To carry on with my theme of starting fires in the snow, I have another important tip for new and young businesses. First, let me explain the background for these stories. My office is in the country. It’s in the woods and the area has experienced a severe drought for the past 3 years. For fun and to keep the forest in good shape, I try to keep up with burning the dead trees. I can’t do that during fire season obviously. So the burning happens in the winter. But it’s pretty rough to get a fire going when everything is covered with snow and it’s a cool 20 degrees outside.
And that brings me to today’s business tip. Building a fire in the snow takes a lot of patience. I don’t like to use fuel so my only luxury is a 2″ square of waxed paper about an inch thick. They burn slow and if you plan right, you can get a fire going.
So I cleared away some snow and pulled a few dead branches from a nearby tree that was still standing. By hand, I broke the branches into very small pieces. I built a little pile about 6″ tall and placed my wax starter on it. One match and it was burning. But to make a real fire, I needed to add a lot of small sticks—I used the dead branch because it was up off the ground. Like business, getting my fire lit was a slow, tedious process. If I add too much wood too soon, I’ll swamp my little fire.
As in business, starting a fire in the snow requires a steady and patient hand. I needed to pay attention to exactly how my fire was starting. One stick with a little snow on it would put it out. Too much wood too soon and it’s gone. Choose a piece that’s wet—remember, at that temperature it’s hard to tell—and when it warms up, out comes the water and out goes the fire.
I’ve seen so many startups fail because the owner pushes the business too fast, too early. How? Easy. One way to put too much wood on the fire too soon is to over-expand. I’ve seen new businesses gobble up new equipment well ahead of reaching capacity on their existing equipment. And that’s just one example. Adding too many employees too soon is like heaping on a ton of wet wood! Those people need training. And they need to help form a culture that will set the tone of the business for years. You don’t want to rush that.
And what’s the biggest way to kill a fire in the snow? See that big log on the top in the picture? It’s got snow all over it. I tried to get some of the ice off but that’s ICE.
If I threw that monster on the fire too soon, before I built up enough heat to burn off the ice and start burning the log, the fire would have been extinguished by that one hunk of wood. How many times have I seen a new business fail because an inexperienced new business owner tossed on a big wet log in the form of a very expensive advertising campaign.
Because my fire was ready, because I built the base and had enough heat to burn through that ice, that log will burn. And you know what? I can go to that spot tomorrow morning, 14 hours later in pretty extreme cold, and there will be enough coals under the ash for me to get this fire going again in minutes—without a match.
If you’ve started a new business, take it easy. There is plenty of time to fail. But there is precious little time to start over. Go slow, learn and build. Don’t start throwing logs on the fire too soon. Build that base first.
Chris Reich, Business Development