Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Running the River

If you’ve ever been whitewater rafting you know the power and energy the current has – it can be intoxicating and fun – but at times dangerous.  And if you have to change directions, you might be lucky to steer just a few feet – with tremendous effort and everyone working in unison.  

An owner is also faced with what I call "The River".  Keeping the momentum of sales and delivery moving; enabling their employees and keeping the organization functioning as healthy, productive teams; keeping everyone focused, all the while fending off competition;  juggling the pressure of cash flow; risk to their net worth; and managing time away from family and friends.

When all of the pieces fit together, are working smoothly, and you’re passing your competition, being carried by the river is intoxicating and fun.  But when the river is carrying you to a class 5 rapid or worse, the river can be draining and dangerous. 

And if you haven’t had to make a shift before?  If you’re fortunate, you plan for the change, execute, and it happens.  But if it doesn’t, you’ve got less time, energy, and money – and still have to change.
I’ve experienced all of these in my own career.  I was lucky enough to catch a major trend (companies looking to move from paper to scanned documents) and the momentum of companies looking to get rid of paper made growth easier.  

-        The first time I experienced the risk of change was hiring a salesperson.  We had to have one to grow.  I learned a hard lesson:  sales guys know how to game the interviews and if one doesn’t work, then you’ve had a double whammy – you’ve spent money and you don’t have sales.  So it’s double down to fill that gap, then try again.  Talk about draining.

-        Another time was a much harder question – I was bored with my business.  That’s when an owner really separates from the rest of the world – there’s no "I’ll get a new job".  In fact, in this scenario, rather than feeling invigorated and intoxicated, the feeling shifts to feeling trapped and eventually desperate.  Doubling down – my go-to solution – couldn’t solve that problem for me.  

All of these are reasons that CEO peer groups are so important for owners.  It’s like having an expert guide, right when you need them: “I’ve been there and here’s what I learned” or “From where I sit, it looks like you could take this fork up the way”.

As Terry often notes, entrepreneurs are very good a breaking even – what happens when you look up and realize you’ve been paddling like crazy for 5 or 6 years and don’t have anything to show for it.  It’s a cruel irony when a sharp, hardworking entrepreneur ends up trapped and drained.  

This blog series will cover strategies and tactics for making the current your friend and for better handling the cases where it’s not.  Let’s all see the returns that our hard work and risk deserves.


PS:  If you have any specific scenarios that are of interest or you’re dealing with, don’t hesitate to let me know.  

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