Start a streak

What have you done every day, every week or every month for years?

For example, I’ve written a weekly column for the Flathead Beacon since 2006.

I don’t get a week off from the column if it’s Christmas or the Fourth of July. It just gets done.

Some find that a massive, if not surprising, achievement. Others see it as if it were a ball and chain.

Me? It’s just something I need to get done every week. Some weeks, it’s harder than others – but I still make sure it gets done – and yes, I’m better at getting that done regularly than I am at some other things because I’m accountable to the community who reads it.

The value of that accountability shouldn’t be discounted. It’s a powerful tool and motivator.

Think about it

Think about the consistency of the tasks *you* perform to grow your business. Would more consistency in how you podcast, blog, tweet, vlog, post to Facebook, send an email, make a call, drop a mailing or send a newsletter mean more/better business? Would adding a new item to the list make more of an impact?

Of the things you do regularly, which of them produce the best response? (if you don’t know – fix that)

Would it help if that work was done more often? Think about it.

The most expensive, most stressful thing on your desk

Nothing destroys a work day like distractions.

Ever realize that it’s “suddenly” dinner time and all you remember doing since lunch is reading Facebook?

That’ll show up nicely on a deposit slip. Hello, stress.

Distractions are a product of your work environment, your work habits and how those two things are communicated to others.

Your work environment

What you surround yourself with is critical to your work. Clutter doesn’t help – and I mean clutter of all kinds – physical as well as electronic.

These things are waiting to distract you, so you have to eliminate them from your work environment. Eliminate doesn’t necessarily mean trash.

Electronic clutter is particularly distracting to me, so I’ve surrounded myself with systems that “protect” me from it. Instapaper helps me get rid of open browser tabs that I was saving to read. Things, a GTD-oriented system, helps me store ideas and to-do items on notes, in my head, in emails, etc.

Because I know they’re not “lost”, they don’t clutter up my browser, mind, desk or subconscious. Don’t take the last one lightly. Worrying about forgetting something is very distracting.

Random phone calls are also a form of clutter, so I only take calls by appointment (with very few exceptions). I know – you think you can’t do this without losing sales. I thought the same thing.

My tools may not fit you. Use what fits. Discard what doesn’t.

Your work habits

Last night at a local restaurant, I spoke with one of my Scouts who’s home from college for the summer. He’s in amazing physical condition and has been for years, despite being a skinny little guy years ago. He says people often say they want to “look like him”, but they don’t want to do the work he did to get that way.

He tells them it’s as easy as working out every day, which may be hard to do until it becomes a piece of your life you aren’t willing to give up for anyone – even your immediate family. That hour a day that no one (or nothing) can take from you for any reason isn’t neglect. It’s building a better you so you can be better for them.

Habits are just as critical at work.

One of my mentors would growl “Just do more of what matters. Make more time by doing less of what doesn’t.” While he’s right and yes, it’s common sense, most people need help doing it.

Consider the three most important tasks you need to finish next week. Do you have to think about it to remember them? That’s not good.

I use my calendar and Things to tell me those three tasks. Neither tool forgets. I review Things every weekend and schedule work tasks on my calendar as if they were meetings, speaking gigs or other commitments.

In an age where you can watch TV on your phone and people can contact you almost anywhere, you have to take managing yourself seriously. Scheduling things (even blog writing) in my calendar is how I make sure that the important things get done – including family stuff and paying bills.

A full calendar makes it easy to say no to less important things you don’t have time for. If the important things like work and family are booked first, stuff that doesn’t matter enough has no place to go.

How those two are communicated to others

People appreciate when you don’t immediately answer your phone, but always return their call.

People appreciate when you don’t immediately reply to an email, but always reply.

People appreciate it when you don’t miss a ball game, a play, a concert or a night out, even if you have to work afterward.

When people see you glance at and then ignore a vibrating phone while in a meeting with them, they’ll ask about it the first time. When you tell them that you aren’t answering because you booked this time solely to give them 100% of your attention, your previously “unreasonable” call policy suddenly becomes reasonable.

If you work (or play) with focused attention, people will notice and appreciate it.

You mentioned stress. What about that?

How much stress would you have if you didn’t forget important things and routinely completed them?

 

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Disclosure: I am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. Visit http://facebook.com/visasmallbiz to take a look at the reinvented Facebook Page: Well Sourced by Visa Business. The Page serves as a space where small business owners can access educational resources, read success stories from other business owners, engage with peers, and find tips to help businesses run more efficiently. Every month, the Page will introduce a new theme that will focus on a topic important to a small business owner’s success. For additional tips and advice, and information about Visa’s small business solutions, follow @VisaSmallBiz and visit http://visa.com/business.

