Running your business is like running down a river in a kayak
I started white water kayaking when I was 18. It’s not a sport that attracted many women, but I was not a very girly woman anyway.I was not immediately hooked to the sport. The first time in a kayak on a wild river was during the Christmas holidays. Imagine how cold it was….I flipped over immediately when I entered the river and I felt as if I nearly drowned, so I was not very keen to go on another trip a few days later. It took a lot of convincing of others, and when I decided to get into my kayak I had tears running down my cheeks from fear. I was terrified. I was the last one to enter the river and the rest was already gone. Here I was in a situation that scared me a lot and with no support at all.
What happens when you surrender to your fear?
I could not stop the damn kayak anymore, so I decided to follow the river. I started to understand the water a little bit so I felt more in control and I could let go of the fear and starting to enjoy it bit by bit.
Boy am I glad that I did this second trip. I did not flip over, did not get cold. I learned to manoeuvre the damn thing and when we finished, I was hooked.
That’s how it all started
I started my first business when I was 25. And guess where it was all about?Indeed, whitewater kayaking. I took people from our flat country, the Netherlands to the rivers of the Belgian Ardennes.
I started my business on my own with 5 kayaks on the roof of my car. And my clients following me in their car, driving happily to Belgium. I did not have a plan for my business only that I wanted to teach as many people as I could, the sport that I started to love.
My business always grew by the demands of my clients. when they asked why we did not offer mountain-biking, we started to offer mountain-biking and so on. In 22 years, this developed into an international SME which was operating in 4 different countries at 6 different locations.
When the kids came, I did not go away so much anymore, and I started to employ more staff. It was a difficult period because I now had to hire people who did the work I used to do and I also started hiring an office because I could not work from home anymore. My expenses increased a lot.
On the other hand, it also allowed me to start to scale from a one-person business to a real business with an office, a warehouse, staff, vans, trailers, and so on. I was very proud of what I achieved.
It’s going on
In the meantime, my hobby always remained white water kayaking. Every holiday was spent on the river. With our first child sleeping in the pram next to the river when mom and dad were training on a particular spot.
I got selected for the Dutch freestyle kayaking team and became the national champion in 2003. It was a busy and vibrant time. Running the business, raising the kids and training a lot. Which was often abroad.
Eventually, I sold this business after 22 years because I saw no more growth. When I started there was hardly any competition and we created a whole new industry in our country. “The outdoor and survival industry”. Too much competition was born, and clients started to be more concerned about the amount they paid than about their own personal safety.
The next business was born
I started mentoring other business people to help them to scale up their business because that is what I did myself.
When I look back at it, running a river is very similar to running a business.
Goalsetting for business women
Before you go on a river, you always have to know what the start is and the end. You have to know when you finish when you reached the endpoint. If you et off at the wrong part of the river, it might be very difficult to find your way out, but when you paddle to the end you can get out smoothly and walk to the car that is already parked near the end.
Goal-setting is the same. When you try to stop halfway, you are nowhere, and you might not even know how to stop or when to stop. But when you reach your goals the next goal is very obvious, and you can start all over again smoothly.
When things get rough
When the river gets rough the first thing you do is try to stop and get ashore. You take a distance and walk along the river to find a clear route to navigate.
Often when things get rough in our business we forget to let go and take a distance to find out what is happening. You cannot see a clear rout if you stay in the midst of the roughness in your business. You are surviving. When you do this in a kayak it is like putting your life at stake. So you would not do it, but why do it in your business?
Let go of control
When you want to control everything in your business and are top of it all the time, you are constantly (and often secretly) scared that things will go wrong. You are working hard to avoid things from going wrong. It is so much easier to follow the flow and let go of control See what appears and then course correct instead of preventing everything from going wrong.
When are not following the current in a kayak it is wasting a lot of your energy, you will be fighting the water and that is a foolish thing to do? With a few gentle strokes and with following the water of the river you will get down smoothly and easily and not very tired at all.
Doing everything yourself
On the river, you can’t be on your own unless you like to play with your life. (of course, this depends on your level of expertise and the difficulty of the river)
You always need people to help you carry your kayak when the river gets too
complicated or to post on difficult passages with a safety-line, or even rescue you when you flip over and can’t come back up and have to take a swim. It is pretty difficult to grab your boat your paddle and get all of it to shore when it is very rough. So, on the river, you are always a team. And you need to trust them with your life sometimes.
Why do so many small business owners do everything on their own?
To save money? It is what I thought too when I had to employ someone because my first baby girls were born, but it appears to be a false belief. Because I could scale up all of a sudden because there was more capacity.
On your own you can never paddle on the very difficult rivers, you can only scale up in difficulty when you paddle with others who are there to show the way, to protect you and help you when needed.
Always find a better person than yourself
It is so important in business that you learn from someone else. Someone who already did what you are about to get your business into. That is the safest, fastest and easiest way to get better.
Same with kayaking. When an experienced one paddles up front and you can see the best route, you can follow that is a lot easier than deciding yourself what is the safest route.
