Leave Room for the Wormhole

Thinking outside the box when chasing your dreams can get you far in this industry.

I enjoy meeting business owners and learning what makes them tick. I like to ask about their business planning process. Most folks spend more time planning a party than they spend planning their business. I’m always enthusiastic when I visit with someone who has a plan and uses it to gain clarity, take action and get their team in on the game.  

Occasionally, an ambitious owner will share a nothing-left-to-chance plan, describing what and how they intend to grow their company, month-by-month, almost day-by-day, for the next five years. 

No plan is planning to fail. Too much plan? You are in danger of missing a wormhole.  

“A wormhole is a theoretical passage through space-time that could create shortcuts for long journeys across the universe,” according to www.space.com.

Once upon a time, my husband Hotrod and I had a plumbing-heating-solar company. My dream was to become a big company, to see if we could do it, if I had the “chops” to manage real growth. Hotrod had no interest in that dream; he loves to work, especially all by himself or maybe with one like-minded craftsman by his side. Imagine how dysfunctional it was for me to push my dream on him. So, we sold our company to our employees (a move that still fills me with pride) and decided to pursue separate career paths (a move that probably saved our marriage). 

With a blank slate in front of me, I could create the business of my dreams. I considered that I knew something about financials and business planning, and maybe I could help other mom/pop shop owners fix and grow their businesses. I started writing for trade journals, and stitched together my articles into business basics books. I began consulting with contractors, and sharing what had worked for our business, and what I was learning from other sharp operators. I scored speaking gigs with contractor groups. I was successful and profitable, however, I wasn’t achieving my dream to get big. I just didn’t know how.   

It was time to ramp up. I gathered a few business experts together and formed a board of advisors. I engaged a marketing company. We met for a strategy session and built an ambitious business plan. We moved the vision to decisive action, with monthly targets, financial goals and specific, assigned tasks. We laid out exactly how we were going to make it happen.  

Two days after the retreat, I presented a seminar to a large contractor association. Right after the event, a venture capitalist approached me and said, “We are growing the country’s largest home service plumbing company. Would you like to be the president?”  

Woah. 

“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.”  – Allen Saunders

I didn’t see that coming, but I did know that I wanted the job. I called my newly formed team, one member at a time. I explained that I received an opportunity that totally aligned with my dream, and I wanted to take it. I apologized, and expected to get some criticism (which I felt I deserved) and disappointment. My mentors and team members encouraged me to follow my instincts, for which I am so grateful.  

The next three years were like getting a PhD in business and franchising. We grew to 47 locations and more than $40 million in franchisee sales. It was at times a brutal experience, but so worth it. I’m proud of myself for saying, “Yes.”  It wasn’t in my plan, and yet it was a wormhole to what I wanted. The experience set the stage to create ZOOM DRAIN, with my awesome partners and dynamic franchisees. We have a crystal-clear vision, a solid plan and a light touch on the reins. So good.  

That’s the thing about honoring what you really want, you may get what you ask for. It helps to put a plan together and take some aligned action. You don’t need to have all the hows figured out; you don’t even want to! You may discover a wormhole (maybe divine intervention?) that can get you where you want to go, faster and easier. 

“The law of diminishing returns is a concept in economics that if one factor of production is increased while other factors are held constant, the output per unit of the variable factor will eventually diminish,” according to www.businessdictionary.com.   

 Let’s consider this economic law as it may pertain to planning. This law can be reflected as a bell curve; as you increase your planning, you’ll increase your success. At least for a while. The “sweet spot” for planning is just on the upward shoulder of the bell curve. Lighten up on the “hows” when you have 70-80 percent of the details fleshed out. Leave the plan loose enough for to-be-discovered opportunities that will inevitably pop up. The apex of the curve, and your success, is reached by the delicious combination of careful planning and openness to “even better” presenting itself.  

Recently, a friend sent me an email. Here’s the essence of what he shared with me: 

I’ve always considered myself a good hydronics sales person. But I had typecast myself so that I was missing opportunities literally right under my feet.

 I felt stuck in a position that kept me out on the road way too much. And with two young kids, my wife and I had finally had it with the on-the-road life. I knew it was time to leave my job, but where else could I go? To the competition? I really liked my boss and the company, and I didn’t want to do anything to harm them. I thought if I tried to sell something other than hydronics, my tongue would swell up, and I would be reduced to wordless blabbergocky. I knew I needed a change. I didn’t know how to go about it.  

I started to think outside the box, or industry, I guess, in this case. It dawned on me that I am good at hydronic sales because I am good at sales. Wait, what was that? It’s called a breakthrough. (Or a wormhole?) I got a job selling trucks, and I didn’t know much about vehicles, so I studied up, and learned everything I could about our lines. However, good sales skills make for good sales, no matter the product. Ask good questions and listen intently to the answers. Offer advice and upsells without pressure. I love my new job, the hours, the people and I am crushing it. 

So, what I wanted to share with you and feel would be an interesting topic for your column is this: If you are a business owner or sales manager, don’t just look for industry sales people. A good salesperson could be right under your nose. Maybe they currently serve you coffee from your favorite kiosk, or are working the counter at the auto parts store, or driving a taxi downtown. And, if you have developed a skill set, those skills can apply to many different jobs and opportunities. Don’t typecast yourself and limit your options for success. 

Good advice, right? In other words, put your plan together. Just don’t let your plan get in the way of your dreams. Allow for a wormhole.  

Ellen Rohr is president of the franchise company, ZOOM DRAIN, www.zoomdrain.com and offers “in the trenches” insights to contractors and family business owners. Reach her at 417-753-1111 or ellen@ellenrohr.com. For free business tips, problem-solving webinars, money-making tools and lots of love, visit www.ellenrohr.com.

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