When is $5000 like $100000?

One of the first questions I ask business owners when we start working on their company is “What will it take to transform your business?”

I’m asking for several reasons – each of which are critical to knowing where you are with your business.

I want to find out what is top of mind – in other words, what tends to consume your thoughts about the business.

I want to learn what you’re focused on beyond that one thing – assuming there’s only one.

I want to know how big your thinking is.

And I want to know what’s next – but sometimes, that isn’t important yet.

That payroll thing

Why? Because another issue that’s consuming your thoughts has a way of blocking your ability to think clearly about anything strategic, including what’s next.

The issue that usually does this? Making payroll.

The pressure of making payroll has a way of becoming such a focus that it distracts you in the worst sort of way – like an itch you can’t scratch.

To make serious strategic progress on your business, whether you’re working with a coach or trying to grow things on your own, you need to get things to the point where you aren’t totally consumed with the worry (or fear) of not making payroll every week.

A little bit of that fear is probably a good thing – but the key reason to eliminate it is that when payroll isn’t the number one thing weighing on you day-in and day-out, you’ll be able to think far more clearly and more strategically about your business.

In other words, I’ll get a much better answer to the original question, “What will it take to transform your business?”

Five K

More often than not, the solo business owner answers that question with a number in the neighborhood of $5,000. Per month, that is.

This, despite the fact that my “transform” question said nothing about revenue,  money or payroll. The vagueness of the question lets them reveal their focus.

If five grand is the difference between confidently making payroll and the distraction of sweating payroll down to the last few hours every week, it’s usually an indication of some basic things that aren’t getting done – most of them related to paying attention to the details that your customers (and your customer database) should be none too shy about.

Once you get past the FiveK challenge, you can start focusing on the things that still might keep you up at night, but in a good way rather than in that payroll-induced cold sweat, how do I avoid laying someone off kind of way.

I don’t know

With the smallest businesses, it’s not unusual to get no answer to the “transform” question, or “I don’t know.”

That usually means you’re part of the FiveK club and don’t want to admit it, or you’re so involved in creating what your business delivers that you spend way too little time thinking about (much less working on) the strategic aspects of your business.

If you don’t want to admit the FiveK thing, it might be because you think no one else is in the same boat. The reality is that lots of businesses are one bad revenue month away from punting and starting a job search.

If that sounds like your situation, you’re probably so focused on making payroll (paying the minimum on bills, etc) that you risk taking your eye off the ball strategically, as well as in in ways that your customers will notice.

Getting the FiveK monkey off your back starts with marketing – even if you don’t have money for a marketing budget – and attention to basics like follow up, customer service and the sales your customer database can tell you about.

The bottom line

My goal is to bring transformational improvement to a client – which is pretty tough to do when they’re worried about this week’s payroll. The FiveK thing is nothing to be ashamed of, but it should make you want to take action. It’s simply a step along the road, even if the only one on the payroll is you.

Another place to deal with this is your customers. Ask them two simple questions: “What are we doing wrong?” “What are we doing right?”

Listen, but don’t take the answers personally. Take action.

PS: When is $5000 like $100000? When you don’t have it.

Famous Last Words: “We can’t afford to market our business.”

Tyres!
Creative Commons License photo credit: mickyc82

This past weekend, I took one of my favorite drives of the year – that first drive after removing studded snow tires.

I enjoy the feel of a performance tire in a tight turn and that’s something studded tires just don’t offer. As I waited for my tires to be swapped and munched on Les Schwab’s complimentary popcorn, I looked forward to that first drive.

While I waited, a friend who works there mentioned a new restaurant in town – a place he’d first heard about the day before despite the fact that they’d been open for over six months. Neither of us could remember seeing any marketing from them. This doesn’t mean there wasn’t any, just that we hadn’t seen it.

Today, I remembered something they’d done. It was a good way to introduce what they do to those likely to visit their place, thanks to an affinity with another business.

One (apparent) marketing effort in six months is not ideal and is usually the result of a single, often fatal, mindset: “We can’t afford to market the business.” The reality is that you can’t afford not to.

If cash is tight, what can they do?

Frugal but effective

First, know that there is no magic pill, despite what so-called “gurus” will tell you while trying to sell you a shovel. “Shovel sellers” is a reference to those who made a fortune selling shovels during the California Gold Rush, yet never used a shovel to work their own claim and thus learn which (much less IF) shovels are best for the job.

