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Renita Jablonski: The economic slowdown has hit small businesses especially hard: credit is hard to come by, customers are cutting back. Marketplace Entrepreneurship reporter Mitchell Hartman recently attended a sort of group therapy session to help small businesses owners cope.
Mark Lipscomb: I feel powerless, like there's not really much I can do, except stay the course.
Meredith Smith: It has hit us pretty fast, so I don't think any of us are really sure what's going to happen next.
Mitchell Hartman: Meet Mark Lipscomb and Meredith Smith. Smith is an accountant, Lipscomb has a computer networking firm. Every month behind closed doors, they meet with five other entrepreneurs to talk shop. Usually, it's about upgrading their marketing or keeping talented employees. These days, they're asking how to stay solvent, keep customers from canceling orders, or avoid selling out at a loss.
Business coach Mike Wright coordinates the meetings:
Mike Wright: It's really valuable to be talking with other people who know, basically, know your pain. And know your joy.
Joy and pain. Not exactly what you'd expect to hear about at a business meeting. But over the last six months, these entrepreneurs have learned to trust each other.
Smith: I think something like this, because it's small and intimate and we've gotten to know each other fairly well, that this is probably going to be one of the best places to feel safe.
Hartman: Are you used to discussing issues like, how do I make it through the next few weeks, financially?
Smith: Nope, I grew up in a family where you didn't discuss those kind of things.
How to cope with the looming recession is the main topic these days. But not everyone in the group is suffering equally.
Ken Ayers runs a nutritional testing firm:
Ken Ayers: I think for the industry I'm in, in the food industry, we're somewhat insulated from it, because most people continue to eat, even in a down time.
Ayers gets a laugh, but the economy soon turns the mood serious again. These entrepreneurs have put their lives -- and possibly life's savings -- into their companies. Meredith Smith speaks for the whole group when she says in these tough times, the meetings give them focus and fortitude.
Smith: Sounds crazy, but as an entrepreneur, I'm in it 'til the end. I'm not looking to go back to work for corporate America. I don't think there's anybody in here that's interested in giving up.
I'm Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.