Adjust The Sails


Pessimist.  Optimist.  Realist.

If you had to characterize your business personality into one of these three types, which would you choose?

Did you pick one?  

Why do I ask?  Well, I stumbled on a fantastic quote the other day that I thought would make a great focus for an article.  Have you read this before?

“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” – William Arthur Ward

When thinking about your company and your business strategy do you find yourself complaining about forces that are thrust upon you?  

New regulations, more competition, employee challenges, supplier problems, customers forever beating you down on prices.  You name it.  And of course, the 500 lb. gorilla in the room and the favorite topic of stand up comedians and TV talking heads everywhere, the new US president, Donald Trump.  How will his new tenure affect your business?  Who knows?

Do you expect things will magically change in your future for the better?  Are you wondering what to do next?  I’ll give you a hint.  Plan on the third choice above.  The one that starts with the word Real. 

Learn to adjust your sails for the wind.  

Below are a few tips that might help you out as you look to make some strategic changes:

Clear Up Confusion – Change Your Direction

When was the last time you took a hard look at your business?  What is your number one goal?  To make a profit of course.  The bigger the better.

Does your shop do anything that seems like busy work?  Do you regularly take jobs that are losers or work with customers that drive you crazy?  Maybe you have some equipment that you bought years ago, like a cylindrical press or a DTG printer…but you rarely, if ever, use it.

Rather than just keep doing the same thing and expect a different result, what if you either:

a) developed a better business plan to handle those areas of concern,


b) scrapped those problems and eliminated them forever by going in a different direction.

Plenty of shops have a great entrepreneurial spirit and try new things.  Have you bought some equipment that you don’t use now?  Do you offer production services that you honestly don’t do very well?  Do you possibly serve markets that aren’t aligned with your primary business focus?

I’m here to tell you that you it is ok to say NO, or change the way you do business with customers.  Increase your pricing or your minimums.  Change your lead times.  Get some help or training to understand the technical aspects of those challenges better.  Sell off that equipment you don’t use.  Hire that salesperson.  Redesign your website.

The point is to do something.  Sitting on your butt isn’t helping.  Be the change that you seek.


Have you somehow lost touch with people that matter?  Your employees, your business partners, maybe even your core customers?

When was the last time you had a meaningful face to face conversation?  Not a work or job related dialog, but good old fashioned “Hey, how are you doing?” connection-driven discussion?

What are their concerns?  What are their fears?  What is really going on in their lives?

We get so busy and wrapped up in getting that next order out the door or other critical tasks that we miss one of the most truisms out there and that is people like to do business with people that sincerely care.  

On a scale of 1 to 10 rate your empathy level towards others that surround your business.  Employees, customers, suppliers, your neighbors.  Do you think that they would give you that same number rating?

Guess what?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  It’s not too late!  

Get up out of your chair and go thank someone.  Stop in and see how someone is doing.  Take someone out to lunch or dinner or just buy them a cup of coffee.  It doesn’t matter.  The goal here to just take some action and reconnect with others.  Do it!

Add Value Rather Than a Discount

When you strategize on building your customer base, is the first idea out of our mouth giving someone a discount or offering up a big sale to attract more business?  Companies that don’t offer much of anything in value are the first ones to slash their prices.  What are you showing the world?

What if you took a harder and more difficult journey instead and thought of ways that you could add value to the customer facing relationship, and either keep your margin or even increase it?

To do this you have to think like your customer.  Don’t spend another minute trying to cram your idea of what you want to sell down their throat.  Instead, spend some quality time discussing what are the most important things that matter to them.  

Is it speed?  As in – can I have it tomorrow or even today?  What would you need to do in order to build that service?

Is it easy?  As in – doing business with your company is so simple and quick that everyone else seems to be traveling in slow motion and mired in quicksand.  What technology is out there that can help with that?

Is it creativity?  As in – your designs and creative thinking are so different than anyone else in your market that people will flock to you and just hand over wads of cash to get it.  If you don’t have these fantastic earth shattering ideas coming from your team, what would you need to get them?  A different team perhaps?

Is it quality?  As in – best in industry craftsmanship.  You lead the pack and everyone else wonders how you constantly pull it off.  There never is a problem.  What do you think it takes to build that mousetrap?

Is it new?  As in – nobody has ever seen this before.  This is the hardest of all, as you will fail more than you will succeed in building the new.  But if your new takes off…winner winner chicken dinner.

What’s Not Working?

Internally what policies or procedures aren’t working?  This could be anything from your employee handbook to how you take credit cards.

