Submitted by Robin Suomi, MBA, founder of Startup to Growth, LLC. (C) 2016. All rights reserved.
Top 10 Small Business Lessons
I Learned on the Bike Trail
(Part 1 of 2)
I began biking on a local railroad trial this summer to get back into shape. While on the trail enjoying nature, pushing myself to my limit, taking longer and longer rides, renewing my biking skills and reaching my personal goals, I was struck by how much the lessons I was learning on the trail mirrored the small business lessons I have learned and regularly share with my clients as they 1) launch or 2) grow their businesses. It is no surprise that they all surround planning – either planning my bike outings or small business planning.
Here are the Top 10 Small Business Lessons I learned on the Bike Trail this past summer while reaching my goal – biking 30 miles despite 98 degree weather in Northern Virginia.
1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
BIKE: When you are biking in the summer, water means survival. In 98+ degree summer weather around our nation’s capital, you can get in physical trouble pretty quickly without water. Always take frequent hydration breaks while biking, carry extra water, and never pass up a trail water fountain.
BUSINESS: In your business, cash equals water. You’ve heard the phrase, Cash is King. Well, it is. You must make sure you have enough startup capital to launch your business and enough working capital to keep your doors open, paying your expenses and yourself until your sales are steady, your company is profitable and you can take a regular paycheck or draw. Make it part of your financial projections in your business plan!
As a startup, it is not easy to get a loan. You will likely fund your business from your savings, use a crowd-funding platform, charge items to your credit card or maybe even borrow from friends and family. Be very, very careful of each one of these sources of cash. If you are like many small business owners, you will start your business “on the side,” keeping your steady paycheck until one day when you can quit your day job. Or you will start your business more slowly and more carefully than you would if you had, say, an open spigot of free-flowing cash.
MEGA TIP: An open spigot of cash often makes you careless in your business, and can actually cost you a lot of time/money down the line. Start lean and learn your lessons as you grow.
2. Snacks are your energy
BIKE: Once your water is taken care of, make sure you have snacks for a steady supply of energy on a long ride. Find out what snacks travel best on the trail, are easy to eat, carry a big punch of energy, don’t spoil, etc. And make sure they’re things you like because then you will enjoy them! Snacks help ensure you will finish your long rides in good health and reach your goal.
BUSINESS: Your customers are your business’s energy supply. Just land a new client? Huge, huge burst of energy! Is it a customer you really enjoy working with and is squarely within your target market? Even more energy! Potential long-term customer? Woo-hoo! If you don’t have enough customers over time you won’t have a business. Make sure you have a business plan that identifies your target customer and outlines a plan to get them through the door and their money into your bank account!
MEGA TIP: If you’re low on customers, you will take on customers who are very difficult to work with, are never (ever) satisfied, don’t pay their bills, and who make your business life harder than you ever thought possible. As quickly as possible, create a plan to get rid of those customers and replace them with better customers.
PARALLEL MEGA TIP FOR HR: I remember discussing this point with one client. After thinking about it, he fired about 80% of his part-time staff, and began raking in the money. He got rid of the nonperformers.
3. Watch out for snakes
BIKE: Yes, there are snakes on the bike trail. Some you recognize as snakes, and some you don’t. Some you will see, and most you won’t. Some are poisonous, and some are not. No matter. In my book, snakes are snakes. If I see one, I get the heck out of there because I rarely see any good coming from a snake.
BUSINESS: Yes, there are snakes in business, too. Some you recognize as snakes, and some you don’t. Some you recognize instantly as “poisonous,” and some you don’t. Examples of “poisonous snakes” in business might be people who have questionable ethics, play “politics” and have a personal goal to hurt you or your business, knowingly infringe on your trademark, try to steal your clients, copy your ideas, or spread insidious lies or half-truths around about you or your company. No matter. In business, when you recognize a “snake,” your steps are clear.
- First, decide if you must (must, not simply want to, but must) protect your flank against the snake.
- Second, if you must, then protect it, whatever that means legally, ethically and morally in your specific situation.
- But third, if you don’t need to protect your flank, then simply bike away as quickly as possible! If you concentrate so much on the snake that you take your eyes off your goals, the snake wins.
Consider consulting your mastermind group to help you identify and decide what to do with your snakes. We get emotionally engaged with our snakes, and that is usually not a good thing. Take the emotion out of it. Just deal with the snakes.
I don’t know about you, but I hate to lose to a snake, and I rarely do.
MEGA TIP: Snakes are more scared of you than you are of them. With “business snakes,” it is typically THEIR insecurity, jealousy, fear, missteps in the past, repercussions, etc. — things they have experienced and carried with them — that makes them want to take it out on you. Again, it’s a snake, regardless of what’s behind it. Seek an outside perspective if you are too close to it, continue to be the best you can be at what you are doing, and move on.
4. Out-bike the gnats
BIKE: Now and again you bike into a swarm of gnats. They are annoying and slightly bothersome, but not a real threat. Just out-bike them and leave them in your wake!
BUSINESS: In business, gnats are those annoying competitors who are constantly swarming, nipping, or even (ineffectually) trying to draw blood. No worries. They are gnats. Focus on YOUR goals and out-compete them! Again, a solid business plan will keep you focused on YOUR goals and guide you here!
5. It’s amazing what happens when you ride a unicycle!
BIKE: On the trail in Northern Virginia, you see tons and tons of the typical, two-wheeled, 18-speed bikes. What stands out are the rare unicycles, or occasional horse, or even the motor propelled go-carts. Note to self: Actually the motorized go-cart is illegal, so don’t go there.
BUSINESS: In business, are you a unicycle or are you a two-wheeler? Are you impressively standing out through your marketing, excellent products/services, community engagement and business practices, or are you simply in the middle of the pack, jumping up and down, wildly waving your hands and shouting “me, too! me, too!”? The “unicycle” approach might mean you are king or queen of a narrow, focused and specialized niche. Assuming your business foundation is rock solid, then with the proper SEO and online marketing techniques this can be a more lucrative approach than jumping up and down, waving wildly, shouting “me, too!” Honestly, that is exhausting.
Be different. Find your unicycle.
My next blog post will cover the final five lessons learned from the trail.
Robin Suomi, MBA, founder of Startup to Growth, LLC has helped thousands of small business owners over the past 10+ years launch and/or grow their small businesses through 1-1 counseling/coaching, small business mastermind groups, seminars and workshops. In addition to designing her signature Business Plan Boot Camp course, she has taught Business 101 and Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management courses as an adjunct professor. Startup to Growth, LLC also writes business plans for their clients through customized coaching/business planning packages. Contact Robin for specific details and current pricing at [email protected]
Executive Director of the Loudoun Small Business Development Center (SBDC), Inc. for 9+ years, Robin’s complete bio is available at www.startuptogrowth.com.