Make Small Business Decisions ‘The Gambler’ Way: Hold, Fold, Walk Away, Run!
By Hector Botero
As a small business owner, you know the success of your company is all about decision making. Whether you’re a sole proprietor or a larger small business, you spend your days making decisions that directly affect your company from the small stuff (taking time off) to the big stuff (location, location, location). Or maybe the small stuff turns into big stuff based on a decision you made early on – taking a family vacation abroad when an unexpected crisis hits your industry at home. Now what? The decisions never stop coming.
Maybe Pandora can help. Let me explain.
In the middle of my own daily decision making Pandora played a familiar song – “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers. It occurred to me that there are really four things to consider with every decision: “Know when to hold ‘em, Know when to fold ‘em, Know when to walk away and Know when to run.”
Seriously. It works with all kinds of decisions you, the small business owner, make every day: hiring/firing, supplies, vendors, manufacturing, sales, retail, service, setting hours. So next time think WWTGD. What would The Gambler do?
HOLD ’EM – Starting a business? Even though you’re scared, sit down at the table and play the hand through.
FOLD ’EM – Repositioning your business? Fold the hand you’re playing, regroup and gear up for the next one with your newfound knowledge of the players in the game.
WALK AWAY – Vendor problems? Walk away from the table and find another one that suits your goals better.
RUN – Think this potential client may be more trouble than they’re worth? Those boots were made for running. Run as fast as you can and let them become someone else’s problem.
To confirm “The Gambler” way works in real world situations, I conducted an informal LinkedIn/Facebook poll asking small business owners worldwide to share the best (and worst) decisions they ever made when it came to running their business, past or present.
“The best advice I can give someone is to have faith in your idea. If you are passionate about it, the money will come. I lost my job in November. I was responsible for an automotive magazine that is no longer being published. I had client contacts and years of success so I started my own magazine and went to print two weeks later. I had often thought of publishing myself but was stuck in a comfort zone of being employed. I wish I had done it years ago. It’s scary and you work your butt off but the reward is huge.” – Tanya Stoll, President, Overdrive Media Solutions, Grandville, Michigan
“Having the courage to start it. I had 30 four-legged mouths to feed at the ranch. So I named my first line of candles after each one and that’s how I’m reminded every day why I do what I do.” – Michelle Duncan, Chief Candle Creator, D-n-D Ranch Aromas, Colorado Springs
“Starting it. I was let go from my first public school music ed teaching position back in 1983. Became my own boss and never looked back.” – Dave “The Wire Man” Maskin, professional trade show/party entertainer, Dave Maskin Entertainment
“The best decision a person thinking of starting a business can make is to go interview people who already do what they want to do. I call this the Interview Assignment. My students have obtained over 2,500 interviews and what they learn is real, practical and helps their businesses start more successfully.” – Bob Voss, Business Entrepreneur Faculty at Dakota County Technical College, Author of “The Interview Assignment” and BizOwner of BizOwner Training, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota
“The best decision I have made so far is taking time with a business coach who helped me develop a strategy and formulate my goals and reasons for being in business. The worst decision was to concentrate my efforts at the beginning working with a largish group of consultants. With time dragging on and too many involved in the decision making process, it broke down. This resulted in a lot of effort with no real outcome. It was one of the reasons I decided to write a little blog about businesses without a clear objective: The Bon Jovi Business Plan.” – Scott Hunter, Managing Director, Orion Consultancy International, Plymouth, United Kingdom
“I stopped worrying about pitching my services and instead marketed my business by educating prospects and consistently delivering helpful information that addressed their problems. The biggest benefit: I was instantly seen as an industry authority – instead of just another person selling services. The worst decision was following business advice from unsuccessful people.” – Tom Trush, Principal, Write Way Solutions, and Author, “The ‘You’ Effect,” Phoenix, Arizona
“Best decision: charging for our monthly meetups because they provide lots of value to small business and nonprofit attendees interested in meeting reporters and trying to get covered in the news media.” – David Manzer, Principal, PR over Coffee, Austin, Texas
“Delegating! As a sole trader, my monthly limit was always based around the time I had to offer. By surrounding myself with skilled staff and contractors, I can overcome these limits and get more time to myself.” – Lewis Cowles, Digital Innovations Architect, CODESIGN2, Southend on Sea, United Kingdom
“The best decision I ever made was to simplify and streamline my business.” – Tiffani Douglas, The M Spaah mobile spa party, Dallas, Texas
“Taking the three-year Presidents Club sales and sales management training program offered by Sandler Training. It’s golden.” – Leslie Kuban, Franchisee and FranNet Franchise Consultant, Atlanta, Georgia
“The best decision we made was moving from a home-based operation to a brick and mortar store. With new walk-in traffic everyday, the additional exposure the store front brings us and the added legitimacy it brought to our business more than make up for the overhead expenses.” – Judi Brown, Owner, Getting Personal Imprinting, Tacoma, Washington
“Now every gambler knows that the secret to survivin’
Is knowin’ what to throw away and knowing what to keep.”
