A few years ago, I planned out a three-day hiking trip from the top of Mount Mitchell, the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi down the mountain. I got all prepared. I had all my gear. I had a compass. I had a map. I printed out hiking instructions for my hiking trail. I had all my food. I had my sleeping bag. I was super excited and ready to go on this exciting adventure.
I went to the top of Mt Mitchell and found the trailhead and began my journey.
I hiked for three miles and then came to a paved road. I looked at the woods on the other side of the road and couldn’t find the trailhead on the other side of the road.
I decided to turn left and follow the paved road. I walked another mile. That’s when I saw the big entrance sign for the road that led to the summit of Mount Mitchell.
I knew that if I turned around, I would be walking up the road back to the summit of Mount Mitchell to the point where I had started my hiking trip an hour ago. I didn’t want to start my hiking trip over so I decided I would walk a bit further. Within 400 feet, the entrance road to the summit of Mount Mitchell came to an end.
I looked t my right and saw the paved road of the Blue Ridge Parkway. I looked to my left and saw the paved road of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Which way would I go? I looked all around and saw mountain peaks all over the place. I looked at my map and said to myself. That mountain peak must be such and such mountain peak. I looked at my compass and said to myself. Ah, here I am on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Just then, to compound an already confusing day, felt a drop of rain trickle on my bald head. I looked up and saw angry dark clouds.
I set down my backpack and put on my rain jacket. Right after I got my rain gear on the clouds began to pour down the rain.
I looked up at the clouds, and they appeared to be laughing at me taunting me to continue with my hike.
After my careful analysis of the map and compass, I decided I would turn right on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
I continued walking and walking for about two miles and concluded I was walking in the wrong direction. I did the most intelligent thing I could think of and turned around. About an hour later, I was back at the Mount Mitchell Entrance sign.
I wasn’t exactly hiking in circles, but I keep coming back to the Mount Mitchell sign.
Well if turning right at the Mount Mitchell sign was the wrong decision, I’m going to continue hiking on this path an assume that I should have turned left a few hours ago when the rain started pouring down on me.
I looked at my map. I looked at my compass. I looked at my hiking instructions. The biggest problem I ran into was I didn’t know where I was.
Consequently, it didn’t matter what direction I hiked in; I knew it was going to be the wrong direction. I realized that no matter what I did, I was going to continue to be lost.
I kept plugging along for another five miles and decided enough was enough. I was tired of hiking. My feet were sore. I determined it was time to set up my tent and get some sleep.
Even though the views from the Blue Ridge Parkway were beautiful, I had gotten off course. I simply could not figure out where I was going.
Even though I knew where I was on the road, I couldn’t determine where on my map I was. I was still lost.
I brought my smartphone with me and decided it was time to call the Calvary. I passed a mile marker sign on the Blue Ridge Parkway, so I knew exactly where my physical location was.
I called my mother-in-law, who lives about thirty minutes away from Mount Mitchell and asked her if she would be so kind as to pick me up in the morning.
My mother-in-law is a saint. She replied that she would pick me up and deliver me back to my car so I could drive back to my home and continue to provide for her precious grandchildren.
I decided to pitch my tent and get a good night’s rest.
I sat by the side of the road looking at the mountains on the Blue Ridge Parkway and waited patiently for my mother-in-law to pick me up. We both laughed about my misadventures as she drove me back to my car. I got in my car and hung my head low as the trail had defeated me.
When I got home, I realized something I didn’t know while I was hiking at the top of Mount Mitchell.
The initial hiking trail, I took from the top of Mt Mitchel was the wrong hiking trail. The hiking trail I took on my hiking trip was the West Bound Trail. The correct hiking trail for my planned hiking trip was the East Bound Trail.
It didn’t matter how much I worked with the right tools. I was on a fool’s errand. It didn’t matter how much I hiked I would never arrive at my destination because I initially chose to hike on the wrong hiking trail.
When I first started my business, I was completely lost.
I was more prepared when I started my business than a lot of other people are when they start a business.
- I knew how to read my financial statements.
- I could tell when I was making money and when I was losing money.
I made some stupid assumptions when I started my business.
I assumed I knew where I was. I plugged and plugged away at my business. I got busy being busy.
I assumed that because I was working hard, I was going to succeed.
I prepared as good as I could. I created a business plan for myself.
For too many years I tried to go it alone. I was a solo operator. I assumed I knew everything. I thought I knew what was best for my business to grow.
In reality, I was in the middle of the woods when it came to my business.
I had no idea how to price my services.
For several years, I was so bad at pricing that I ended up losing money doing work for my customers. In essence, I paid for the privilege of working for people. It was worse than working for free. I was paying to do work.
For two years, I paid everyone else but myself. To put that in hiking perspective, I emptied out my canteen because I thought the trees needed water.
In the first two years, I was in business; I hiked along plugging along, not realizing I was on the wrong path.
I was running my business like I was still an employee. I thought all I had to do was work, work, work.
In reality, as a business owner, the most important thing is to do the most important things.
Once I finally took stock in the results I was creating in my business; I got clarity. I found myself on the map. In the hiking world, this was akin to me, finally locating my physical location with my location on the map.
Then I was able to see clearly that in the past two years, I was hiking diligently in the wrong direction.
The amazing thing I realized was that once I got on the correct path, it was much easier to run my business.
When I talk with people about how they want to grow their business, I always start with two questions.
- Where are you now?
- Where do you want to go?
Until we answer those two questions, it doesn’t matter what else you are doing.