Small businesses are constantly working to iron out the rough details. However, once the ball starts rolling and the cash starts flowing, we begin to look at bigger and better things. We want to grow. We want to prosper. In our quest for the best, though, we are forced to face some roadblocks and challenges along the way.

It’s never easy, is it? Of course not, considering…

Growth is never as easy as it seems. Thankfully, there are still some small business success stories out there courtesy of ABC’s entrepreneurial reality show Shark Tank.

Shark Tank, which just premiered its 4th season, puts budding entrepreneurs to the test and challenges their business’ pitches against seasoned business veterans. Oftentimes, the business owners flounder and crack under the pressure from the show’s “sharks” (such as Mark Cuban) as their pitches get grilled. Sometimes they don’t have the personality. Sometimes they fail to live up to the hype Sometimes they lack the numbers to back up their ambitions. Maybe they just don’t have a full understanding of what their business needs to succeed on a larger scale.

Obviously, the show makes for great entertainment; however, your business is anything but a reality show, isn’t it? Your business is real. It’s your livelihood. It’s your blood, sweat and tears.

There is merit in what the show’s trying to tell entrepreneurs, though. Furthermore, Shark Tank’s many happy endings are always welcome in today’s less-than-sunny economy.

The questions posed by the sharks are of interest to business owners looking to thrive and grow today. How well you handle pressure and understand your business directly correlate with how well you’ll do when it comes time to make the decisions that matter. What sort of skills do you already have in your arsenal? What do you need to know to grow? Would your business survive the “shark tank?”

For the most part, surviving the shark tank comes down to the concept of understanding.

Understanding Your Industry

The sharks almost always work quickly to figure out whether their prey is truly knowledgeable about their industry. Specifically, whether or not they have a product that:

  • Legitimately meets the needs of an audience
  • Is marketable on a larger scale

The entrepreneurs whose pitches fail often do not understand their own success or the potential of what they have in front of them. By doing your homework and ultimately understanding your industry, you not only make your business look more legitimate in the eyes of others, but also understand your true potential.

…and Your Competition

A common thread for failing entrepreneurs is that they don’t have a grasp on their competition. Perhaps they face a huge obstacle in the form of a big box company or could easily be undercut by someone else entering the game. It’s crucial to know why you’re a step above the competition and have the personality to show it, even if you have to get a bit creative with your reasoning. You need to have at least three good reasons right out the gate as to why you’re the company to go with. Be convincing. In this regard, a bit of personality goes a long way. Don’t be afraid to be passionate.

Understand Your Ability to Grow

Businesses often think of themselves as having nowhere to go but up; however, this isn’t always the case. On Shark Tank, it’s rather common to see products pitched that seem like they’ve already reached their peak. Consider the two principles discussed for understanding your industry. That is, meeting the needs of an audience and having something that’s marketable.

If you find yourself within a niche market, you may hit a ceiling early. It’s difficult to extend beyond your comfort zone when you’re a big fish in a small pond. Many entrepreneurs have products they believe in and evangelical followers to back them up, yet growth remains an issue on a larger scale.

How Do You Handle Criticism?

Don’t take it personally.

On Shark Tank, the sharks often grill contestants on their questionable business decisions or flaws in their product. While watching contestants meltdown under pressure makes for great television, you should save your business such embarrassment. Yes, Shark Tank is a reality show; however, the criticism of the sharks is often warranted. Why should they fork over hundreds of thousands of dollars to a business shrouded in question marks?

The best to handle to criticism? Stay calm. Don’t panic, don’t throw a fit. Take criticism in stride but also listen to what your critics are saying. You’ll probably learn something.

How Do You Handle Worse Case Scenarios?

Business owners generally try to think positively; however, we know that’s much easier said than done in today’s economy. Likewise, your business should prepare for worse case scenarios such as a new competitor in town, a loss of interest from your community or a general shift in your industry’s landscape. While you can’t obsess over “what-if” questions, they are often on the minds of savvy business owners. The sharks on Shark Tank are concerned not only with what a business looks like at its best, yet also how it would handle the worst.

How Do You Look Objectively?

We put a lot into our businesses. Therefore, it’s difficult to look at ourselves from the outside sometimes. We become so ingrained with our product and mission that it’s hard to consider our shortcomings. While it’s difficult to look at your business objectively, it’s an important practice when it comes to understanding criticism and how you may ultimately improve. For this reason, it’s good to have people around you who “tell it like it is” instead of a bunch of “yes-men” to pat you on the back. Don’t beat yourself up, yet also take responsibility for your shortcomings. Instead of sulking, do something about them.

The Bottom Line

Whether or not your business is ready for prime time television is irrelevant. Consider instead how you carry your company and answer the tough questions when they’re brought up. In the face of adversity and criticism, some companies crack. Others succeed. Where do you stand? Would your small business survive the “shark tank?”

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