Small business owners: Are you playing all out or playing safe?

Carl Crawford in a Tampa Bay uniform was something to behold, in a Red Sox uniform, not so much. Flickr photo by imagesbyferg

As a Red Sox fan, I often tune into a Boston sports talk radio station while I take my lunch break; this season, that means listening to lots of sturm und drang about the horrible year the Sox are having. But last week, one of the commentators, former Sox player Lou Merloni, said something that I think provides a strong analogy with the way some small business owners run their businesses.

Lou was talking about Carl Crawford, who was a huge disappointment last year in his first year with the Sox. He’s been on the DL so far in 2012, but is expected to be back soon. Lou’s point was that last year, under the weight of his huge contract and the intense media scrutiny of the Boston market, Carl suffered at the plate. He was afraid of making an out. So he wasn’t aggressive and didn’t swing at pitches for fear of missing them. In the field, he didn’t dive after balls with the abandon that characterized his style as a Tampa Bay Ray because he was afraid of making an error or of getting hurt. He didn’t attempt to steal bases, because he was afraid of getting thrown out.

In essence, Lou was saying Carl played scared and that if he doesn’t change that when he comes back to the lineup, nothing will have changed. He will still be a big disappointment.

In thinking about, I believe I’ve known small business owners who also play scared. Or you can flip that around and say they play it safe. Instead of going after bigger/better clients, they stick with the ones they know. They offer the same old product or service, rather than take a risk of trying something new and innovative. They don’t raise their prices even to keep up with inflation, for fear of angering some clients or customers.

I could name a half dozen more ways in which small business owners sell themselves short, playing a risk-averse game that guarantees their business will never achieve its full potential and they, in turn, will never achieve their full earnings potential.

Does any of this hit home with you? If so, consider taking a hard look at your situation to see if you can identify a risk or two that would be worth taking.

Here’s an example. I remember well the first time I decided I needed to raise my rates. I fretted over this for quite a while before notifying my clients of the rate hike. Then I anxiously awaited the complaints that I was sure would roll in. Guess what? Nobody complained and nobody left. Which made me wonder why I’d waited so long! Since then, when I felt it was time to raise my rate, I just did it without staying awake at night worrying about bad consequences.

You can start changing the way you play the game with baby steps. Get a few successes under your belt and then up the ante on your next risk. This is what I hope Crawford does when he returns to the Sox. A few stolen bases and a couple of great catches and he’ll be back to the player he was in 2010! (Yes, hope does spring eternal for Sox fans, although they’re making it awfully hard on us this season.)

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