Mark Richardson's Think Business: What keeps you up at night?

While most of my business advice pertains to what you do or think about during the workday, sometimes a better question to ask is: “What keeps you up at night?” Or, more accurately, what wakes you up at night and makes it tough to go back to sleep.

November 16, 2012

While most of my business advice pertains to what you do or think about during the workday, sometimes a better question to ask is: “What keeps you up at night?” Or, more accurately, what wakes you up at night and makes it tough to go back to sleep. This topic may be therapeutic, and it may lead to an interesting discussion among members of your leadership team.

In a recent survey of top remodeling leaders around the country, this “awake at night” question generated an abundance of responses. Not surprisingly more than 50 percent of the responses cited “uncertainty about the future.” Uncertainty about the stock market causes investors to be more conservative. Uncertainly about the weather affects what we wear. Uncertainty does not translate to fear that the world will end or fear that a business will survive. Uncertainty is simply not knowing if the assumptions we make will apply in the future. In business, uncertainty is a tough place to be.

For business leaders, uncertainty always exists. Did you predict 9/11 and the effect on air travel? Or would you have ever predicted 10 years ago that interest rates would be almost zero percent today? Uncertainty is paralyzing. It is like a virus or cancer, and once you believe so many things are uncertain, you begin to think everything is uncertain. Will the phone ring tomorrow? Will my key sales guy stay with my company?

I believe having some low level of fear is healthy for a business and for all of us personally. It can keep us sharper and help us not take for granted what we do and our need for adjustment and change. I also feel we all need to be rational and play the odds. The following are a few insights and tips to frame the subject of uncertainty but also to help you get a little more sleep at night.

Focus on the facts not just the emotions and feelings

Your emotions are important but can keep you from being rational about the future. For example, you know that your prospects value their most important asset, their home. Their home is not going to improve itself. Clients are not going to move into a cave and abandon it. It is a question of when and with whom, not whether they will improve their home. So you need to be more aggressive in your efforts to get the opportunities and convince your prospective clients that remodeling is not only good, but also necessary so “their home does not die.”  Now is a great time to remodel. With low interest rates and uncertainty in the stock market, what better place is there to plant a few dollars?

Play the odds

In times of uncertainty, you need to be a little more conservative and play the odds. If you know that past clients are a good source of new business, then you may want to pursue more marketing strategies wrapped around past clients. If you are thinking about launching a new product or service, you may want to take a little more time to flesh it out before pulling the trigger. Again what you want to do in more uncertain times is to increase your odds for success, not hide under your bed.

Think about the flip side

Write down all the things that uncertainty brings: your business not growing; your team becoming disillusioned, your frustration from not doing or trying new things, etc. You and your team should write down all the things that uncertainty brings. Then you should follow up by writing down a question I often ask myself: “What is the worst thing that can happen?” This list will show that the worst is not so bad and help you pick the winners. This exercise brings conviction and confidence.

None of us have a crystal ball, and I do not believe in psychics. It is the business leader’s job to be the guiding light and help make sense out of uncertain times. It is your job to make the right decisions in uncertain times. It is the business leader’s job to inspire others and reduce some of the fog and fear they have for the future. This is not easy but is extremely important to not only survive but also to thrive. PR

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Mark Richardson, CR, is a member of the NAHB Remodeling Hall of Fame and a Fellow on the Remodeling Futures Steering Committee at Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. Richardson is the author of the best-selling book, “How Fit is Your Business,” and a forthcoming book, “Fit to Grow,” to be published this fall.

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