Turf Magazine - June, 2014

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5 Things To Do When Times Get Tough

By Steve Rak II

As I write this I am coming off quite possibly the worst week I have ever had as a business owner. There are only two other times I can remember that even came close to this. The first was almost 20 years ago when I broke my leg in April and couldn't work for most of the season, and the second was about five years ago when my dad and founder of the company fell off a ladder and nearly killed himself. He spent four weeks in the hospital.

So that gives you some perspective on just how bad this past week was. It was so bad that I almost didn't even write this column, but Ron Hall being the most understanding editor ever, gave me a "Hall pass" and let me get it in a bit late (thanks Ron!).

This column is for all of the owners out there, you that are just starting out and the veterans who have been at it for years. I believe that in order for my column to have any impact on the readers it has to be honest. I take this same approach when I meet with a consulting client and when my brother and I have our Rak Consulting training events at our facility.

Business is hard and being a business owner is very challenging emotionally and physically. There are times when we are ready to close the doors and walk away from it all. There are times when we question our sanity and ask why we even started doing this in the first place.

Without going in to every detail about this past week I will just say that it had me questioning everything. It was bad on just about every level, from customer issues to employee issues and everything in between. I think that it is important that we all understand that the grass is not always greener somewhere else.



Photo courtesy of Getty Images/iStockphoto.

That big company down the street with the nice facility and all the new trucks is having the same issues as the guy with one truck and a trailer. I know because we started out of my dad's garage with a used truck, some old mowers and a beat-up trailer. Now I have a nice facility, nice new trucks and over 20 employees.

Guess what? We still have issues and some of them are the same ones we had when we started over 20 years ago. And that is the truth my friends!

So why all the whining and moaning you ask?

Because even though I have been through some rough patches over the years I have learned a bit how to deal with it all. If you can take one thing from my list and apply it and it helps, then I have done my job. So here are five things to help keep your spirits up even when you are ready to throw in the towel:

1. Take care of yourself:

If you are healthy and feeling good then it is a heck of a lot easier to deal with problems both big and small. Don't start eating bad and postponing your workouts, runs or whatever it is you do to stay healthy. I run and it makes me feel good. If you are not taking care of yourself then start now. It's very important from a leadership standpoint.

2. Take a time out:

"But I'm too busy," you say. I know and that is exactly why you need to take some time to gather your thoughts. Take lunch at a park, stop at a coffee shop for coffee and do a brain dump (see number 3).

3. Do a brain dump:

Make a list of what is happening at your company and list some actions you can take to make them better. I do this quite often and it really helps on several levels from just getting it out of my head to coming up with solutions.

4.Talk to someone:

It can be a mentor, friend or spouse, but make sure it is someone who will be sympathetic and honest with you. You don't just want someone to agree that the world sucks, your customers are all out to get you and your employees are really only coming to work to help put you out of business. I have had some great mentors over the years that I could call and they have helped me work through some serious problems.

5.Time heals:

What seems like the end of the world today will seem not so bad after some time to let it all digest. Maybe there was a reason that great employee quit or maybe you are better off that you lost that big job. After some time to reflect and get some perspective things are not always as bad as they seem.

So there you have it, if you notice this list is all about you, the owner. That is not a mistake, I did that because if you as the owner do not take time to get your stuff in order then the entire company will know it.

Remember, you started this business and your employees and customers depend on you. If you don't have your self together first then everything else will suffer. You can get through the tough times. I have, and by using some of these techniques I know you can, too.

The author is the owner of Southwest Landscape Management, Columbia Station, Ohio, and a partner with his brother, Jeff, in Rak Consulting. Contact him at steve@sw-landscape.com.