How to bounce back from a setback


It’s been an interesting year for our company. This time last year we won the 2021 Fayette Chamber Small Business of the Year Award and ended 2021 on a high point. Despite a slow first quarter in 2022, business really took off starting last spring and into early fall of this year. Indeed, we had some record-breaking high points in terms of new accounts and company successes. Unfortunately, some of those gains have been offset by some recent stumbles – one of which I shared in a previous column about delegation.

Without getting into details, let it suffice to say that we’re still ending 2022 with nearly a 20% growth in revenue from 2021. Most any business would be happy with that, and I can’t complain. Yet, we had loftier expectations and revenue is not the same thing as profit. Inflation is clobbering everyone – businesses and consumers. We came really close to meeting our goals, but some recent setbacks have made it apparent we’ll fall short of where we had intended to be.

When things are going well, it’s easy to be optimistic and engaged. Everyone loves playing for a winning team. When things aren’t going well, oftentimes that will inspire action and activity out of necessity. Some people, not all, don’t mind being the underdog in a “fixer-upper” situation. When things are going well and then suddenly fall apart, that’s a setback. The sudden change in momentum and fall from the top caused by a setback can throw people off. I personally think that a setback is one of the hardest types of situations to handle in business.

Most people are motivated by future expectations, even more so in business. When you’re riding a trend of consistent growth, it’s natural to think that’ll last forever. When you’re down in a hole, the only way out is up. In both of those situations, most people can visualize a better future ahead. A setback is a disruption to forward progress and a stark reminder that the road to a better future is full of potholes. No one likes losing ground that was recently gained, just ask any football team.

Some typical setbacks in business include: client loss, sales loss, key employee departures, staffing shortages, supply chain disruptions, economic pressures (like inflation), cash flow problems, unexpected emergencies, lawsuits, negative regulatory changes, sudden changes in the marketplace, and so on. What’s a setback to some businesses, may be an opportunity for others and it’s upon that basis I’d like to suggest some ways to bounce back from a setback.

  1. Recognize the setback, but know that it’s not the end. This can be hard to do, especially for an organization or leader who is used to winning all of the time. The road to change has to begin with where you’re at. Take the time to assess the situation, but don’t obsess over it. Gather enough information to know how bad the setback is, so that you can make informed decisions on how to proceed. If there’s time on the clock or money in the bank, you can recover.
  2. Keep moving forward. Winston Churchill has been quoted as saying, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” People are attracted to momentum and future expectations. A sudden halt creates a disruption that can rattle even the most seasoned person. A leader has to set an example and lead from the front. It’s okay to take smaller, more deliberate steps after a setback – but keep moving forward.
  3. Find the lessons and make adjustments. Every setback has the potential to be a learning opportunity. Figure out what happened, and why, and make adjustments to correct the situation or pivot. Usually, that’s not the hard part, because it’s obvious when a business loses ground. The hard part is to do this while moving forward at the same time. A leader has to be willing to set out to be directionally correct without all of the facts.
  4. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s human nature to get comfortable when times are good. Being able to handle discomfort and inconvenience is something every leader has to be willing to do. I feel sorry for leaders who’ve never experienced a setback. When they do stumble (and everyone eventually does), it’s going to be a hard fall.
  5. Stay focused on the task at hand. We live in an increasingly cluttered world full of news, social media, content, and other distractions which can lure us away from the discomfort of current circumstances. It’s okay to take breaks and watch an occasional “cat video”, but maintain focus on what needs to be done. If you don’t, no one else will.
  6. Avoid comparing your situation to other people or organizations. It’s been said that “comparison is the thief of joy.” Most organizations are deliberate about painting a rosy picture of how things are to an external audience – but that’s not reality. People do that on social media as well. Each of us walks our own path in life. There are always going to be people who make more money or have an easier time in life. Conversely, there are always going to be people who are perpetually on the struggle bus. Run your own race, being compassionate to those who are less fortunate and avoiding the temptation to idolize the seemingly successful (who probably aren’t).
  7. Do what must be done. It’s been my experience that knowing what to do is the easy part. The hard part is doing it. Sometimes this may involve major business changes that involve staffing, operations, vendors, services provided, methodologies, marketing campaigns, and so forth. Once you know what needs to be done, immediately start doing it. If you know that change will be difficult, it’s best to get it over with to minimize the pain.
  8. Rally the troops. This may be the most important way to bounce back and is the main function of a leader. If you lead an organization, then it’s your job to inspire action to recover from the setback. If you’re a solo entrepreneur, then rallying the troops may involve getting your family and/or your clients behind your comeback plan. There is no force on Earth more powerful than a motivated team, no matter how bleak the odds are.

A setback can be an eye-opening, ego-rattling situation – especially when it happens amid a string of successes. As the name suggests, it’s just a “set back” not a complete failure. Some of the greatest victories in history have been made from recovery situations. Everyone loves a great comeback story. How will your story be written? Just remember, “Fortune Favors the Bold.” Be bold.

[Joe Domaleski, a Fayette County resident for 25 years, is the owner of Country Fried Creative – an award-winning digital marketing agency located in Peachtree City. His company was the Fayette Chamber’s 2021 Small Business of the Year.  Joe is a husband, father of three grown children, and proud Army veteran.  He has an MBA from Georgia State University and enjoys sharing his perspectives drawing from thirty years of business leadership experience. ]