Most of us have been in a position where we needed to come up with a good answer to tough questions we didn’t expect, only to find ourselves unprepared. Master these ten communication skills and you’ll be better able to come up with answers when you need them most.

Can you think on your feet when tough questions come your way?

Whether it comes from a critical customer, curious employee, audacious audience member, probing board chair, rude reporter, detail-oriented investor or another influential business stakeholder, not coming up with the most appropriate answer to tough questions can have negative consequences or derail an important initiative. Mastering these communication skills can help ensure that the next time tough questions get tossed your way, you’re ready to react.

Be Prepared to Answer Tough Questions by Mastering these 10 Skills

1. Learn how to listen.

Business leaders tend to do a lot of communicating, but that communication is often one-way. Listening attentively and openly, especially to tough questions that might put you on the defensive requires intent and discipline, and you may even need to practice:

  • Bring in an expert and hold a leadership workshop focused on improving listening skills
  • Increase solicitation of feedback from employees, customers and other stakeholders
  • Encourage healthy debate and constructive sharing of dissenting opinions

2. Get to the heart of the question.

The article talked about finding the trigger word in a sentence so that you can respond most appropriately. However, sometimes the question asked isn’t the real question. If you learn to identify the motivation or point of concern that underlies the question itself, you may be able to provide the most appropriate answer and keep an initiative, policy or other important issue on track. It will also help prevent people asking tough questions from steering you in a direction you don’t want to go.

3. Start with the shortest answer.

Often, a simple “yes,” “no,” or even an “I’m not certain yet” response, with no further explanation offered, is the best answer. If it does not suffice, you can also ask to table a question you aren’t ready to answer for another time or request to follow up with a group or individual privately.

4. Think diet-sized portions.

Knowing when to stop, rather than going on and on or belaboring a point can enhance the way colleagues and staff perceive you as a leader – and keep you out of trouble when rambling may lead to divulging information you didn’t mean to share. Imagine that your audience members are on a strict diet, and limit answer-portions to help them stay on track!

5. Turn negatives into positives.

If someone levels an accusation or criticism in the form of a question, rather than repeating it (which may actually sound like you’re stating it as a fact or giving credence to the criticism), reword the question so that it comes out in positive – or at least neutral – language.

6. Plan ahead.

On your own or with a trusted peer, think through the weak points of your position or your argument before you make that tough presentation, announcement or policy delivery. This can help you prepare for tough questions that might be lobbed your way, neutralize critics and increase staff buy in for new initiatives or policy changes.

7. Prepare visuals.

Especially when dealing with complex processes, the possibility of multiple outcomes or a variety of cause-and-effect scenarios, creating visuals which help people understand a process or conceptualize various outcomes can answer many of the questions people may have about your presentation before they are even asked.

8. Decide on a delivery system.

Whether you think in terms of writing a news article (who, what, when, were, why, and how), cost-and-benefit pairings, past-present-future timeline divisions or other systems, structuring your presentation and planning out answers to anticipated or controversial questions can help you strengthen your presentation and avoid diversions.

9. Create and maintain an FAQ database.

Create a data center which can be accessed by your audience members to house the questions that come up frequently and include positive version of potentially critical or negative questions that you’ve anticipated may arise. This can be an especially effective strategy when you will be giving a presentation to multiple audiences or you want to give people time to review information on their own before coming to a decision.

10. Last, but not least, don’t be perfect, be yourself.

Perfection is not a possibility. Be prepared, but be transparent and honest about what you do and don’t know. When you let go of the pursuit of perfection and strive, instead, to be the best, most honest ‘you’ that you can be, you have a better chance of winning over any audience you face.

You might also like: The Secret Life of Small Business Owners

What small business owners wish they knew offers insights about what they learned in the early days of their startups and what they would have done differently if they could.

What Small Business Owners Wish They Knew as Startups

Reversing a downward trend that started in 2009, the 2015 Kauffman Report on Main Street Entrepreneurship shows that, while the rate of entrepreneurship still remains below that of pre-recession levels, it’s finally on the upward swing.

