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I've helped people build multimillion-dollar businesses for 20 years: Here's my best advice

Entrepreneur and lawyer Christine Perakis shares steps you can take to start and manage a successful business or side hustle and be smart with money during a crisis.

Christine Perakis
Twenty/20

I've successfully run multiple start-ups and early growth businesses, and I have spent 20 years advising clients doing the same all over the world. I've been a lawyer, a C-level executive, an investor, and a 100-ton boat captain, and I've survived Category 5 hurricanes. So I have a well of experience that I've been able to draw from to help get through this current moment of uncertainty.

Launching or pivoting a business under any circumstances can be disruptive. When I launched my last start-up, a market research firm for the entertainment industry, which I was able to grow into an eight-figure company, I moved into my partner's house for three weeks. We pulled from our savings to get started, and worked day and night to get our business off the ground.

That commitment to our vision deepened our trust in each other, which in turn allowed us to better manage the many other challenges that followed. But the experience taught me about the soft skills that are required to come through a crisis even stronger. 

If you are thinking about starting a side hustle or business right now, here is my best advice for thriving amid disruption and building resilience.

Know your numbers and trust your gut 

I've learned the hard way how carefully cash has to be managed. Often it can seem like there is never enough. Oversight of funding is not something you can delegate entirely, because no one cares more about your business than you. 

When my partner and I developed a product line for our market research company, it was the first time I had ever set up and managed books for a retail business. I hired a bookkeeper to help us track and reconcile the cash during our self-funded expansion of the company. I learned six months later, after a customer complained about being double charged, that our accounts were never properly reconciled. 

Even worse, the bookkeeper was tracking and reconciling accounts twice weekly but failed to notice that our online sales were not hitting our bank account, a mistake that cost us tens of thousands of dollars and countless hours to recover from.

Minor mistakes can signify something much worse is going on, so you have to make it a point to follow up when something doesn't feel right, even if you're not quite sure what it is.

Christine Perakis has been a lawyer, C-level executive, entrepreneur, 100-ton licensed boat captain, and graduate school business strategies professor.
Courtesy Christine Perakis

There's no time like a business crisis to get engrossed in the big four: revenues, expenses, profitability, cash flow. But remember that you can be profitable and still have no money. Knowing how much cash you have at any time is important, but during a crisis it is critical. That's why it is so important to regularly check on your books. 

When a business is disrupted, whether by a change in market conditions, competition, technology, or a global pandemic, a crisis is your opportunity to make tough choices that create positive long-term habits. You're already reining in spending by necessity. Get a trusted advisor to help you take that cold, hard look.

When times are good, commit to building a cash reserve carved out of each paid invoice. In worse times, cut back, and after the storm is over, add back only very slowly what you learned to do without during the crisis.

Go back to basics

In business, if a crisis blows you off course, my best advice is to reconnect with your original value proposition. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What is your reason for being and your ideal audience or customers?
  • What was the offering that got you liftoff in the first place?
  • What is your true expertise? 

I've had countless clients who, after achieving some success, got sidetracked and ventured into multiple unrelated endeavors, forgetting what made them successful in the first place. Or they spent money throwing ideas at the wall, hoping that something would stick, without a strategic plan.

A crisis is your opportunity to make tough choices that create positive long-term habits. 
Christine Perakis
Author of "The Resilient Leader: Life Changing Strategies to Overcome Today's Turmoil and Tomorrow's Uncertainty"

Be ready to pivot when it makes sense

One client became focused on creating a new product for which there wasn't a demand and which also imposed a huge burden on cash flow. That caused many sleepless nights worrying about payroll.

We pivoted by refocusing on the primary product, while slowly building demand for the new product. A vision is essential, but you need those concrete steps to back it up. 

I have a client who moved from making sails to manufacturing masks during the pandemic. This move literally kept them afloat when no one was buying sails.

A crisis event forces you back to basics and reminds you to keep moving. Reacquaint yourself with your best customers, the ones who happily spend the most and stay the longest. Remind them that you can give them what they want. If their needs have changed, make necessary shifts to keep those relationships. 

Find partners who can help you move forward 

The critical lesson I learned surviving a record-breaking Category 5 hurricane was: Don't go it alone.

I've sat alone in the C-suite lamenting that I had no one to unburden myself to. Your peers, who have also walked the path that you are on, are plagued by similar challenges. The most successful entrepreneurs see the value of community. My best advice is to seek out your peers and gather regularly, even if it's virtually, to create a space to test out ideas, grapple with the problems of the day, and engage in rich, productive exploration. 

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Before discovering this essential tool, I did everything the hard way. I was less effective as a manager, isolated from my team, and stressed out constantly. We need trusted, reliable confidantes because it's impossible for any of us to see our own eyebrows.

Creating what I like to call a mastermind community is even more important when your business is disrupted. I've gained clients, partners, launched new products, and grown revenue from those relationships, often by just asking or being invited by a new connection running a complementary enterprise. You can too.

Find other entrepreneurs who have achieved some success, perhaps complementary businesses. Invite them to join you in a regular problem-solving collective. You will all get back on course and be better off if you surround yourself with those navigating the same waters. With the right community, you will find your way.

Christine Perakis has helped get businesses from zero to eight figures in record time as a lawyer, strategic advisor, serial entrepreneur, and 100-ton boat captain. She has grown and expanded 10 businesses on her own and with partners, and helped hundreds of clients do the same on five continents. She also survived back-to-back Category 5 hurricanes and recently authored "The Resilient Leader: Life Changing Strategies to Overcome Today's Turmoil and Tomorrow's Uncertainty."

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