And I can tell you in both situations I felt a lot more at ease knowing that someone showed me the way.
I was teaching people to learn how to kayak and improve their skills and now I am a mentor for business people that want to scale up.
I love to support and help business owners with my 29 years of international business experience. It is so rewarding when they take steps and start to grow.
First, we work on the basics and fundamentals. As you do with kayaking, Work on the techniques and the skills and then go rougher.
- The basics of business are your:
- core values
- goals and targets
- and procedures. All of this is the foundation you need when you want to scale up.
Spend a lot of time on the fundamentals
In kayaking, it can be very dangerous when you start to paddle too difficult rivers when you are still a beginner. There are techniques you need to practice over and over. And often that is a lot less challenging than conquering dangerous and challenging rapids.
Business owners, men, in particular, like to scale up fast. But when the fundamentals of the business are not right the business can collapse under its own success.
Before scaling up the procedures, the technology, your team, your business partners, the communication, the client journey everything has to be ready. And then scaling up your business is very easy. When more clients come in everything works smoothly and there need to be no constant course corrections. Which are often costing a lot of stress, money and time.
I remember once that I was really proud that I paddled my first grade 5 rapid and I thought I made it without a problem. There are only 6 grades. So, it was very difficult and dangerous. My mentor corrected me and showed me where I went a little wrong and where I had to course correct a few times, and that I had been lucky that nothing went wrong.
Business owners are proud of course correction, solving a problem gives a good feeling, but what if this is not needed? What if everything goes the way it is supposed to go, because all your fundamentals are in place and everything is working the way it is supposed to be, and everybody knows exactly what to do and say?
Why looking for the adrenaline of scaling up too fast?
Distraction or focus
It is unthinkable when you are paddling a big rapid that you can look around and enjoy the scenery. That is distracting and you could hit a rock that completely changes your direction, or worse it flips you over which makes you very vulnerable. Being upside down in the water is not a good place to be.
So, you stay laser-focused and watch everything closely in front of you what is coming next so that you can immediately course correct.
In business, being laser-focused is not so easy anymore because of all the distractions that are there on your phone nowadays. And yet it is one of the most important skills. Having a laser-sharp focus which is guided by, your core values, your mission, your goals and your targets, make doing business really easy.
Take good care of yourself
The fitter you are the easier kayaking becomes. I assume everybody agrees to this. The fitter you are, the easier doing business becomes. Why do I see so many businessmen with large stomachs?
Because they need no energy?
Because they do not have to work long days sometimes?
When this applies to you be honest with yourself. Everything is easier when you lose weight also when you are doing business.
When you can’t see what’s coming behind the corner…..
When you paddle on a high level you will often find a lot of big boulders that are blocking your vision. What to do? Getting out of your kayak can be time-consuming. What we do is find out if you can see the next stop down the river where you can paddle to and lay still to find out what’s next. If you can always see just 10 or 20 meters ahead and you are very sure that you can make it there and stop there it is the best way of going down a river. And most often you can continue like this down the whole rapid or the whole river.
In business, it is the same. You set a goal and often you have no idea how to get there. You can’t see it yet. But you can see the next step that you can make. Well, guess what? Make that step, because it is the same as when you paddle down the river. The landscape has changed, you have a new perspective and you can see the next step.
I love this way of achieving my goals. I believe setting SMART goals is limiting yourself. You can’t know exactly which steps to take when you start. Because you can’t see them yet.
Want to learn kayaking from a beginner or a pro?
Everybody would give the right answer and would say: Of course, a pro. Nobody would trust their life to a beginning instructor.
But…. when it comes to seeking help for your business so many business people turn to consultants or coaches who are self-employed and/or have worked years in the corporate world, got their monthly paycheck and never ran a business of themselves.
They never had to employ or sack staff never had to invest in property to accommodate the business, never had to work in various countries with various languages and different business partners of their OWN. They did not have sleepless nights because the responsibility weighed so heavily. And I can go on and on.
Why are we so concerned about trusting our life to someone and are we less critical when it comes to trusting our business to someone?
Choosing the right business mentor or coach is a serious matter and should not be the first person you meet. Because often they are out there hunting for you.
About the author:
Tineke Rensen is in business for 29 years. She built an international Outdoor and Survival business from scratch and sold this after 22 years. Tineke was a national whitewater kayaking champion.
She now is one of the most all-round business accelerators you can find. There are very few topics she cannot help you with your business. Many people find it hard to believe when they hear this. How much do you think you know about a topic if you live it day and night for 28 years?
Tineke works with female business owners to grow to their full business potential. She uses her own system the “Blueprint for a Successful Business Makeover”. She is a women’s business coach.
Tineke is the author of “Maximum Business Growth For Women”
If you want to watch business videos with Tineke Rensen you can like the Powerful Business Academy Youtube Channel
Read 20 Questions You Should Ask A Business Coach Before Hiring to find out what you should be asking a future business coach or mentor.