For instance, in 2009 there were 188.3 businesses in the U.S. for every 100,000 people. In 2014, there were 130.6 businesses for every 100,000 people. Let’s take a closer look at the makeup of the American entrepreneur from these 2014 statistics:

  • 310 out of every 100,000 U.S. adults started a new business each month (up from 280 in 2014)
  • More than half were started by people aged 45 – 64
  • Fewer than half were started by people aged 20 – 34
  • Immigrant entrepreneurs were 2x as likely to start a business as native-born entrepreneurs
  • 5% of entrepreneurs were immigrants, up from 13.3% in the 1997 index
  • 2% of 2014 startups were male-owned vs. women-owned businesses – putting the percentage of women-owned startups barely above the two-decade low

Statistically speaking, coming up on two years in business, more than 70% of these 2014 startups are likely still in business (Washington Post), and according to U.S. census data about small business published by, the small business landscape in general is made up of the following business types for small employer firms:

  • 44% – S Corporations
  • 22% – C Corporations
  • 16% – Sole Proprietorships
  • 11% – Partnerships
  • 7% – Nonprofits

Among nonemployer small business, 86% are sole proprietorships, 7% are corporations and 7% are partnerships. Hindsight is 20/20!  With two years of business ownership behind them, studies show that what small business owners wish they knew before launching their startups would lead to some things they would have done differently.

10 Things Small Business Owners Wish They Knew as Startups

1. What Small Business Owners Wish They Knew Most of All: How to Handle Finances

68% of small business owners say their #1 biggest regret is that they didn’t spend more time learning about financial management before they launched their business. For instance, three out of ten small business owners used the same bank accounts for personal and business transactions, which can be a big problem for many reasons. Whether your business is a corporation, partnership, nonprofit or sole proprietorship, it’s imperative that you keep personal and business finances separate.

2. How to Understand Finances, Financial Statements and Taxes

3 out of ten small business owners say they wish they had hired an accountant from the beginning, and 42% actively work with accountants for advice and financial management help. When it comes to small business finances, few areas are as complex, intimidating and potentially problematic than small business taxes. There are more than 2,000 items in the list of current forms and publications related to business taxes. While the IRS website can help answer your questions about small business taxes, having professional help or advice from an experienced tax preparer is a must!

3. They Needed More Money

Most U.S. startups – 64% – were launched with $10,000 or less in funding; only 13% had more than $50,000. Writing on, Wayne Connors, managing partner of said that entrepreneurs are overly-optimistic when projecting sales, don’t know the cost of customer acquisition and underestimate how much startup capital they’re going to need. Business coach Tom Perkins recommends that entrepreneurs have at least 6 months of working capital on hand when they launch.

While we offer startup funding, if your startup small business has been in operation for even just a few months it might qualify for one of our small business loans or a business line of credit. If your small business sells directly to other businesses, you may also be able to speed up cash flow by factoring customer invoices instead of waiting for them to pay. We would be happy to talk about small business loans and financing programs with you – contact us for more information or to get a free, no-obligation quote for business financing.

4. Had More Information About Payment and Card Processors

One of the most important decisions a new small business owner will make is deciding what type of payments to accept and finding the right payment processor. We specialize in helping our clients both in terms of the cost of merchant services and payment processing and in outfitting their organization with the most appropriate payment processing equipment, software and systems

5. How Hard the First Year Was Going to Be

Most aspiring entrepreneurs can’t wait for the day that they can open the doors of their new business; however, 68% of small business owners say that the first year is the hardest (’s $10,000 Strong and Growing).  When they needed help, they turned to these sources for external guidance during the first year:

  • 38% – Online search
  • 23% – Friends who are also business owners
  • 17% – Formal education or training
  • 12% – The Small Business Administration (

6. Had Written a Better Business Plan

Taking the time to write a good business plan isn’t just an exercise in business ownership. Thinking through each of the components that make up a business plan can help ensure that you have anticipated the challenges you will face in financing, opening, operating, and growing your business. The detail that goes into your plan tells employees, investors, lenders and other interested parties what your dream is and how you plan to get there.

7. Spent More Time and Money on Marketing

Even if a lot of people you know have expressed interest in your startup business concept or how convinced you are that “if you build it, customers will come,” the truth is that many small business owners over-estimate how quickly they can land customers and grow. Don’t wait until your business opens to start investing in marketing and advertising; the sooner you can begin to build brand awareness, the more likely your business is to enjoy a successful grand opening and grow to the point that revenue makes the enterprise sustainable.

