Did you ever feel like you were in a truly dark business situation? So far deep into the woods that you wondered, “How did I get here?” That you asked yourself, “How do I get out of this mess?” I’ll certainly share my dark business situations with you, but I would rather illustrate this point with a dark personal situation that’s perhaps a more applicable parallel.
While planning for this post, I found myself in the woods on my property, in the thickest wooded brush I’d ever seen. It was 90+ degrees outside and I was suffering from heat exhaustion. Six yellow jackets decided to evict me by stinging me multiple times on my hands and face (three stings to my index finger knuckle alone, by the way). I was panting, and I couldn’t stop sweating. My muscles began to spasm and cramp due to fluid loss. It was lonely in the woods far from my house as I stood sick and injured, feeling defeated in my battle with nature.
To rewind, surveyors from an energy firm had trespassed on our property to survey for a 36-inch gas pipeline through our land. The pipeline would cross our land and creeks for natural-gas extraction, distribution and exportation. My intellectual and pacifist wife decided to confront and remove three surveyors personally. She called me for help, but I couldn’t get to her due to the thickness of the brush, so I called the police. A husband finds himself in stressful situations at times. After the police left, I told myself, “Never again will the thickness of brush stand between her safety and me.”
There’s a parallel between my battle with nature and the battles we face in business. Sometimes, a situation can look very dark in business. A recession hits and customers stop buying, or the bank wants its money back after one bad year. Investors’ performance expectations remain unmet. Perhaps a disgruntled employee decides to sue for wrongful termination. Whatever the dark situation, you’re in the thick of it.
Take heart in the knowledge that this dark situation is temporary. There is a way out. It won’t be easy, but with planning, persistence and a willingness to try new strategies, you’ll be out of the darkness before you know it.
For example, imagine needing to clear a path through three acres of brush to protect your family.
What are the strategic alternatives?
- Call a landscaper. Approximate cost: $1,250, due three weeks from today.
- Rent a herd of goats, complete with goat herder, and put a fence around them, like Rent-A-Goat does in California. (It’s not available in New Jersey, and I wonder why, but damn, that would have been fun.) Approximate cost: $800 an acre.
- Grab your chainsaw and get to work. Perhaps your dutiful son will help. Yeah, OK. Approximate cost: less than $50, with immediate delivery, plus a lot of work.
- Go to the corner store in town where migrant workers gather for hire and try to negotiate in a foreign language. Approximate cost: about $480 over two days. (This situation would probably be unsafe due to chainsaws and communication barriers.)
Even in the darkest situation, whether it’s a forest or a business, there’s more than one way to the light. After venting—you’re human and entitled to do so—take some time to consider your strategic alternatives. From my experience, most business people forget to do this. You might even find a fun alternative—remember the goats! Consider the time, cost and probable outcomes before deciding on the solution. Your actions under stress define the type of businessperson you are—not necessarily the things you say.
The loneliest moments in business for me are when I’m having problems and no one is available to help. Like my pained body fighting the brush alone. Daunted by the task ahead of me, I decided to look back at my progress. I hadn’t realized how far I’d come. I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I knew it was close—much closer than the beginning of my path. I felt strengthened by this vision and continued my journey vigorously.
If you find yourself in a dark business situation and need some help exploring strategic alternatives, please provide as many of the details as you’re comfortable doing in the comments section below. By day, I advise established business owners on strategic alternatives. By night, during the spring and fall, I teach strategic business planning. It’s what I do, and I am honored to share my experiences and would be honored to help you progress. Who knows? We might even find your goat.