Surviving in Business: The First Rule of Success

March 8, 2021 / Comments (0)


There are many factors involved in creating a successful business, but in my opinion, there is one that overrides them all and it like many things in life, the concept is counterintuitive — before you look at achieving success, look at the art of surviving in business.

When I describe this to people, many accuse me of being negative and go on to further explain that they didn’t decide to start a business to fail, so why should they even think about “surviving” and that they must adopt a positive mental attitude to give them the right mindset to succeed.

Well, I am all about developing the right mindset for business as to me, it is the most important factor of success and I see so many people give up when the going get’s tough and on the subject of having a positive mental attitude, I really don’t believe in anything other than having a “realist attitude.”

Things can and do go wrong…and life is not the proverbial “bed of roses.”

The more that you can come to understand the concept of “expecting the unexpected,” especially in the world of business, you can at least prepare yourself mentally, for when things don’t go to plan.

Be a realist

Now, I do look at the positive things in life…and in business…but just like a battery, you need both the positive and the negative to maintain the equilibrium!

A battery perfectly sums up the need for both the positive and negative elements in life…and a battery is real!

So let me first talk about what you may consider being a negative statement — the number of failure rates relating to business startups and it’s a whopping ninety percent, according to this article.

But don’t take it as a “negative,” just look at the statistics and try to dig deeper into the reasons as to why.

I’ve experienced the typical rollercoaster ride of an entrepreneur…I’ve survived 3 recessions and a ton of other incidents that would have flattened the average businessman and entrepreneur.

But I look back over my near forty-year business career and ask myself how I survived…and I can tell you that it came down to my mindset and in my later business years, my ability to put the art of surviving in business ahead of the quest for success and glory.

I would advise you to do the same and in this article, I am going to go into the subject in more detail.


“Growth Mindset: How to Develop a Powerful Mind.”

“How I started my first business from a living room in London.”

“Business Failure: Why My First Recruitment Agency Failed.”

Surviving in business: The basics



Let me first give you my definition of survival…I am not using this word in a “passive” sense…it is very much an active concept.

It is about making sure you are as protected from the unexpected as possible, but still maintaining the right level of activity to grow and develop your business.

I explain this often in the terms of a boxing match where you have two fighters who are equally hungry for success and one of the fighters comes out with all guns blazing, determined to knock the other one cold.

The other protects themselves with a solid defense and simply waits for the right opportunity to capitalize on the mistakes of the other.

When you employ the strategy of the first fighter in the boxing example, you may overpower the other by the sheer ferocity of the attack…but there is no doubt that you will expose yourself in some way or another, which makes this process fall into a high-risk category.

The other fighter is not “cowering” in any sense and simply keeps their defense tight, waits patiently, and hunts down the opportunity.

It’s exactly the same in business.

When my first recruiting agency failed (you can read why in the article I’ve referenced above), I was acting very much like the fighter who tried to take his opponent out in the first round — I was going out all guns blazing making sales, but I ignored the risk factors that were mounting up by the day, that would eventually see me receiving severe punishment!

If you don’t try to win, you cannot lose

So many businesspeople obsess with winning and this is directly related to the boxing example I have described above.

Take the attitude of the second fighter who is focussed on survival, but in an active sense and hunting down opportunities.

It’s amazing how your overall attitude in business and everything for that matter, can change dramatically when you adopt this approach.

Be patient, be active and wait for the right opportunity to present itself.

Keep your business in order

It’s vital that you take care of the “business” element of your business!

You do not have a business if you have no sales and you have to turn those sales into real hard cash, which is where the subject of cash flow, comes to mind.

I’ve seen many companies make a profit as far as their profit and loss statement goes, but they fail to turn those profits into the much-needed cash and simply because they do not focus hard enough on doing so.

Closely linked to cash flow is credit management — you must ensure that the business you are generating is conducted with the right type of customer — customers that are able to pay you!

Both cash flow and credit management are critical business components and ones that I had not put enough effort into managing correctly in my early business career.

Overspending is another problem, and it is easy to buy things that are not absolutely essential to your business, and I always advise business owners to only buy things that are essential to, improve and deliver the absolute best customer experience.

Keep a keen eye on your expenses and also, make sure you do not commit yourself to long-term financial arrangements such as leases that you cannot easily get out of.

Finally, make sure you keep a keen eye on your overall market, the dynamics of that market, and try to predict the next trend.

In the late 1980s for example, many people were talking about the economy being over-inflated and predicted the looming recession of the early 1990s, here in the UK.

