Small Business Lessons from the Crossing Guard

By: John Herman

While out running errands the other day, I found myself stopped at a crosswalk. The crossing guard was leading young schoolchildren across the quiet street in a very organized fashion. I thought to myself, "What will the children do when they have to cross a busy street by themselves?" Hopefully they will learn by following the crossing guard's system. I often work with small businesses that need help crossing busy streets. They had no trouble in the beginning, when traffic was light. But now that their business has grown, the traffic is much heavier and the street much busier. Many could use a crossing guard to help them safely cross. However, most business owners don't have a crossing guard and they have to cross on their own. Don't worry, if you remember the lessons of the crossing guard: Stop, Look, Listen, Think, and Walk....Don't Run; you'll be able to safely cross the street no matter how heavy the traffic.

Stop
You wouldn't just run across the street would you? No, you'd stop first! Stop and take some time to evaluate your business. Where is it going? Up until now, you've run your business all by yourself. Now you need to add more staff, develop a plan and a budget. There seems to be thousands of options. Stop and take some time to think about it - don't make snap decisions!

Look
Would you cross the street without looking? No, you'd look both ways! Take stock of your business. Look at what you've done in the past and what you're doing now. Look at what works and what doesn't? Look at what your competitors are doing and what seems to be working for them? Look at ways to incorporate some of those ideas into your business.

Listen
Would you cross the street if you heard a siren? No, you'd listen to see what was happening! Talk to your clients and listen to what they say. Talk to your staff (if you have any) and listen to their ideas. Talk to your vendors and listen to their perspective. You can learn a great deal from people who experience your service or product on different levels.

Think
Once you've stopped, looked both ways, and listened, then it's time to think about when and how to cross the street. The same is true for your business. Take some time to think about it. Develop some plans and then evaluate which plan will work best. Determine what would be involved, when it will happen and what you need to make it happen. Intuition can be your best guide. Often, if it looks too good to be true, it is. Make sure the plan is a realistic one you can follow.

Walk...Don't Run
Would you run across the street if there wasn't enough time to walk? No, you'd stop and make sure you had enough time to cross the street safely! The same is true as you implement your plan - make sure you don't rush it. Remember plans change. Make sure you don't lock yourself into anything and always reevaluate as you go along. Rushing into something can be costly and you may back yourself into a corner. You might really get hurt.

It may seem overwhelming, but you can do it. When you were a kid, it was overwhelming to cross a busy street for the first time, but you did it. As a business owner it can be overwhelming as your business grows, but if you follow these "lessons from the crossing guard", you'll be taking steps to ensure your business succeeds, safely. We call those Succeeding Steps!

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