Marketing is steady, don’t ever stop kind of work. If you don’t have a bunch of cash to invest, you’ll need to find inexpensive, effective ways to share what you do with those who would be interested.

Getting Local

Have you filled in your business info at Google Places? How about Bing for Business? What about local business directories?

There are plenty of free and paid directories out there. These can consume a lot of time and capital, so use them wisely. Try a few Google searches to see how their results place. Talk to someone who uses the directory (they’ll be listed). Ask if they get good customers from these listings and what techniques they’ve used successfully. The most effective local directories are likely to be those run by local people, so do your homework.

Registering is not marketing

Is your business registered on Trip Advisor, UrbanSpoon, FourSquare, Facebook, FoodSpotting, Twitter and Yelp?

Registering is only the first step. Each of these outposts require regular attention. Investing five or ten minutes per site every other day (worst case) will give you enough time to answer questions, comment on reviews, post a daily tip/menu item or recognize a customer, supplier, neighbor or event (remember: give first).

The business I’m speaking of is registered in several of these places, but appears to have done little to build and maintain an active presence on them – a critical step. Remember – these sites are about attracting and engaging people who self-identify themselves as “interested”.

Keep the mobile user in mind. Encourage reviews. Reward the mayor. Reward check-ins. You don’t have to throw a pile of money at them. A free cup of coffee or a dessert is more than enough. Make them customer of the day – and find a simple, inexpensive way to make that day special. So few businesses recognize mayors (much less check-ins) that you’re sure to stand out.

Doing The Legwork

Keep your customers informed without the hard sell. Stories evoke interest.

Start an opt-in email list and make it worth reading. Send postcards or a monthly flier/event calendar to locals so you stay on their radar – same as you would by email. Print up plain paper menus and drop them off at local retailers and motels.  Offer the front desk/register staff a sample tray now and then so they can make a legitimate recommendation. Listen to their feedback.

Follow Tourism Currents and similar rural / tourism / local marketing resources. They frequently talk about strategies and tactics other small rural businesses have used and offer valuable tips about connecting with locals and tourists.

None of this is free, but all of it is inexpensive.

If you don’t market your business, how will your situation improve?

Take advantage. Leave your small town.

Does your community talk about the flight of youth?

The shrinkage and simultaneous aging of communities is a critical issue for rural places.

Young people graduate and move away for good jobs or for college and they may not come back for a decade or more, if at all.

Recently, a high-achieving, hard-working college student told a just-laid-off friend to take advantage of the layoff and use it as an opportunity to leave our rural community. No question – job loss is a great time to take advantage of opportunities that might’ve been out of reach because you had a full time job – but it’s still disconcerting to hear one of the smartest, hardest working college kids I know advising a friend to “get out of Dodge“.

It illustrates how much is left to accomplish in order to strengthen the relationship between communities, employers, schools, colleges and the youth that local people say they want to retain in (or attract back to) their communities.

It’s not a simple thing to fix. Is it something that can/should be “fixed”? Or is it simply a reflection of market forces that rural communities must recognize and address?

Addressing the gap

Programs to bridge the gap between where youth are and where employers need them aren’t just about the job, but that’s usually the focus.

You’ll find internships, vocational-technical education (which changes the person, not the job or the employer) and many other programs that try to get younger workers to develop a passion for something that will enable them to earn more than what’s available via traditional service sector jobs.

High school graduates who have college aspirations sometimes don’t go right out of high school because they just aren’t sure what they want to do. Internships are one way to offer a look-see at different careers. Employers and colleges of all kinds could do more to offer a look-see of their own.

But it isn’t easy.

Challenges at every turn

Many high school students care pressed for time given that they’re in school from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm or longer, with before and after school activities like “zero period classes”, sports, work, band, etc.

While some think that this younger generation is afraid of work, I think those who claim that are simply more aware of the less-motivated than they were in the past. It’s repeatedly been shown that most rural youth have a strong work ethic because of responsibilities they had while being raised.

Despite a good work ethic, someone still has to manage/mentor an intern. Who does it? When does it happen?

Most employees will expect to be paid for giving up weekend/evening/family time and management may not have the funds for that. College students and high school graduates with jobs might have time for internships during the mentoring business’s “normal” work day, but this still requires employee time for mentoring/training.

In order to work past these challenges, motivation might come from looking at the outcome of succeeding at these programs. Imagine your community with a substantial, community-involved 18-35 year old workforce. What community wouldn’t like that?

