I recently sat down with a friend whose work, like mine, is to help small business owners and entrepreneurs succeed. As we talked about our work, we both noticed that among our clients, some are struggling right now, while others are experiencing higher levels of growth and success than ever.

During our conversation, we came to realize that our current economic climate can actually be healthy, because it forces each of us to examine our unsustainable, unproductive or non-value-producing behaviors.

Further, we identified some key distinctions that separate our successful clients from those who are struggling. One of these is a distinction in each group’s focus.

The struggling group is focused on the never-ending barrage of bad news and negativity. These people spend hours watching TV, checking the stock market online and worrying about things beyond their control. They engage in unproductive discussions that conjure up feelings of fear and helplessness. By projecting their negative outlook and fear outward, they can’t help but experience everyone else as being fearful too. Listening to their comments, we might hear, “Nobody is buying houses right now.” “There’s no money available for credit.” Or, “Our customers have completely stopped spending money.”

The thriving group, on the other hand, is taking a different approach. They certainly aren’t sticking their heads in the sand or pretending that none of these financial catastrophes are real. In fact, they are watching the same news programs and reading the same articles as the struggling group. However, they see the information from a completely different angle. They realize that if they can identify and understand the changes occurring in the values and priorities of the general public, they can capitalize on an incredible opportunity to realign with what people want and value today.

How to Grow Your Capital

In today’s world, everyone is an entrepreneur—including those of us who don’t own a business. If you work for someone else, your boss is your customer, because he pays you for the value you provide him. From this perspective, perhaps your spouse, children or parents are your customers, too.

We each have an entrepreneurial responsibility to maximize the value we create for our customers—whoever they may be. If we adopt this attitude, then the question at hand becomes: What can we do to be productive, proactive, and to lend our abilities in a way that creates maximum value for others?

To increase your bottom line, it is critical to create more value for your customers than you ask from them in return. Increasing your bottom-line value contribution causes your “personal stock price” to go up—even if the overall economy is headed the other direction.

Each of us has our own personal economy over which we have an immense amount of control. Our personal economy is determined more by our personal bottom line and balance sheet than by the external economy.

Another key distinction my friend and I noticed about our successful clients in this turbulent market was that they spend a lot of time developing their capital, in several senses of the word. Most people focus only on financial capital. However, there are three types of capital we should be building to thrive in today’s economy, and these clients realize that financial capital is the least important form of the three.

Mental capital is our ideas, knowledge and human ingenuity. It is critical to develop our know-how, leadership and skill sets in order to increase productive output. People who get bogged down in doom and gloom often refuse to spend money on improvement, training and education, while my most successful clients take advantage of those down times to accelerate their ability to create value.

Relationship capital consists of the people create value for, or those who know and trust you. When it comes to stabilizing your personal economy, investing in these relationships is paramount. One way to invest in a relationship can be to keep in touch and have meaningful conversations. Being a problem solver and being of service will increase your relationship equity, otherwise known as goodwill. Those who are willing to extend themselves in relationships and expand their circle of influence will fare far better during market downturns. Important relationships should include mentors, teachers and others who are contributing to growing your mental capital.

Financial capital is the money you have access to. While financial capital is important for thriving in these times, I purposely list it third because it is not as important as mental and relationship capital. Financial capital will expand as you create more value than you consume and is a byproduct of how effectively you utilize your mental capital to create value for people. The more consistently you create more value than you consume, the more your financial capital will grow.

One approach (which we don’t recommend) for accumulating financial capital during economic upheaval is to reduce consumption. However, this approach ultimately fuels system-wide economic distress. The second (and recommended) solution is to increase output, production or value creation. This doesn’t mean working longer hours, but rather being more aware of what others value highly, and focusing on delivering that type of value.

As you increase your three forms of capital simultaneously, they will have an exponential growth effect on one another. This will fuel your capacity to create value and therefore bolster your reserves and capabilities even further.

The more you have to offer, the more you are able to receive in return. If you follow this principle and always increase your capital reserves, prosperity is an inevitability.

GARRETT B. GUNDERSON is author of the New York Times
Killing Sacred Cows: Overcoming the Financial
Myths That Are Destroying Your Prosperity. As a finance and business
productivity coach, Garrett is dedicated to helping individuals and
groups find their purpose and passion through lasting principles, as
well as a deeper understanding of the true meaning of money and wealth.