You have these rules in place for a reason, as it helps standardize tasks and keeps all the canoes going in the same direction.  However, often we invent these things or adopt a policy and then years later it just doesn’t make sense.  Times change.

Are you sticking by these things because “that’s how we have always done it”?  Are you too stuck in the mud to change your thinking and find a new way that works better?

Sure, I can hear you now.  “I don’t have time for that!”  

However, you still have time to get frustrated on how that challenge impacts your business.  That low murmur from the break room is your staff grumbling about how “nothing ever changes around here.” 

Maybe it is because the person in charge can’t get in front of the change because they don’t know how, don’t believe in doing anything differently, are too lazy or even too invested in keeping their control in place so everything is in a constant lockdown mode.

Which is why none of your antiquated company policies ever evolve.  

So, get out of that rut and list the top company policies that just aren’t working and do something about them.  Discuss everything with your staff.  Get their opinion.  Let go of the control a little bit and find out how a better solution can be reached by talking to the people the policies will impact.  What makes the most sense?

Then write up the “new way” and test it out.  Give it a short period and see how it works.  Not good enough?  Tweak it some more.  After it settles in, make it the new standard.  Problem solved.

Feedback Loop

Speaking of feedback, when was the last time you sent out a “how are we doing” survey?  Last year?  Never?

A lot of companies use these to gauge performance and find out any areas of concern or opportunity.  I wouldn’t limit this task to just customers though.  Feedback from your suppliers and also your employees can be extremely valuable as well.

Of course you can do one that is ratings based.  Many companies use a scorecard for performance too.

However, the more complicated you make it and the more questions you ask, the less survey returns you are going to get.  Nobody wants to take a test.

Can you structure your feedback survey to just one question?  Not enough info?  What about two?

Will it be anonymous?  For employees, the more they are tied to their name, the less critical they will be as they will be scared of repercussions.  For more honest results try to keep it so answers can’t be tied to one person.  There are plenty of tools to use,ranging from Survey Monkey to just a simple notecard that is put in a box.

Here’s one thought though.  What if instead of glowing praise, your results from your survey are hard to read?  It’s a dog pile of negativity.  Would you want to know?  No?  Is that like burying your head in the sand like an ostrich?

Sometimes the hardest to hear truths are the most valuable.  You have to have the courage to ask.  If you do get some unexpected answers, make sure you listen to them and act on the change.  Do something with it.

Get the Help

Not everyone or every company is positioned to fix what they need to get to the next level.  The biggest challenge for a lot of folks is that they need to do something, but just can’t.  

Either they lack the skill, the time or the resources to pull it off.  So what do you do then?

Easy, you bring in a ringer.  This is a company or person that has the knowledge, the skill and the time to help you.  You are surrounded by these people already.  (…ahem, me!…)

They work in your supply chain.  They teach classes at trade shows.  They sell you the equipment, shirts, thread or the ink.  They repair your machines.  They have websites and publish articles on solving problems.  They maybe even work in your shop already.

The first step to make any change is simply identifying what it is.  

Narrow down the challenge by writing it as a simple sentence.  “We are having a problem with _________, and this is caused by ___________.  If we change this __________, we can get better with __________________.”  Or something similar.  Define your problem.

Who can help with this?  How big is the problem?  If you could resolve the challenge today, would you?  

So what are you waiting for?

Marathon Not a Sprint

Lastly, part of the adjustment that might be needed is to review and change how you perceive your week.

Many hustle from one crazy critical “the earth is going to stop rotating if I don’t handle this right now” task to the next all day long.  At the end of the day or week, we are so burned out that we become zombies at home.  Not fun.

Life is a marathon, not a sprint.  We are all in this for the long haul.

You need to make time for yourself.  Eat right.  Exercise.  Spend time with your kids, spouse or grandparents.  Take a vacation.  Laugh.  Read a book.

The constant perception is that we always have to be hustling.  Slow down a bit.  Delegate some of the tasks to others in your workplace and let them try their hand at it.  Call it training, but you’ll refer to it as peace of mind  when you can get more done in a day without actually having to do the chore.

Another great tip is to simply just change a habit or something that gets in the way of something else.

For instance, how many times a day do you check your cell phone?  Try skipping checking an hour or two (or more) a day and see how much more you get accomplished!  What if you just put it on the charger at 6:00 pm and left it there?  Will the world come to an end?  I started doing that a few years ago, and I’m much happier.  People are still ok with me getting back to them in the morning.

Part of adjusting your sails is to find calmer seas and smooth sailing.  Your mental and physical direction are part of that course correction too.

So, here’s to you skipper!  Adjust your sails handsomely now.


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