Figuring out how to get there won’t be an accidental process, but this visualization could provide the motivation to plan how your community will make it happen.

Making it happen

Some rural communities, including mine, have been growing lately, but the influx is primarily “empty nesters” rather than 18-35 year olds and young families. Research has repeatedly shown that communities must have more to offer than “just jobs” to attract the latter.

Culture, recreation and work flexibility, aka “powder days”, are growing in importance, even while school quality, cost of living and more traditional requirements remain critical.

Culture is more than just art, music and theater. It’s vision too. An attractive community will likely be moving toward achieving a vision (whatever that might be) that’s intertwined with the causes and values attractive/important to a young workforce/young families. Quite often, these will be the things they learned to value while growing up in your town.

What does your community do to attract young workers and young families? What should they do? If these things work, is your community ready for an influx of young families and the leaders among them? If not, is your community ready for the alternative?

Out of Stock

Quais de Seine, Paris
Creative Commons License photo credit: Zigar

When your store is out of stock on an item…what does your staff do and say?

When I was out of state not long ago, I looked around for a pair of light hikers for everyday wear. I knew exactly what I wanted right down to the model name.

I visited a locally owned store, but they didn’t have my size in stock. A few days later, I visited a box store. They had the shoe on the wall (which is never my size), but they didn’t have any others. They didn’t even have the match to the one on the wall.

As I got into the car in the box store parking lot, I called the locally owned store again just in case they had some new arrivals. Nope.

They offered to order a pair for me, but I told them I was visiting from elsewhere and wouldn’t be around when they arrived.

At this point, they had choices:  Focus on the sale, focus on the customer or try harder.

What’s your focus?

If your sales people are trained to focus on the sale, they might say “Nope, we don’t have any” and be disappointed that they didn’t get a sale. If that’s the end of the conversation, your customer might go elsewhere – losing the sale and the customer.

If your sales people are trained to focus on the customer, they might say “Nope, we don’t have any. Have you looked at (competitor number one) or (competitor number two)? They both carry that brand.

If your sales people are trained to focus on keeping your customers happy, they might say “Nope, we don’t have any. If you come by and let us fit you in a similar shoe in that brand, I can order that model in your size and have it shipped to you. If it doesn’t fit like you want, we’ll take care of you until you’re happy or we’ll give your money back.

What they did was refer me to two of their competitors (one was the store whose parking lot I was in). The second one had my size in stock, so 20 minutes later, I had my shoes and was heading for the in-laws place.

The “try harder” choice might not have been what I wanted, but I wasn’t given a choice. Keep in mind that you can always fall back from the “try harder” position if the customer isn’t interested in or cannot use that kind of help.

The important thing

You might think that the locally owned retailer lost a sale, but that isn’t as important as keeping the customer over the long term.

While I wasn’t able to buy the shoes from the place I wanted, they were able to help me find them.

They could’ve run me off quickly by saying “We don’t have that size.”

They didn’t do that. I suspect their handling of the call was the result of training driven by a management decision.

I wasn’t a familiar voice calling them on the phone. While I’ve bought from their store on and off for 20 years, they don’t know that because they keep paper sales tickets. I’m not there often enough to be a familiar face / voice and had not been in their town for two years.

Yet they treated me like someone they want to come back.

Do you treat your customers that way? Do your online competitors?

Competition from tomorrow?

Sometimes business owners complain about online competition.

Yet online stores can rarely provide instant gratification. It’s difficult for them to help you buy something you need today for a meal, event, dinner, date, meeting or presentation happening later today.

They can rarely deliver the kind of service a local, customer-focused business can offer.

Online often gets a foothold when local service and/or selection are poor and focused on the wrong thing. Even with online pricing, a product isn’t delivered until tomorrow.

When you aren’t competing strongly against tomorrow, you really aren’t even competing against today.

Focus on helping them get what they want and need. Whether they are local or remote, customers just want to be well taken care of and get what they came for.

What did you get?

It’s critical to get regular feedback from your clientele about what you do – to that end, I have a favor to ask…What do YOU think?

What value does BiP bring to you and your business?

What brings you back to it?

What’s improved as a result of actions prompted (in any form) by BiP?

What could you use more of?

What could you use less of?

What would most help a business owner friend of yours…if they only knew about BiP?

I have my own ideas about these things, but I’m curious what you think.

To that end…what are you asking your customers? What message are they sending to you? Are you being a good listener?