In the late 1990s, many investment analysts were predicting that the global technology market was way over-inflated and over-hyped, which led to the burst of the dot.com bubble, which crippled my own industry at the time, which was technology staffing and specifically in the telecommunications industry, which was decimated as a result.

The problem was that few people were prepared to listen to the predictions.

Go for business growth and keep your guard

I’m all about fast, disruptive, and profitable business growth…I love taking market share from large companies…but I have learned my lessons over the years and that is not to go all out for that growth without keeping my eye on the risk factors.

You have to strike a fine balance…you don’t want to be over cautious or overprotective, but you do want to be aware of the risks.

Today, when I am coaching a business owner, I go to the extremes of risk and really look at the worst-case scenario — then I look to do the same when it comes down to achieving rapid growth and strike a balance in the middle.

It’s a lot easier for me to do that in a coaching and mentoring capacity, simply because it’s not my business, which makes it easier for me to remain impartial.

One trick you can use is to try to put yourself in the shoes of your most determined competitor and look at how you would take market share away from your own business.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but it is a great way to pick holes in your business, and done correctly, it will reveal the weaknesses in your company that you can focus on.

A chain will always break at the weakest link!




Determination is one of my strongest points…that is if I am passionate enough about what I am being determined about!

I started my first business at the age of nineteen, and as I have explained, it’s been a rollercoaster ride from the start and one that I wouldn’t change for the world.

If you are passionate about something, you will devote a great deal of time and effort to that something.

So make sure you are passionate about the business you are going to start or running right now — if you are not, you will create a ton of problems for yourself down the line.

I never regarded anything that I did in business as “work.”

And I effectively retired from “work” when I found my true passion in business, back in the early 1990s and I never looked back.

Stay in start-up mode

If you are just starting out in business, you will know the excitement and desire that is burning deep inside you and if you have a few years under your business belt, you may feel that those emotions have calmed down a bit…or a lot.

It is vital to keep the start-up mentality right in the forefront of your head and thoughts.

It keeps you on your toes and as I was explaining to a fifty-five-year-old guy who was proudly telling me of the huge sums of money he was raking in from his business:

“There is always someone behind your ready to eat your lunch.”

In a split second, the lightbulb went off in his head and he admitted to me that he was becoming complacent.

Sometimes a few choice words are all that is needed!

It is vital that you do not lose the very emotions that drove you to start your business in the first place if you are up, running, and doing well.

Dig deep

I am also passionate about music, martial arts, sport, and a few other things — I have two boys who are determined to become professional soccer players and with my own entrepreneurial background, I will never do anything to discourage their dreams.

I coach my boys and my daughter who is determined to become a classical singer and I will coach all three of them when it comes down to developing the right mindset for success…I leave the specifics to their main coaches.

I will regularly train my boys with physical exercises on an empty stomach, just after they have got out of bed and because I have done this from an early age, they have become used to it.

Now, I was extremely careful in doing this and worked the exercises and the duration up gradually and in a safe, controlled environment…and it is a far cry from some of their friends who daren’t exercise without having the right nutrients at breakfast or being fully hydrated after consuming their carefully measured out amount of water, or the latest performance-enhancing drink.

It’s the same with my daughter and I will often ask her for an impromptu performance of a classical song she has not yet learned fully, to make sure she is always ready to perform!

Mental toughness

When you dig deep, you naturally enforce a degree of mental toughness.

In business, you have to keep your focus on the end goal, which is to make your business a success (in whatever terms you describe the word “success”) and of course, profitable.

So take yourself and preferably keep yourself out of your comfort zone and push the boundaries.

Your overall intent is more important than say, performing perfectly during a customer presentation.

The presentation is of course important, but the intent is infectious and there were many times in my own career when I knew I hadn’t delivered my best in such situations, but the customers always commented on my enthusiasm.


I believe that you can dramatically increase your chances of success in business when you take away the focus from success and winning and prepare yourself for business survival.

As I have explained, I am talking about active and not passive survival…and waiting patiently to hunt down and uncover the right opportunities.

You have to strike the right balance between business growth and risk management which can prove tricky, but it can be done and please, take away this quest for remaining positive at all times.

By all means, focus on the positive elements of everything if you wish, but be a realist and accept that things can and will go wrong.

Your mindset is the key to success in my opinion and you have to have a strong degree of mental toughness, which you can train yourself to have…just take yourself out of your comfort zone, but do it gradually and in a safe and controlled manner.

Finally, remember that there is always someone ready to “eat your lunch,” so make sure you keep yourself hungry and try to have the feeling of staying in start-up mode, whatever stage your business is at!

Neil Franklin

Neil Franklin-Entrepreneur

Last modified: March 8, 2021

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