I’m a devotee). He says that to be an entrepreneur you need a love for process and to be comfortable with adversity. He believes that if you have those two critical elements, and enjoy the journey even more than the fruits and riches of the end result, then you have what it takes to be truly successful.

Wise and inspiring words indeed. But it’s not easy being the boss. Sometimes the tiniest problem can be just enough to tip you over the edge when you’re carrying the full burden of responsibility that comes with not being an employee.

After years of being your own boss, you end up pretty much unemployable. I would probably last all of five minutes in a corporate role before my backside was hauled in front of the HR department – that’s my rebellious streak; I don’t like to be told I can’t do something and I’m not great at sitting on ideas when I want to get on and put them into practice.

Masters of multi-tasking

Our sector is made up of lots of people like Vaynerchuk; people who started out in a family business and built it from the ground up. It’s also made up of lots of SMEs – we are predominantly small businesses and don’t have the back-up of a corporate structure to support us. PR and marketing director? You’re looking at her. HR department? Yep, that’s me too. Financial director? You’ve just met her. And so it goes on. No wonder it can be overwhelming.

But Vaynerchuk also said something that resonated with me like nothing else I have ever read. He says that to be an entrepreneur (and in my book that’s anyone who’s got the gumption to create their own business or brand, so most of us in this industry) you have to have one further characteristic, other than an enormous amount of patience. You have to like getting beaten up – you genuinely have to enjoy conflict.

Reading these words was a revelation to me. Sometimes, when we have days where everything is a struggle, that’s exactly how it can seem. It’s like we’re taking an emotional pummeling, and everything rests on our shoulders. Work can seem like a boxing ring, with every killer blow just trying to take the wind out of our sails. No wonder our stress levels are at an all-time high and wine o’clock can’t come soon enough.

Celebrate the journey 

It’s far more valuable to be proud of how you got there than of what you received for getting there, he says. Overcoming every little bit of adversity, being part of the solution instead of the problem, are the reasons that salon owners up and down the country are making our sector grow. Knowing it’s OK to take a proverbial kicking in order to enjoy the highs gives us comfort.

Good times don’t come unless we learn from the bad times and acknowledge that those punches are going to keep on coming, from every direction. Knowing that other like-minded people, whatever yarn they may be spinning, are also taking that kicking gives me hope. It’s lonely being the boss.

At industry events, if you believed everything people told you, you’d think that they never spent any time in that boxing ring, but looked on sweetly from the sides; an observer in the struggle, not a participant. All I can say is, don’t believe the hype. It’s OK to take the punches; it’s all right to be in the fight.

Hellen Ward is managing director of Richard Ward Hair & Metrospa in London’s Sloane Square and chair of Trailblazers for the hairdressing sector.