A generic conversation about being specific

MISTY MORNING
Creative Commons License photo credit: kelp1966

One of the things you have to be careful about is making your business too generic.

The conversation…

Them: Could I get you to comment on a booth graphic for my company?  We are pretty simple here and need a banner for a trade show booth. Wondering if the fonts are ‘old’.

Them: (Sends booth graphic, which says the company name, what they do and “Manufactured in Montana USA”)

Me:  The “Manufactured in Montana USA” line should stay no matter what else you do. It’s fascinating how much “Manufactured in Montana USA” improves response vs. “Made in Montana”.

Lesson: Test *everything*.

Me:  This banner tells what you do but it doesn’t say why I should talk to you instead of everyone else who does what you do. What separates you from the others who do what you do?

Them:  We have a large variety of in stock materials, very fast turnaround on materials and parts,  specialize in small run orders.

Me:  Probably too much to put on a banner. Is small run unusual in your business?

Them:  It is in our particular niche.  It separates us from a couple of bigger competitors.  They refer to us when someone wants a small quantity.

Them: It’s also an attraction for the government contracted items as they will only need 32 of something so a lot of competitors won’t take the work.

Lesson: Know what makes you special.

Me: Think about these:

“We specialize in small run orders” vs “We specialize in small run orders. We’ll make 32 of them, if that’s what you need.” (Specific vs. generic)

“Very fast turnaround” vs “Three day turnaround” (“Very fast” has many meanings. What does it mean to you?)

“We stock 1000 square feet of 214 different materials so we can get your order out quickly without material delivery delays” vs “large variety of in-stock materials”.

Me:  Being specific (such as “three day”) provokes them to ask someone else exactly what their turnaround is (for example), without you saying a word about your competitor.

Them:  We’d be on the offensive for once!   This sales stuff is not in our DNA (it was the grandfather’s gift, no one since then)

Me:  Is he the business’ namesake? If so,  I’d be tempted to incorporate a good head shot photo of him (in context of the business) into your signage but thatll greatly change the banner price if the timing and cost make sense.

Them:  Interesting .. to make it more personal?

Me:  Exactly.

Me:  I do have another suggestion for a change for the banner. If you only want to buy it once… “Since 1961”

Me:  If you want to buy the banner more than once, this is the year to say “Fifty years…” or “Our 50th year” etc.

Lesson: State your strengths in strong specifics, no matter how obvious.

Me:  Since its a family affair, you may want to work in “Three generations” and a progression of pics of you, dad, grandpa.

Them:  That’s a really great idea.  Helps with that story you want people to get into.

Me:  Exactly. The question everyone enjoys answering: “So, how’d you get into this business?”

Lesson: Business is Personal.

Me:  Do you guys have booth giveaways?

Them:  Notepads was the plan. We are working up materials and sample parts to display on our table.   Stuff to show off our capabilities.

Me: How do notepads provoke people to think about your product? Alternative: What would it cost to make a 4″ rounds of a mildly heat resistant and hopefully liquid resistant material you use in production?

Them: I think we could make that happen.

Me:  I’m thinking coasters with your company/logo/URL/phone # embossed on them. Put your work in front of them all day, every day. A notepad will get left on a plane or in a hotel room. These won’t be.

Them: We would have to figure out a way to put the printing on there but its a great idea.

Me:  I figured you might have a means of embossing, but I wasn’t sure.

Them:  We are a crafty bunch so now that you’ve given me the idea…

Them:  I really appreciate the help.   This is a new world to me.

Lesson: Use congruent tools to get them thinking and talking about you.

 

Empowerment and the Silent Cell Phone

Henry Ford, despite his success with the assembly line at Ford Motor Company, made a mistake that many business owners still make today.

He didn’t delegate.

Most business owners delegate at least a little. Not Ford.

According to Peter Drucker, the senior Ford didn’t believe in delegation or floor management and it cost him plenty. Fortunately, he had the millions, if not billions, to backup what is now commonly considered a sizable error in judgment. We do, of course, have the benefit of a century of hindsight.

Ford’s son, Henry II, felt differently about the delegation of management. He believed that having management on the factory floor was critical. That decision was one of the keys to turning their family business around from a financially perspective.

Delegation is Efficient, Strategic

Ford II understood that leadership had a place in the assembly line factory floor back then as much as it does now in any business that has employees.

