Question to small business owners: How is your garden?

Last weekend I took time away from my usual work – helping small businesses be more profitable – to engage in another kind of project, a bit of gardening. Flowerbeds in my front yard had reached a level I can only describe as disgraceful – dense weeds surrounding a few die-hard, overgrown perennials.

It had taken years to get to this state; basically, I had just stopped noticing. Visiting my cousin’s orderly, planned, healthy garden gave me perspective to actually see mine for the disaster it had become. Once I became aware of the mess, I had to fix it. I checked the weather – lots of rain in the upcoming week’s forecast, thus no daily watering. For a “lazy” gardener like me, this was the perfect weekend to do this project.

Everyone knows the steps – remove the weeds, turn and enrich the soil with compost and finally select new flowers and plant them. Fortunately, I live a half-hour from the local nursery; I had time to contemplate what I’d buy. I vowed to avoid past mistakes. I would not be seduced by a particularly pretty flower or enticing scent; instead, I would buy what would thrive in my yard’s conditions, paying lots of attention to the overall composition. I would not overcrowd; instead I would leave room for each plant to grow to its full potential, keeping in mind my long-term vision.

Making a mental list of conditions (as much about the gardener as the garden, really), I realized I need drought tolerant (who has time to water?), hearty perennials that would thrive in full sun and sandy soil. Following my cousin’s counsel, I carefully checked the tags to figure out height, space between plants, flower color and blooming season. While I love blues and purples, she insisted a garden needs a variety of colors and different blooming times so there will be color throughout the season. Thankfully, there were lots of options.

At home, I set the plants in the places I thought they might look best, rearranging often to get just the right balance. I thinned the over grown perennials, finding new, better spots for the ones removed. I spent time preparing each space, added extra peat to make up for the sandy soil and left plenty of space between plants. I thought about what might go wrong and set up a fence to keep the dog from running through the garden and pulling up new plantings. Finally, understanding that this gardener will not have time (or inclination) to weed, I put a layer of well-composted mulch between plants. The result is pleasing and I am confident it will thrive, with a little care.

This morning, my colleague Karen Utgoff drew the analogy to my professional life. “How surprising,” she quipped. “You did your gardening just like you’d build a work team.” Hmmm. She was right.

I got perspective and noticed things could be much better. I got rid of and re-purposed what wasn’t working (weeds and overgrown perennials), and thought about the whole, not just individuals. I considered the future and how each individual might grow; I didn’t overcrowd. I paid a lot of attention to the existing conditions (especially the strengths and weaknesses of the team leader/gardener) and did the needed prep work to ensure that the team/garden would thrive. I considered and tried to mitigate risks. And, I have made a deal with myself to pay attention, look for signs of problems and take quick action to avoid backsliding.

Thus, my question for small business owners: Is it time to take a look at your “garden” and take action?


Since 1991, Laurie Breitner has assisted organizations with operational improvement, organizational development and strategic planning. Learn more at

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