It’s not typical to get small business guidance on a ski slope, but one of the most useful pieces of advice I ever got came when I first learned to ski many years ago: “Commit yourself to the turn.” Whenever you want to go in a new direction—in skiing or small business—you have to follow the same advice: “Commit yourself to the turn.”
Skiing is all about turns. As a beginner, you make big turns across the entire width of the ski run. If you’re like I was—a little cautious and timid in a new sport—you go slowly as you make these turns. As a result, there’s a moment in each turn in which you realize you’re facing straight downhill. That’s when you get scared.
Now here’s the interesting part: if you stay committed—if you don’t let fear get the best of you—your body moves you around, safely completing the turn. If you waver, thinking, “Oh my gosh, I don’t want to go straight down,” then you stop turning and actually end up facing downhill—exactly what you wanted to avoid.
Business, too, is all about making turns. When you start a company, you have a pretty good idea of where you want to go, but you can quickly find you have to change your plan—sometimes slightly, sometimes a great deal. As you continue in business, you discover there are times that call for you to make turns, some dramatic. When new competition enters the market, your profit margins erode, or new technologies create vast differences in how you conduct business, you have to go in a new direction.
I’ve certainly learned this in my own small business. My company, PlanningShop, is the country’s leading publisher of books and software tools for small business and entrepreneurship. But in the time I’ve been in business, the book publishing industry has undergone major disruption, with a huge online competitor, retail sales plummeting, the popularity of e-readers rising (and now beginning to level off).
In response, I’ve had to make major turns—or pivots—to keep my company successful. We’ve had to change direction on our markets; change direction from print to ebooks, and now we are moving towards being a fully digital company. All these changes can be scary—just like that moment when I was facing downhill on the ski slope.
In each case, I’ve reminded myself: “Commit yourself to the turn.”
You may be timid as you set off on a new course, or you may rush quickly into it. Whatever your confidence level at the beginning, as you get into your turn—as you start to face and deal with the consequences of the choices you’ve made—you may be scared.
That’s when you have to commit yourself to the turn. When you are developing a new direction for your company—a new project, expansion, technologies—you have to follow through with enough support, resources, and especially time, to give it a reasonable chance of success.
If you are working with others, especially employees in a small company, it’s particularly important that you personally stay committed. Employees take their lead from you, their leader. If you waver in your resolution to your new project, employees will feel uncertain about their future and will hesitate to make the necessary changes to help ensure success. You have to believe. You have to stay the course.
That doesn’t mean you can’t examine and readjust the details of the choices you’ve made. You can and should. But be careful: I’ve seen many companies that either pull the plug on a project too soon, or, more often, commit only half-heartedly to new undertakings. Both approaches lead to failure: Ending a project too soon means you haven’t given it enough time to prove whether it can succeed.
When you don’t commit yourself to the turn, you’re going to end up facing straight downhill. As you make a change in your business life, indeed in any part of your life, follow through sufficiently to give it a chance to succeed. Give your new direction enough energy and commitment to create the momentum to carry you through the inevitable rough spots. Commit yourself to the turn.
Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2016
This article originally ran in USA Today on January 22, 2016