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The Run of Your Life

If I had to run a distance of five miles faster than a relatively fit attacker, I would probably die. No, I’m sure I would die. In fact, less than two miles into running my fastest, I would probably turn around and beg the attacker to kill me.

Why? Because I am not fit enough to run at top speed for five miles, and adrenaline alone can only take one so far before muscles and oxygen give out.

If I was told I had until next week to prepare myself to run five miles at top speed or die, I would pull in every favor I am owed and go into deep hiding. I know for a fact that I could not prepare myself for that in a week. Willingness, optimism, and even deep determination are ultimately no replacement for fitness developed with disciplined practice over time.

If I was told I had until next month to prepare myself to run five miles at top speed or die, I would start to train. I would train as many hours a day as the best trainer I could hire would allow me to train and I would follow his or her every instruction to the letter. I would beg, borrow, and sell my favorite belongings in order to afford that trainer. Yet even as I worked with incredible focus and intent, I would wonder if my muscles, bones, circulation, and respiratory system could possibly strengthen as much as necessary in the very short time I had. And every night before passing out I would curse myself for being so out of shape in the first place.

I don’t particularly expect a death threat any time soon, and if I do experience one, it’s unlikely to come from someone who is angry enough to chase me for five miles. So I probably won’t start training as if my life depends on it. I’ll keep up my somewhat desultory exercise regimen and continue to eat healthy food, but I’m just not motivated to train for a mini-marathon.

But if you are a small business owner, the chances that someone (you, your partner, your unprepared staff, an ill-chosen advisor, or a competitor) will run your business down and kill it are remarkably high. The statistics say your business has more than a 74% chance of being killed within five years of start-up. If statistics showed that I had a 74% or greater chance of having to run five miles for my life in the next five years, there would be nothing desultory about my exercise regimen right now.

It takes time, good training, discipline, and practice practice practice to prepare your business for the run of its life. Trying on various sales strategies for size, dabbling in one technology idea after another, launching a website, deciding to play in social media, sending out an eNewsletter – these are all parts and pieces of a strategy, and then only if the strategy itself warrants those activities. If your business fitness approach is to stick your toe in the water here and there to see if anything works, you’re just delaying the inevitable.

Personally (quite personally – I’m a small business owner just like you), I take these odds very seriously. Though I can be a bit of a slacker on my personal fitness, I started training to beat the business odds from day one. This includes a carefully crafted strategy, a sales and marketing plan designed to achieve the strategy, a talent plan that identified which types of skills we would need at each phase of our growth, a technology plan that included trying to conceive of which technology would make us most competitive five and ten years in the future, and contingency plans for each type of aggressor that might pop out of a dark alley and try to run us down. We follow our training regimen every day, and if we sometimes fall off the wagon, we have metrics and other types of alert in place to sound the alarm and firmly place us back on track.

You don’t have to be a betting man to appreciate these odds, and you won’t want to wait until you feel the breath on your neck. Commit to the strategy, plans, and training regimen your business needs right now; you’ll run faster than ever before, you won’t waste energy looking over your shoulder, and you will be able to sprint –with relative ease – each time conditions tell you it’s time to run.

© 2010. Andrea M. Hill

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