“The worst decision we made was purchasing a piece of equipment that was brand new on the market. When we needed more supplies for it we couldn’t get them. Ultimately the supplier went out of business and we were left with an expensive dust collector. These days we don’t buy anything that’s brand new to the market and we seek the advice of others in the industry to get information not only about the equipment but also about the vendor. We saw that piece of equipment at one of the first trade shows we ever attended. Trade shows are still a little dangerous because there are always new things that look so impressive. We limit ourselves to attending the bigger trade shows every other year, rather than every year. And, when we go we spend a bit more time ahead of the show figuring out what we’re going there to accomplish.” – Judi Brown, Owner, Getting Personal Imprinting, Tacoma, Washington
“I learned to do my own online marketing.” – Jose Carbo, founder of The FilterClub of America and Local Internet Marketing Group, Miami
“To reposition my business and focus on a niche when my current market showed signs of softening. Sometimes we are so caught up in being all things to all clients, when we offer more value – and gain more profit – from catering to a smaller audience.” – Alicia Kan, Principal and Chief Marketing Officer, Six For Gold, Dallas, Texas
“Best decision: Not doing everything I was planning on doing. I was doing more than I needed to do to get traction.” – Radu Istrate, Founder, MetroHi, San Antonio, Texas
“Best decisions: 1. hiring/outsourcing to professionals 2. delegating (not all critical tasks though) 3. bringing a companywide (including service providers) focus to a specific set of goals. Worst decision: micromanaging operational activities instead of focusing on business development activities.” – Pronojit Saha, Founder/Director Sunshine Agrovet, Kolkata, India
“The worst decision? Assuming that other people you work with (vendors, partners, etc.) have your best interest at heart.” – Tiffani Douglas, The M Spaah mobile spa party, Dallas, Texas
“The worst mistake I made was to start my enterprise without a thorough business plan. Starting my enterprise was a logical extension of the work I had been doing as an individual contractor, so the transition seemed easy enough. What I had to learn very quickly was the business planning, marketing and competitive analysis aspects of operating an enterprise, as opposed to negotiating single person efforts. Industry teaming, having others work for me and dealing as a company instead of a person were all challenges. I ingrained three key facts about my professional environment into my business model and I never forgot them.” – Kenneth Larson, Founder, SmalltoFeds, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota
“Best decision was when I raised prices. I thought I’d lose business, but I made more money in the end. It was all in my head. No one noticed or cared. They simply wrote a check. I shot weddings and depositions for 12 years, sometimes full time and when I burned out, only part time. Shot my final wedding last year. But raising prices (against my will) was a great move.” – Melissa Utley, Theatre Arts Teacher, San Antonio, Texas
“You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table.
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.”
“The best decision I took is to refuse a long assignment for a dumped price. I was always told that if you play such a game, then people will know quickly that you work for small prices, and it will be impossible for you to increase your rates afterwards. If you know the value of your work, and a customer doesn’t want to work with you because he finds it expensive, you should not have to justify your price. This decision was a good one, as I gained other assignments with normal rates, through added-valued partners. It is really important to work with smart and trustable partners. Each stakeholder of the project is motivating each other.” – Eric Saint-Guillain, Independent Financial Consultant, Brussels, Belgium
“Worst decision: allowing too much client input on what was ultimately a creative product. If they hire you to create, make sure they know that’s what you’ll be doing, not them. I put it in the contract eventually and outlined the things in the video they would have creative input on and the things they would not.” – Melissa Utley, Theatre Arts Teacher, San Antonio, Texas
“My worst decisions were very recent. I got scammed by a client, who still has not settled their account, and has no intention of doing so. Ultimately I blame myself as I had reservations about the legitimacy of the client, and I allowed them to gloss over, without checking for tangible facts rather than idle words.” – Lewis Cowles, Digital Innovations Architect, CODESIGN2, Southend on Sea, United Kingdom
“Worst decision? Going into a business partnership without a proper discussion of roles, expectations and goals. I learned a lot from that experience and consider it a necessary rite of passage as a business owner. How you handle the fallout tests your mettle as an entrepreneur and a leader.” – Alicia Kan, Principal and Chief Marketing Officer, Six For Gold, Dallas, Texas
Small business decisions don’t have to be a gamble as long as you arm yourself with knowledge, surround yourself with smart people, be willing to make changes when things aren’t working and hum the familiar “Gambler” ditty to get perspective.