"Risk Avoiders Are Opportunity Missers"10 Excuses Business Owners Make (and Why They’re Holding You Back)
Nobody likes the uncertainty and stress of going out on a limb and (let’s be honest) putting your business at risk. But making the safest bet rarely leads to success. Tom Panaggio shares 10 excuses that keep you in your comfort zone—and missing great opportunities.

Small business owners, can you relate to these scenarios?

– It’s time to open a second retail store branch—and you fully intend to—but you’re not quite ready yet. You found a possible location but it doesn’t seem perfect, and besides, you’re not sure if the local marketplace conditions are right. Maybe next year would be better.

– You’re ready to expand your customer base—almost. However, you’re certain it can’t be done without buying and mastering a certain software program that lets you personalize your marketing efforts. And since you’re not ready to do that yet, you’d better hold off.

– Yesterday, you met the best natural salesperson ever. Instinctively, you know she’d be perfect for your team and she hinted that she might be in the market for a job change. You’d love to hire her, but the time doesn’t seem right to hire a new person—money is tight and you’re far too busy to go through the hiring and training process right now.

These hypothetical owners may think they’re just avoiding unnecessary risk. But if you read the scenarios again—and if you’re honest with yourself—you’ll have to admit their reasons reek of excuse making. And here’s the real problem, says Tom Panaggio: Risk avoiders are also opportunity missers.

“When you’re in charge of running a company, it’s easy to convince yourself that playing it safe is the responsible choice,” acknowledges Panaggio, author of the new book The Risk Advantage : Embracing the Entrepreneur’s Unexpected Edge ( www.TheRiskAdvantage.com ). “Especially if your business is new, going out on a limb is the last thing you want to do. But risk is needed if you want to do more than just scrape by—and it may be needed just to survive in this economy.

“Hoping that sales will get better or that conditions will improve is the wimp’s approach,” he adds. “You can’t wait for everything to be perfect because it never will be. You have to take action—in other words, accept risk and make those things happen.”

Panaggio knows about risk firsthand. Along with several partners, he has created and built two successful companies: Direct Mail Express (which now employs over 400 people and is a leading direct marketing company) and Response Mail Express (which was eventually sold to an equity fund, Huron Capital Partners). As those companies have adapted to a shifting marketplace and an uncertain economy, Panaggio has had to take numerous leaps of faith.

“Even with the best attitude and plan, there are times in every business when, as progress slows, confusion sets in,” he explains. “You may feel frozen and afraid that any move you make will be wrong. However, if you don’t want to stagnate, you have to move. Unfortunately, this type of risk is the most difficult one to take. You’ll probably want to find ways to avoid action, which is tantamount to sinking your own ship.”

Here, Panaggio helps business owners identify the risk avoidance that may be holding them back by highlighting 10 of its most common forms:

Excuse # 1: “The timing isn’t right.” As a young commodities broker right out of college, Panaggio recalls receiving a call from a client named Steve each morning. Steve was, as Panaggio puts it, a “prisoner of hope” who always asked the same question, “Where is gold this morning?” When gold was higher than the day before, he’d comment, “Ah, missed it again.” If it was trading lower, he said, “Let’s wait and get it at the bottom.” Steve missed the biggest increase in gold in over 50 years because he waited for the exact moment to make a move, and based on his perception, that moment never came.

“All over the country, there are entrepreneurs—or wannabe entrepreneurs—who are just like Steve,” Panaggio confirms. “Business plans sit in boxes or on hard drives as their creators wait for the right conditions: funding, free time, better economic conditions. And plenty of existing businesses remain less successful than their owners would like because those very same owners are hoping that tomorrow conditions will be just a little bit better for advancing their goals.

Excuse # 2: “I tried that once, and it didn’t work.” According to Panaggio, those words are most often uttered by small business owners in reference to marketing. Perhaps you’ve been there: You allocated a large part of your budget to producing a television commercial, for instance, but barely noticed any increase in your business. Or maybe you offered an online deal to new customers, only to realize that the discount you advertised was a little too generous and wouldn’t allow you to make any profits. Your one-time marketing failure has convinced you not to try again.

Excuse # 3: “If I just had XYZ gadget…” “If I just had faster computers, my team could respond to customer emails on a more timely basis.” “If I just had the latest supply chain management software, my company could fulfill orders more quickly.” When you’re an entrepreneur, there are a million “If I just had…”s, and often, they center around technology. Remember, though, you can spend forever waiting on the next best thing—and often, says Panaggio, that “next best thing” isn’t as necessary as you thought.

