What does Learning to Snowboard Have to do with Business Growth?

I am sure some of you are reading this post just to see how on earth I have made a connection from Snowboarding to business…. Well, you need to be patient and read this whole post to learn the connection.  Please read through the whole article, you’ll be glad you did.

Growth is Not an Option

I had worked for several years in the government then in the private sector and always managed to move into leadership roles.  At first, I was happy about my promotions, but then grew to loath trying to get other people to do what I wanted them to do.  So, when I ventured out on my own in 1997, I promised myself that I would not hire employees.   At first, I was successful in staying single in the my new entrepreneurial experiment.  To be fair, I was really a contracted employee of a larger consulting group; so it could be argued that I did not really start a business, but rather joined another free-lance company.  Then, in 2001, I decided instead of helping other people start, and grow businesses, I would start my own REAL business.  I initially stuck to my self-promise of no-employees and created a network of national consultants instead of hiring staff.  This worked for a while, until my company started growing at a rate of 50% per year.  It was obvious that I needed help from a dedicated staff.

Even when I had more customers than I could handle, I opted to hire an engineer at first to help with the technical work.  Then I hired an administrative assistant to do my book keeping and any job that was super easy that I didn’t want to do myself.  Eventually, I hired two more engineers and a construction manager.  It was at this time, that I was approached by a consulting firm who rightly pointed out that I was not being deliberate about my organizational growth and lacked sufficient management skills.

Doing it All Yourself

I had a problem.  The problem was that I thought I was an expert in every facet of my business.  I was successful in selling, I was a brilliant engineer, I understood finance and accounting, and was an expert in my specialty construction contracting.  In addition to all of this, I was my own facility maintenance person because I could fix most any building problem with my engineering expertise.  While this knowledge and skill set is considered an asset to most small business owners, it is NOT.  If you cannot move out of DOING and into MANAGING, three things will happen (guaranteed): 1) your company will stall; 2) you will work yourself to death, and 3) your employees will hate you.

The Excuse(s)

Here are the excuses of the rookie business owner:

  • I can’t afford to hire experts to do the work and therefore need to do all of the work myself.
  • My customers have a relationship with me, and would not trust anyone else.
  • Sales people don’t understand what we do, and fail to close deals.
  • I try to train, but my staff just doesn’t get it.
  • We don’t have enough work to hire the additional staff I need.
  • My staff doesn’t care about the business, they just want their paycheck.

Managing and leading are not easy tasks.  All of the excuses above may or may not be true.  However, it is your job to quickly work through these challenges.  In my personal experience as a business owner; and as a coach of business owners; I have found that most of these obstacles are a result of a belief system from the business owner; and not incompetency from staff.  If the obstacle is an incompetent staff problem, it is still the business owner’s call to hire and keep poorly suited employees. So… it always comes back to the business owner’s opportunity for self improvement.

Be Deliberate About Growth

You have all watched as large multinational corporations go through re-organizations and hurtful layoffs as their market environments change; or they get a new CEO who decides to take the company in a different direction.  Small and Mid-Size businesses have a similar problem, but have much less time to react to market conditions; and rarely turn over CEO’s.  In fact, for closely held companies, the CEO is often times the business owner.

In building a business plan it is important to anticipate growth as much as you can; and plan HOW your organization will grow.  If you don’t do this simple planning task, you will find that you won’t have sufficient funds to hire additional staff when needed; and your price points will not include the layers of management you will need for growth.  Plus you will not anticipate either self-funding or borrowing the cash required to grow.

Climb Your Own Corporate Ladder

It’s not enough to plan your growth, you need to grow yourself…. and you need to groom those below you for promotion.  Let’s say you start an engineering firm like I did.  It is okay to be the engineer at first.  Then graduate into a role of senior engineer; and then become an engineering manager; and then become an engineering firm CEO; and then create branches of your engineering firm in different states; then create multiple locations in foreign countries; and then sell your engineering enterprise for $1 Billion to the right buyer and retire.

At the same time your company is growing, you need to anticipate and prepare yourself and your people for this growth.  This sounds easy, but it will be one of the hardest things you do as a business owner.  The reason it is hard is that you literally need to let go of what you used to do; and you need to embrace something you have never done.

Learning to Snowboard

I grew up in Colorado, but never started skiing until I was 18-years old.  I then became a reasonably good skier until I decided that snowboarding looked like fun.  A very patient friend of mine volunteered to teach me to snowboard one winter day when I was 35-years old.  He was very patient, but I was falling constantly; and was so embarrassed that I returned to the comfort of my skis; never to try snowboarding again until the ripe age of 50-yrs old, where I committed to four snow boarding lessons.  I did learn how to snowboard.  Even though I now like snowboarding, I can ski much more difficult slopes than I can board. I hope to get better at boarding because it is great fun.

Moving from a DOER to a MANAGER and then to an ENTREPRENEUR and then to an INVESTOR is just as hard converting a skier to a snowboarder.  You feel so comfortable at DOING; and believe no one else can do it as good as you.  And, you wonder if you even like managing.

Why Can’t You Remain a DOER forever?

You may read this article and say, “I just want to earn enough money to make a decent living, I don’t want to become a business tycoon. Plus, I like DOING.”

Trust me, your successful business will be pressured to grow; whether you are ready or not.  If you decide to ignore your customers who want more of what you have to offer, you will find yourself turning away business; and then, gradually, out of business.


If you need help in preparing yourself for growth, please contact me to learn more about how I coach business owner DOERS to successfully transition into MANAGERS and LOVE IT!

Note from the Author
My name is Jeff Schuster.  I am a certified Life and Business Coach serving small business owners, corporate executives and others who want to transition from “expert” to “entrepreneur”.  I have been a small business owner for most of my 30-years in the workplace.  I grew an energy efficiency and renewable energy engineering and construction company from nothing to over $10-million/year and sold it in 2013.  I now help other business owners make amazing progress toward their own dreams of business ownership independence and success.

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