Flip your script on fear

Departments - Hort Truths

Remove the obstacle of fear from your business decisions.

June 28, 2017

Photo: Thinkstock.com

Change can be scary. Making big decisions can be scary. What is really scary, though, is missing out on a great opportunity because you gave in to fear when making a key decision.

A catching fear seems to be circulating around the green industry these days, and that’s understandable given the economic, labor, and political climate. But I’d challenge you to ask yourself if fear could be a pre-existing condition — a foundational factor in how you’ve been doing business, or managing staff, for a long time. My personal opinion is that our industry harbors, at its core, a fear of change that has resulted in what could be considered uncertain times for many businesses. Innovation, making changes to product selection, and creating new customer sales channels seem to be areas that generate a good amount of anxiety. Recognizing such fears, however, can allow you to create a fresh new horizon full of opportunities.

As a business owner or manager, you’re no doubt confronted daily with decisions that must be made — decisions that will either push you forward in growth, or hold you back in escapism. That’s how I like to analyze decisions for both my own business and those of my clients: Will a decision one way help you achieve growth and goals, or will it help you avoid it and remain comfortable in your safe zone? Which, if you think about it, probably isn’t all that safe to begin with.

Confronting fear in your decision-making process can be a daunting task. You can start by taking one item on your long-term, or short-term, goal list and breaking it down. Make a list of the reasons why you haven’t pulled the trigger on achieving the goal. Do you want to expand your operation, change your staffing structure, pay better, grow 10 percent next year, sell direct to the retail customer as well as wholesale, or turn better inventory faster? These goals require commitment, not avoidance or comfort.

For many growers and grower/retailers, taking online orders (for either wholesale or retail customers) is a trigger that they’ve yet to pull. Often, the reluctance to take on virtual orders is out of fear of how they’d handle the logistics managing accurate inventory numbers online as well as shipping. That was true for a friend of mine, Gary Lewis, owner of growing and retail operation Phoenix Perennials in Vancouver, Canada, up until a couple of years ago when he decided to make the brave leap into online orders, as well as mail orders.

“It hasn’t been easy,” says Lewis. The great unknown (fear) of creating a new side business for his greenhouse operation and garden center was something that had kept him from exploring online and mail-order sales. But Lewis knew he needed to shake things up and create new avenues for driving outside sales and in-store traffic, as well as attract and cater to an evolving customer base. Lewis admits that starting the mail and online order side of the business has presented challenges, especially how to manage the time for the additional work. But, the risk is paying off. “Sales were up over 100 percent last year; this year they are up 55 percent to 15 percent of total sales” says Lewis. Despite the challenges, it’s hard to discount the significance of his results. “Now mail-order customers visit us when they are on vacation in Vancouver and buy things to take home.” Lewis is also seeing some fresh new foot traffic on the retail side of the business because of his virtual sales efforts.

It is important to recognize that just because you’ve overcome the initial fear associated with a big decision, that doesn't mean fear will disappear from the ongoing process of change. “Fear doesn’t end with the initial decision to dive in” says Lewis. “The fear is continuous.” Lewis advises that uncertainties may still follow you as you embark on new programs, grow new product, make new staff choices, or expand your business. Lewis’ next challenge is hiring and training new staff to continue growing the mail-order side of the business.

Now, avoiding mistakes is of course sometimes the goal of a decision. So, I’m not suggesting that caution doesn’t have its place in decision making; nor is caution synonymous with fear. But then again, I don’t take a cost cutting approach to business. You can’t sell product you don’t have in stock, or services you’re too scared to offer. And, perfectionism breeds paralysis. I believe you get much more out of life and your business when you take a few risks and err on the side of making decisions for growth versus avoidance. Not that pushing forward is always comfortable, but friction can be a powerful creative force.

If you need to confront fears on the part of your staff, such as key managers or growers, you might need to give them new tools to help boost confidence, which typically involves innovation. Whether it’s better inventory tracking software, robust point of sale programs, better merchandising systems, crop monitoring tools — you name it — tools can help take away some fear. But ultimately, people still have to make the decisions.

When you make decisions out of fear, you’re relinquishing your destiny, and power, to someone else. This might allow you to temporarily shift the blame to others for why you haven’t succeeded; but it’s a short-lived delusion.

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, business and marketing strategy, product development and branding, and content creation for green industry companies. lesliehalleck.com