Excuse # 4: “I’m still working on the plan.” Let’s say that you want to move to the next level, whatever that happens to be for your business. So you begin planning, preparing for every possible scenario. You define contingencies with backup plans full of redundancies. You sometimes wonder how anyone could fail with a plan that covers all possibilities and that offers each a solution. But here’s what you’re not taking into account: While your perfect plan might prevent you from failing, it will also hold you back from succeeding if it’s never executed.

Excuse # 5: “It’s a good idea, but circumstances have changed.” “I was ready to pull the trigger, but then the market changed and I had to reassess.” “I had to set back the original product launch date because I was just too busy to get everything ready.” “Preliminary research showed that this idea might not be as lucrative as we thought, so we scrapped it altogether and went back to the drawing board.” Sound familiar? If so, you may be moving the target.

Excuse # 6: “I’ll get to it eventually.” In his book, Panaggio tells the story of a salesperson who did extensive research on each sales lead she got. Some of her research files contained more than a hundred printed pages of material. Her reasoning? She wanted to know as much as possible about a potential client before she called them. On the surface, this level of dedication sounds admirable. But according to Panaggio, the salesperson in question was really procrastinating in order to put off the moment of truth. She was afraid of being rejected after making her pitch, and her research was a form of risk avoidance.

Excuse # 7: “I’m playing a defensive game.” The hardest risks for cash-strapped entrepreneurs to take are often financial. Many business owners choose to cut costs and (at least attempt to) do more with less when what they really need is to hire new talent, invest more heavily in marketing, upgrade their machinery, or something else.

“Unfortunately for many owners, no business achieves greatness solely by pinching pennies—although financial responsibility is certainly a big part of sustainability and growth,” Panaggio comments. “The truth is, you can save your way to mediocrity, but not success. So don’t tell yourself that you’re playing the game if you never come off defense. Nobody ever wins without picking up the ball and running ahead in spite of obstacles.”

Excuse # 8: “Nothing’s broken; why fix it?” When you’re facing a crisis that could damage or even sink your business, it’s (fairly) easy to take risks. After all, if you don’t act, you’re doomed—and in that situation, there’s probably not much to gain by holding back. But what about the times when things are going smoothly, when you may have more to lose by going out on a limb? Well, then it’s much easier to convince yourself that there’s no need to tamper with the status quo.

Excuse # 9: “…<crickets chirping, dust falling, grass growing>…” That’s the sound of silence. You know, what you hear when you decide to let a project or initiative die over time instead of doing what’s necessary to bring it to fruition. Whether you simply lack motivation or your surrender is fear-driven, your risk-avoidance behavior may be taking the form of lack of follow-through.

“For many business owners, the desire to succeed is there—and so are some good ideas—but they struggle with making the rubber meet the road,” comments Panaggio. “Maybe you’re afraid of being held accountable if you don’t meet expectations, or you simply find that you don’t want to put in the extra effort, after all. So you sit back and let projects peter out instead of driving them forward, or definitively putting them out of their misery. (You may even be fooling yourself into thinking that others don’t notice that you talk a big game but don’t deliver.) Don’t allow your mind to sabotage your desire to meet your objectives.”

Excuse # 10: “But I don’t avoid risk!” Even if you, the business owner, have conquered your fear of risk and move into uncharted territory without hesitation, Panaggio warns that progress paralysis might still be affecting your company through the actions (or inaction) of your employees. If you as the owner don’t, well, take ownership of your team’s counterproductive behaviors, you could miss out on a lot of opportunities.

“Your salespeople might be stuck in the comfort zone of creating safe, but boring, pitches, for example, or your ad designer might be creating a backlog because she’s a prisoner of perfectionism,” he posits. “If that’s the case, maybe you’re simply so focused on leading your business that you haven’t kept a close eye on its inner workings, trusting your team to be as bold and efficient as you are. Or, more likely, you have noticed risk avoidance behaviors that are slowing your organization down, and are simply reluctant to confront your employees—a form of risk avoidance in and of itself!”

“Risk avoiders live in a false reality,” Panaggio concludes. “The temporary comfort you gain from rationalizing your inaction just postpones the inevitable. Hoping that something will change will result in defeat, the end of your dream. Success comes only via constant forward progress, which requires making something happen. As a leader, your example of enthusiastically seeking opportunity to execute, improve, and deliver results will be the beacon that guides all who follow you. So stop avoiding—and start acting.”

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About the Author:
Tom has enjoyed a 30-year entrepreneurial career as cofounder of two successful direct marketing companies. As a result, he can give a true perspective on starting and running a small business. His practical approach to business concepts and leadership is grounded in the belief that success is the result of a commitment to embracing risk as a way to ensure opportunity.

For more information, please visit www.TheRiskAdvantage.com