Are you in ‘Survival’ Mode?

Picture this – a business owner who’s working 10 to 12 hour days and at least 6 to 8 hours on the weekend. There’s a massive pile of stuff on their desk that needs attention. Employees drop in or call every so often with a new issue. Which is better than when customers call in directly with an issue… that happens a couple of times a week.

There’s money being made – it’s usually enough to cover payroll and the big expenses. And sometimes there’s a bit left over and the owner can take an extra draw to cover an expense at home, but overall things are tight.

But this isn’t just any business owner. No this business owner is a Hero, with almost super human stamina… they’ve been keeping this kind of pace up for years. And that’s not a good thing.

This is a business that’s stuck in ‘Survival’ mode. Survival mode is a daily grind that’s exhausting and overwhelming.

But the real problem with Survival mode isn’t the day to day challenge, it’s the fact that short of a miracle or meaningful changes (or both…), this business isn’t going to get better. It will linger in survival mode until there’s a really bad week or until the owner finally wears out.

But it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. This business owner, really any business owner, can get out of Survival mode by doing the following 3 things.


What it takes to get out of Survival mode

Unfortunately you’re not going to stumble your way out of survival mode – you got here because some key fundamentals of your business are broken. Here’s what you need to fix them:

A willingness to change and a plan

The first and most important thing you need to recognize when you’re in survival mode is that your choices and your beliefs created the situation. If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll continue to get the same results.

You need to change and you need to change in a purposeful way.

The first step is to take time away from your business and give yourself the opportunity to review your situation and come up with a plan to get better. This might be easier (and more successful) if you engage someone else to help you (like a business coach), but you can certainly do it on your own.

You just need to recognize where the problems are and how you can start addressing them. Here are the two most likely issues:


Shared Leadership

If you’re in survival mode, it’s likely because you (the owner) are doing too much. It’s actually just math – there are only 24 hours in the day and if you personally have to be involved in some capacity for every significant decision or action, your business is directly limited by your time.

The answer to this challenge is to start letting others take ownership of different aspects of your business. You need to stop Doing and Deciding and start Delegating. If you didn’t check out that link – delegating is all about having someone else own an outcome rather than a task.

They probably won’t do the work as well as you do (at least at first) or the way that you might do it, but if you can’t let go of key aspects of your business then you’re stuck in Survival mode until your business fails.


More profits (not necessarily more money)

The other big challenge that you’re likely facing in survival mode is that your business is not generating enough profits. Regardless of what your top line revenue might be, if there’s not enough coming out the bottom (after all of your expenses) then your business is always going to be a struggle.

That means you probably need to raise your prices. You could also look at cutting costs, but generally businesses in Survival mode tend to be running fairly lean so it’s unlikely you’ll be able to save your way to success.

The other thing you might need to look at is changing your business model. Finding a way to add at least some element of recurring revenue could be a game changer for you. You might also look at bundling what you sell in some different ways to help you improve profits as well.


None of the ideas above are new or even especially complicated, but many business owners find themselves stuck in Survival mode and end up so overwhelmed and exhausted by the day to day grind that they can’t take action. If that even remotely sounds like you (or where you might be headed), then I strongly recommend taking action now… get the ball rolling on doing some things differently.

What do you think? Do you know of anyone in Survival mode? Any who’s managed to break out of Survival mode? Owning a business can be a fantastic experience, or it can be exhausting and overwhelming – but the good news is that if / when you get the fundamentals right, it becomes a lot easier.

We’d love to hear your thoughts – leave us a comment below.

Shawn Kinkade Kansas City Business Coach