Your start up marketing plan might be simple or complex. Here are some of the must-have’s and most commonly used marketing tactics you should plan to deploy from the earliest days of your business (and even before it opens its doors):

  • A vision statement (what your business will look like when it’s all grown up)
  • A mission statement (how you’ll make the vision a reality, often references customer types, employee culture and organizational values)
  • Market research that demonstrates demand for your business – can also help you refine your offerings so they align with market place demand
  • Identify target markets and ideal buyer types (or buyer personas)
  • Identification of direct and indirect competitors – competitive analysis
  • Differentiation – positioning of your business vs. competitors
  • Marketing strategy and tactics
    • Strategies; e.g.: find and attract likely buyers, produce repeat sales, increase retention, develop customer loyalty, produce referrals, etc.
    • Tactics; e.g.: website, blog, email, direct mail, flyers, events, trade shows, social media, sales pros, customer service, loyalty program details, webinars, seminars, whitepapers, coupons, sales, etc.
  • A marketing budget – it should never be “zero” because at a minimum your business must have a web domain, website, and probably business cards, flyers and other startup supplies
  • Goals, measures and reporting

8. Had Found a Mentor

Half of all small business owners said they wish they had found a mentor who could advise them during the pre-launch and early days of running their business. Check out our article about how you can improve your small business by setting up your own small business advisory board, which can act as your personal business “Dear Abby,” giving you people who you can turn to with questions and problems during the early days of running your startup.

9. Knew When to Say Yes and When to Say No

Many small business owners wish they had more management and leadership experience. They would have known better when to say “No” in refusing outside work or being distracted from their core business products and services to pursue tangents. Others say they would have delegated more to employees, worked harder to make sure that employees felt like they were an important part of the team, and trusted staff to get work done without feeling like they had to micromanage every aspect of their startup business.

10. Didn’t Try So Hard to Be Perfect

There’s a saying in business that goes, “You win some, you learn some.” All failures are not fatal and making mistakes can be an important part of the process for new business owners. Not only can mistakes reveal how to do better, sometimes mistakes can even reveal opportunities you might have otherwise missed. Sometimes it’s about the journey, not the destination. Take the advice of what small business owners wish they knew before they started their business to heart and use their experience to become better prepared for your own business launch.

Sometimes money is hiding in plain sight, other times you’ll really have to hunt; here are twenty-five places to look when you need to find money to grow your business more quickly.

Find Money to Grow Your Business Hiding in 25 Places

You don’t necessarily have to sell more to find money to grow your business; sometimes it’s a matter of finding the money, not making it. Other times it’s about maximizing use of resources or finding creative ways to work with other businesses.

We’ve come up with a list of more than two dozen ways you might be able to find money to grow your business. These tactics have nothing to do with raising prices or increasing sales, but they can significantly impact your bottom line nonetheless.

25 Places to Find Money to Grow Your Business More Quickly

Salaries and Benefits

Salaries and benefits are often one of if not the biggest costs in a business. Make sure that you’re getting good value for every dollar spent on salaries, benefits and employee perks; where you aren’t getting the most bang for your buck, make a change.  For instance:

  1. Review benefits providers annually (like you would any other vendor) to be sure your employees are getting the best plans at the best prices. If you have a great deal on something, try to lock it in for a longer time period, to preclude automatic annual increases.
  2. Compare the costs, pros and cons of outsourcing both core and non-core business functions (bookkeeping, accounting, taxes, marketing, cleaning, etc.)
  3. Re-evaluate duties and decide whether redistribution of responsibilities could preclude the need to hire or allow you to hire a more junior candidate when filling a new position or replacing a departing employee.
  4. Hire candidates for “added value” skills that you can use now or in the future.
  5. Use staffing agencies to cut employee screening costs and bring in newbies on a temp-to-hire basis to cut down on hiring mistakes or ensure a good fit for hard-to-fill or high turnover positions.

Financing Tools

Sometimes bringing working capital in from the outside makes more sense than depleting reserves or selling off assets to fund growth. When a business idea is likely to increase revenues, additional income could more than offset the loan or cost of financing. Using this as a go-by can help you decide whether it’s better to wait until you have saved up the money to fund a new business idea or pursue business financing; such as:

  1. Bank loans
  2. Specialty financing tools:
    • Business line of credit
    • Equipment lease finance
  3. Business or merchant advance
  4. Invoice Factoring

In addition to business financing tools that provide a lump sum of working capital, if you sell on terms to other companies, you can also use invoice factoring to speed up cash flow. Expediting cash flow by factoring could help you grow more quickly and could help you find savings in other areas of your business, such as taking advantage of quick-pay discounts and reducing overhead related to accounting.

