I spent a good chunk of the last week looking out over the ocean from a vacation house in the Outer Banks, reconnecting with the water, the sun and sand. But, I never expected a set of killer business and marketing lessons to be revealed by surfers catching early morning waves.
1. Go Where the Waves Are – If you love to surf, but you live by the bay, you don’t just walk out and ask for waves on demand. You’ve got to go where the waves are. And, that’s in the ocean, not the bay. In fact, many surfers travel the world to find the best waves. Same thing applies to starting a business.
You don’t just decide you like building surfboards, then open a surf shop in downtown Chicago and expect people to start swarming in. You go to the waves. The places where your customers already congregate, share experiences and look for solutions. Not too long ago, this meant relocating to the coast. But, with the internet, you can now literally find the places your customers hare hanging out online, go to those places, build relationships and serve their needs in the communities they already participate in.
2. Survey the Sets – Before you paddle out, spend some time just sitting on the beach watching how the waves are breaking. Do your research to find the location of the best swells and the easiest openings to paddle out without getting crushed.
Similarly, in business, passion is not enough, you’ve got to do your research, look at the waves, understand the nature and nuances of the market, the easiest points of entry and the places where the greatest opportunities lie.
3. Wait for Your Wave – Once you’ve made it off the beach, rather than jumping on the first wave that comes along, you’re often better off sitting and observing from your new vantage point point…being in the waves…before choosing the best one to ride.
Same thing in business. The landscape often looks and feels very different from the inside looking out. Take the time to understand how the your observations and assumptions have changed, reexamine the players and the culture and observe from the prospective of someone who’s in the mix before deciding which wave, person, project, vendor or initiative to attach yourself to.
4. Don’t Wait Forever – If you keep letting solid waves pass you by, because you’re waiting for that one epic swell, you may well end up losing out on a lifetime of wonderful waves…and that epic one may never come.
At some point, you’ve just gotta take action on what’s in front of you, rather than sitting around all day, hoping something better will come along. Wait a while, do what you can to prepare, look as far out as you can to estimate the quality of the sets that might be rolling in. But, after a while, if nothing comes along, take the wave that’s before you. Even if it’s the wrong one. Even if it causes you to miss the one epic wave of the day. Because…
5. As long as You Stay in the Water, They’ll Be Another Day – Their are few true once in a lifetime opportunities. Opportunities are all around us all the time…if we’re willing to stay in the game and keep working for the big hit after days, months or even years of satisfying, but not epic opportunities.
The moment you pull yourself out of the mix, the minute you stop repeatedly trying and exploring, you eliminate of the opportunity to be in the game when circumstances converge to create magic.
6. Size Matters. If the wave is very small, you’ll never be able to gather the momentum to have fun. And, if it’s too big, for all but a few storm surf riders, the risk of death is just too great. But, then there’s that middle area, the 4 to 12 footers, the ones that seem to roll along the shelf for miles before they hit the shore. They may not be fodder for stories or once in a lifetime rides, but they’re often a source of sustained ear to ear smiles.
Same thing with starting a business. Skip the small waves. Find a big and hungry enough market to support what you’re trying to sell, to hit critical mass and turn a jones into a source of income and momentum. Without that, you’re never even in the game.
7. Start With the Long, Slow Rollers and Use a Big Board. No doubt, the big waves, the epic rides always require the most skill and the greatest risk. Played well, they can lead to massive success. Played poorly or too aggressively, you end up going “over the falls” and that can be catastrophic.
Find the long, slow 3 footers and use a big stable board to learn the craft, master that level, then move slowly into bigger surf and shorter boards. Pay your dues. Take your time to build your knowledge base, skills, abilities and relationships. Master your current level, then when you’re competent, take it to the next level. And, don’t look to others to know when the time to make the jump is. We all go at our own, often radically different paces. Honor that.
8. Be Ready When the Big One Takes You By Surprise. No matter how much you try to read what’s coming in, there will be times where you blink and find yourself seconds away from an epic tube. Don’t ask why you never saw it coming, just get on your feet and ride.
Same thing in business. Plan well, but don’t allow your plan to become your master. Opportunities come along, often out of nowhere. You can sit there and analyze why you never saw it coming. You can say, “but this doesn’t fit with our original plan and projections.”
Or, you can get on the damn thing and ride it to glory.
What do you guys have to add?
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