So you say you want to start your own business. Join the club – who hasn’t thought about it? Imagine the freedom, the control, the tax advantages and so on. Of course, it’s not easy and there is no shortage of folks who will fill you in on the downsides. Like a lot of small business owners, I schemed and dreamed for a very long time before taking the plunge. I analyzed, compared, deliberated, examined, studied, reasoned, reckoned, reflected… all under the pretense of “planning”. I finally realized that my planning was really just procrastination; a means to avoid my fear of the unknown. It had come down to a basic decision – “do” or “don’t”. For me, the question that kept coming up was: “If not now… when?” So, I “did” – and now I’m eyeballs deep, flailing along in the current. And, as I sort of knew all along, “starting” was easy. The hard part is staying afloat.
Fact: the odds are stacked against start-up businesses succeeding. Many will fail before filing their first tax return. That grim news and the reasons behind it are well-documented, so I’ll leave that discussion to others. I’m not a business development advisor or any such thing. I’m a golf pro. My business is helping people play better golf. I’m just here to share some personal experiences that might strike a chord if you’ve dug in to get your own start-up off the ground. My reasons for setting out to be my own boss are probably similar to most people’s: I think I’ve come up with a “better mousetrap”; I believe in my ideas; and I have passion for what I do. None of these things guarantee success – but without them, I have no chance whatsoever of making it.
Believe. Sounds simple enough… it’s easy to “believe” when everything is going well and all the pieces are magically falling into place. But it seldom happens that way. That perfect space you found will get rented to someone else. It will take 3 times longer than expected to get this permit or that approval. “i’s” need dotting and “t’s” need crossing. Your triple flagged, starred, code-red priority agenda item is just another minor blurb on someone else’s list. Two steps forward, one step back… it can be frustrating and that’s when doubt begins to creep in. But reality is reality and it’s not going away. Believing in your ideas won’t prevent any of these things from happening; but it’s a force you need to keep going when they do.
You might have a better mousetrap, but you still have to sell it. Just because an idea, a product or a service is “new” and “better”, doesn’t mean the market will jump to embrace it. In fact, many people might be downright skeptical. Now, I know in my heart that my approach to golf improvement is better – but that just doesn’t cut it as a sales pitch. I know that selling is one of my weak points, but I’m beginning to see that this is more a matter of my perception of the selling process as opposed to a shortfall in my skillset. I don’t like to be subjected to a hard-sell and I feel uncomfortable and annoyed when I am – so I tend to associate selling in general with that unpleasant sensation. But if my business is to succeed, I need to sell my services. The breakthrough for me has been dropping my prejudices about selling and getting down to work on the fundamentals. My primary goal is to identify the features and benefits of my services and learn to articulate them with quiet confidence – but opening my mind to a different perception of the process itself has proven to be the most enlightening step.
Passion. When I first decided to start up my own golf school, a lot of people looked at me like I was crazy. They may well have been right… golf instruction is a small-market, niche business and I traded a well-paid management gig with a good company, great benefits, free food, clothing allowance, health plan… all that and more – for instability, insecurity and absolutely no guarantees about anything. All in the name of rekindling a passionate flame that had begun to fade under a storm of spreadsheets, reports, meetings and marching to the music of the corporate band. Of course, playing with fire has its dangers. The thing about passion is that it is the element that brings us the greatest joy; but also the greatest agony. It’s both a strength and a weakness. Passion is perhaps the biggest reason people choose to start their own businesses and it’s also the one of the most common reasons for their demise. It’s powerful energy that needs an equally powerful counterpoint. Unchecked, it can manifest itself as an obessesion that just won’t let go, clouding your mind and blinding you to reality. Passion serves us best when accompanied by an ample side order of patience.
And one more thing… you need help along the way. Lucky for all of us, people in general like to help. It’s not about “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”. It’s not about “keeping score” and who owes who what. Don’t be afraid to ask for help; and learn to accept it with grace when it is offered. Reciprocation is simple: just say “thank you”. You’ll have your chance to do more in due time. Until then, just keep paddling the boat.
About the Author
Bill Dreger is a Member of the Professional Golfers Association of Canada and the owner/operator of nonstopGOLF. He is a certified golf geek with more than 15 years experience in coaching, instruction and program development. He helps new golfers and experienced players alike get their games in tune using the TrackMan Golf launch monitor system along with a relaxed, conversational approach that promotes intuitive learning through skill development and guided discovery. TrackMan training sessions are available year-round at Calgary’s Riverside Golf Centre and in-season at the Wintergreen G&CC, located in Bragg Creek.