He discovered that empowering factory floor managers with the power to make decisions within the authority granted to them resulted in a savings of time and money. I suspect it also resulted in a safer factory floor in an era that isn’t known for having safe manufacturing workplaces. It’s also likely that the decisions made were better than (or the same) as those Mr. Ford might have made, since they were made based on those managers’ day to day experience on the factory floor.

That has several benefits we’ll talk about shortly, but it isn’t the number one reason to delegate. Your time is the biggest reason.

If you are focused on making the small decisions, every minute you spend on them is taken from the time available to research and make big decisions.

If the big decisions that affect your business long-term aren’t getting the proper amount of analysis, what problems could you miss? More importantly, what opportunities could you miss the importance of, if not miss completely?

Return on You

I can’t sit here and tell you exactly what to delegate and what to do yourself. What I can suggest is that you consider if something can be delegated to another person when you put that task on your todo list or schedule. You could do this daily, as you add things to the list, as you finish the task or whatever works for you. The key is that you actually do it.

Maybe you have to do it yourself this time, but make another todo to prepare as necessary to delegate that task next time. That way, when it comes up, you’re prepared to delegate without delay.

I’ve already made note of the value of being able to focus on the important stuff. Yes, this is the Department of Obvious Obviousness stuff, but I see enough of it that it’s worth repeating.

An additional benefit is that you might be the highest paid person at your business. If so, do you want to be doing things, management or otherwise, that someone who makes less than you *could* do? Being willing to mop the floor is essential. Doing it yourself, when you could outsource it or delegate it, allows you to focus on and work on valuable work that grows your business.

You wouldn’t hire someone to mop the floor and pay them $75 an hour. Yet that’s exactly what doing it yourself might be, effectively.

Fertilize Your Garden

One of the other benefits of empowering people on the floor (in the cubicle, on the road, whatever) is that you make that person more valuable.

Just like compost or fertilizer strengthens the plants in a garden, empowering your staff has a similar impact.

It engages them more closely in your business, makes them worth more in the marketplace (and thus to your business) and allows them to gain more skill in making decisions. The better they get, the less time you spend on those decisions, giving you more time to focus on the big picture.

Failure to “fertilize your garden” leads to the next topic…

Vacationus Interruptus

Once in a great while, you probably like to take a day off.

You’d love to leave for a week and come back to a business without 100 emails about decisions that “couldn’t be made while you were gone”.

You’d probably love to take a vacation and not have your cell ring every hour with a question about a decision that, now that you’re on vacation, seems like an annoying interruption.

Empower. Delegate. And enjoy that vacation.

Being Prepared

One of the things Scoutmasters teach their Scouts is the Scout motto – “Be Prepared.”

We don’t stand around saying those words all that much (or ever, really).

When I ask a Scout what it means to them, I get a lot of different answers. I talk about it with the boys because I’m curious what it means to them – which tells me where they are preparedness-wise.

Depending on their age and their seriousness when I ask the question, I hear answers that include things like:

  • knowing how to select the right gear for a campout,
  • having the right fishing lures,
  • making sure that bacon is on the menu (not kidding),
  • being in good enough shape for the upcoming hike,
  • making sure the car is full of gas and has proper levels of other fluids/air and so on,
  • having charged batteries in the camera,
  • having a sharpened pocket knife,
  • knowing how to tie a rescue knot, or
  • having the proper gear to safely canoe or kayak a river/stream.

What it ultimately means to me is being prepared for what life/business serves up, whether it’s a class V rapid, an unexpected flat tire during a snowstorm in a remote area, that five figure invoice that your “customer” still hasn’t paid, the new box store down the street, mention of your business in the Wall Street Journal, by Scoble and on TechCrunch, or stumbling upon an idea that changes your life and/or business.

Embarrassment? No.

To someone who has a job, I ask them what they would do if they lost their job today? Are they honing a new or enhanced skill so that they can react quickly to a downturn in what they’ve done for the past 20 years? Do they have a network of people in their current (or desired) line of work that could help them identify opportunities?

To someone who has a business, I might ask them what would happen if the building housing their business burned down, or if their biggest customer stopped buying from them, or if they suddenly got 100 new customers tomorrow.

I don’t ask these questions to embarrass employees or business owners any more than I ask them to embarrass a Scout when asking them what would happen if their friend cut his hand or lost his water bottle on a week-long hike. I ask them so they’ll think about their level of preparedness.

Being prepared isn’t just about having a poncho in case it rains, having backups offsite, and having a marketing plan that never stops finding new customers for you. It’s also about being mentally prepared to deal with what happens next.

Be prepared, not only to take a punch, but to make big leaps when opportunities present themselves.