Cutting Overhead

  1. If you rent or lease space, your mortgage or rent payment could be one of your biggest expenses. In a buyer’s market, you might be able to renegotiate the terms of your lease to get a price decrease or lock in a low rate for a long period of time.
  2. If you need additional equipment or furnishings, consider buying used or leasing what you need instead of buying it outright. Preserving working capital means you retain more ready money to grow your business.
  3. Turning the thermostat up or down even a degree or two could make a visible difference in your utilities cost. Likewise, turning off lights in unused areas or setting lights on timers with motion detectors could save you hundreds over the course of a year. Reducing consumption of electricity, water, natural gas, data and other utilities can add up to big savings over time.
  4. Don’t skip the maintenance! Having vents cleaned, screens changed and other maintenance done on time keeps your equipment running at optimum efficiency.
  5. Replace aging equipment with newer, more efficient models can bring significant utility cost savings and might even earn your business tax credits.
  6. Have space you aren’t using? Rent it out!
  7. Reduce the cost of financing by consolidating high interest credit cards and other revolving debt into one account.

Streamline Purchasing

  1. Once upon a time having a petty cash or slush fund for incidentals could save your business in check cashing costs and time spent running to the bank for funds. Today it costs more than it saves, since digital payments are universally accepted and allow you to account for every dollar your business spends. When you need money to grow your business, slush funds should be the first to go.
  2. Stock up and save works. Better forecasting can show you where buying in bulk can save your business money.
  3. Vendor and supplier quick-pay discounts can be sizeable, significantly reducing expenses and the cost of goods sold. Even if a vendor doesn’t advertise a cash or fast-pay discount, they might be open to negotiation.

Cooperative and Co-Working Arrangements

  1. Cooperative marketing has been a tactic small business owners have used over the years. Not only does it reduce expenses for everyone participating, it often amplifies effectiveness as campaigns reach shared contact groups and presentation formats can be bigger, louder or otherwise more impressive.
  2. Cooperative buying arrangements also allow participants to reduce costs by purchasing in larger quantities, eliminating separate shipping charges and gaining other advantages. Likewise, your business could benefit from joining associations and buying clubs that provide members with discounts and special pricing. For instance, joining Amazon Prime costs members $119 per year but gives them free shipping and deal privileges that may more than offset the cost of membership. Business owners can also register for an Amazon Business account that provides free shipping on orders of $49 or more as well as tax-exempt purchasing, special pricing and access to additional business services. Savings like these may also save resources, negating the time you might have otherwise spent looking for lower-priced items, since program savings might exceed potential price differentials.
  3. Like cooperative buying, some of the services your business needs might also be cooperatively outsourced. For instance, if you’re in a retail or manufacturing space adjacent to others, hiring one cleaning service to serve the whole facility might be less expensive than for each business to hire one for themselves.
  4. Renting or buying office space can be formidable, or even a barrier to entry. Opting for co-working space or sharing facilities with other businesses can bring your cost per square foot of space way, way down.
  5. You probably work with vendors that you recommend to other business owners all the time! Inquire to see if any offer (or would be willing to offer) a referral bonus in exchange for sending business their way. Referral bonuses are often based not only on a new customer’s first purchase, but some are even based on a customer’s lifetime value, giving your business a significant return in exchange for your recommendation.
  6. Many online e-commerce sellers (like Amazon) and business services (like web hosting, email marketing, web development, and others) offer affiliate commissions in return for the web traffic you send to them that converts into sales. Like other bonus programs, these dollar amounts might seem small but they can add up over time. Setting this revenue aside for a couple of years could give you a significant amount of working capital for a future project.

No matter how carefully you watch every penny spent in your business or evaluate potential opportunities to increase profits, you’ll probably miss something. We put together this checklist with twenty-five ways you can find money to grow your business either by trimming expenses or boosting revenues – we’d love for you to add your 2 cents with ideas you think we missed in the comments below.