I want you to picture something in your mind.

You are out on a frozen lake. It’s bitterly cold. The wind is whipping by, and it’s so strong it feels like needles stinging your face. You are trying to shuffle across the ice to the other side of the lake. About thirty seconds ago, you passed the halfway mark and can easily see the gently sloping shoreline that you want to reach.

Then, like the sound of a gunshot, you hear CRACK!

Your mind races as that only could mean one thing. Thin ice.

The thought of the ice giving away and you plunging down into the frozen black depths below has your heart pounding a million beats per minute.

If you can just get across…

A Metaphor for our Industry

While your business may be fantastic right now, are you out on the lake with some of your customers?

Most of the time we’re just head-down, cranking out orders. We aren’t thinking of things from our customer’s perspectives much. Which is why when there is a shift, it can feel like that heart-dropping sound of ice breaking when your customer stops using you.

For many customers though, they won’t tell you they are moving on. They simply stop sending orders in or using you. Then, you are dog-paddling in the icy cold water without even a warning.

In keeping with this train of thought, here are a few guidelines for you to think about to keep from falling in when the thin ice gives away:

Plan Ahead – Give Yourself Sufficient Time and Plan Your Route

Winter conditions can make the going tough. It’s the ability to plan that allows you to travel safely and arrive when and where you want to go.

How much planning goes on in your business? Do you even have a business plan? A marketing plan?

When I ask, about 75% or so of the business owners that I talk to on a regular basis don’t have a plan. Winging it is more the norm.

“But Marshall, we’ve been in business for over fifteen years and have operated without those. That’s too much work for us. We don’t need them. Right?”

Are you sure a sound plan isn’t needed? What happens when your luck runs out, or market conditions change? Are you completely satisfied with your sales right now?

Want to make a million dollars more next year?

A dream written down with a date becomes a goal. A goal broken down into steps becomes a plan. A plan backed by action makes your dreams come true.

Spend some time and plan a safe route across the lake.

Wear Shoes or Boots That Provide Traction

Are you using the right tools for the job?

Think about this. I was speaking with someone the other day about their website. It looked great and they were very proud of it.

“What’s the sales revenue from the website?”, I asked.

“Nothing so far”, they said.

“Is it supposed to drive sales, or is it basically a fancy business card?”, I wondered.

“No, we want sales. That’s its purpose.”

So let’s talk about tools for the job. Your website is a tool. The cell phone in your hand is a tool. Your embroidery or printing equipment are tools. You have and use a lot of tools in your business every single day.

Are you getting the results that you should be getting from them? What is the expectation? Does reality match up with what’s in your head?

Again, and I hate to beat a dead horse here, but it all comes down to knowing your shop’s numbers. How you know if something is working or not is by measuring. What is an acceptable level? Are you below or above that number?

If you have a website that is designed for sales and you don’t have any does that mean the website tool is broken? Not necessarily. How are you driving customers to the site? What are you offering? Are people coming to the site and then leaving…or just not showing up at all?

You have to define your problem so you can solve it. That’s getting the traction on the ice.

Know why you are slipping.

Use Special Care When Moving Across The Ice

Nobody walks across the ice as they would across concrete or dirt. You walk and move differently.

Why?

So you won’t bust your butt!

You will move differently and take special care to avoid falling. Plus, you will keep your hands out of your pockets and take shorter and more frequent steps. It’s about being ready.

This is the same attitude you need to take with your customers. Are you ready for them?

Just like with the thickness of the ice, there are market conditions with your customers that you need to prepare for and be ready. Yes, the Boy Scouts motto of “Be Prepared” really does work.

Can you handle rush orders?

Everyone always takes these, but how is that last minute job jammed into your already packed production schedule going to work?

Will it cause delays on “normal” jobs?

Are you going to need overtime to get it out?

What special benchmarks do you need to hit with each step to be able to easily fit this in and get it produced?

Your Customer Contact Changes

People retire. Get promoted. Quit.

What do you think is going to happen when your reliable standby suddenly isn’t with that company any longer? A new face means new challenges. Years of history just vanished. That’s a big crack in the ice if I’ve ever seen one.

Do you have a plan ready to go for that circumstance? You should.

Like my high school football coach used to say, “If you stay ready you don’t have to get ready.”

Be ready.

There Is a Huge Problem

One thing I know in this business is that there is going to be a huge problem sooner or later. Something is going to happen, and your customer is going to be upset.

How are you going to react?

Are you instantly defensive? Do you own up to mistakes and try to correct them? Are you taking into account the Lifetime Customer Value of your customer when making decisions?

What about your staff? Are you training them in how to react to customer care crisis?

That’s a thin ice situation. Can you work as a team to move away from danger? What tools do you have at your disposal to assist in that effort?

This isn’t an “If” situation. It’s a “When”.

Walk On Known Pathways As Much As Possible

Avoiding thin ice can be achieved by keeping to known parts of a safer trail.

These are your Standard Operating Procedures. SOPs allow you to travel safely because you won’t venture out onto unknown and more dangerous parts of the lake.

So, are you defining that route in your shop? This is in all things, from gathering information and data when quoting…and all the way to how you follow up with the customer after the order ships.

For many companies that I have spoken to over the years, their staff blazes their own trail usually. Sure, they are all headed in the same direction to the other side of the lake, but they work independently on choosing the best route and navigating the journey.

“We don’t have time to hold everyone’s hand”, they say.

True. Prioritizing time can be a problem.

However, when a salesperson agrees to an unprofitable order or a staff member grabs the wrong screen or bucket of ink and uses it anyway, what are the repercussions of those actions?

Can you hear the sound of the ice cracking underneath your feet?

Help define the safe path for your team members to follow. Mark the trail.

Point out “why” it is safe to go this way. People need to understand the consequences of veering off the chosen path.

Label Your Fears

For some, treading out onto the lake where there might be some thin ice is reason enough not to start.

“I’m not going out there! Something might happen!”

This is why a lot of folks never start something that could benefit them.

Moving from one shore to another is important and necessary sometimes. You need to cross the frozen lake. There are rewards if you do, and you won’t get them if you stay on the safer shore.

You have to start.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t do so safely. By understanding that the ice could crack and doing what it takes to avoid the problem, or at least be ready for one, you can summon the courage to take action.

If that’s you on the shore nervous with trepidation, try this exercise:

Label Your Fear

  • Is it that you feel unprepared or unqualified? Take a class or get some help!
  • Maybe the challenge is financial. You don’t have the money you need to get everything you need. That might be true, but what can you do now to pull in sales and get some cash coming in?
  • You don’t have the skill to do what’s necessary. That’s ok! There are plenty of other people that can either do it for you or train you so you can learn the skill. Reach out!

What’s the absolute worst thing that could happen? That’s the sound you are going to hear if the ice breaks beneath your feet.

When you name that situation you can build a plan to avoid that problem. It’s the same as finding the safe path across the ice to the other side of the lake.

But if you don’t name that fear and do something about it, it’s the same as looking out across the pond and not starting because you dread something is going to happen “somewhere out there”.

Actions reveal priorities. Name the problem. Write it down. List all of the terrible things that could happen.

This is now your checklist to find your path across the ice safely. You know what to avoid.

Simply plan your route


“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” – Nelson Mandela

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit at home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” – Dale Carnegie

“If you know the enemy and you know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.” – Sun Tzu