November 20, 2014

What I Learned About Small Business While Shoveling Snow

what i learned about small business

While shoveling 8 to 10 inches of snow out of my driveway during our fourth Northeastern storm, I started thinking about running my small business. The decision process I used to clear my driveway is similar to the decisions you need to make to run a small business.

Here’s What I Learned About Small Business

Planning is Important in Any Endeavor

Many people jump right into a task and just get it done. But some business decisions benefit from stepping back and thinking it through first. To use the snowstorm example, instead of shoveling my own driveway, I could choose to outsource or delegate the job:

  • Hire someone with a snow plow or a snow blower.
  • Hire someone to shovel my driveway for me.
  • Have another family member or friend do it for me.

I could have made any of those choices, but I decided that was unnecessary:

  • I have a short, flat driveway.
  • I had parked the car near the end of it, so there really wasn’t enough snow to justify paying someone else.
  • My nephews live too far away in a storm to help out.
  • Although shoveling snow is not my major skill set, it is a task I am capable of doing.
  • I am a healthy adult, who could use more exercise.

I have plenty of work to do from my home office today, but nothing with a huge deadline that 20 minutes of snow shoveling will affect. So I decided to do it myself.

With some business tasks, you might find that if it is not your primary skill, or you have higher priority tasks, that you should at least consider your options for outsourcing or delegating.

You Need to Have the Right Tools for the Job

This winter I replaced my old winter coat with a new warm, waterproof winter jacket and fleece lined pants. I already have boots, gloves and a hat. I also already had tools like a snow shovel and an ice scraper/brush for the car.

These basic tools made the job easier. Since this snowstorm also had sleet and freezing rain, the waterproof jacket really came in handy.

If you really want, or have the need, you can also add bigger, better and more expensive tools from a snow blower to a lawn tractor with a plow attachment or a snow/plow on your pick-up truck, but for the reasons above, I saw no need.

But, for my home business, I recently realized that I needed to upgrade my small business tools. I work on the computer most of the day, and had been working with a 10″ netbook that I bought when my larger laptop died.

While I liked the portability, especially for conferences, for my daily use – the small size was not great. Then it started to act up, the battery wasn’t holding a charge, the Internet was getting slow, and the power cord was iffy.

Although I handled my driveway with low tech tools, I recently decided to upgrade my business tools. I took advantage of holiday sales and pay-over-time shopping and upgraded to a 17″, MS Windows 8, Dell laptop with a fast processor and 8 GB of RAM – and it darn near flies.

Yesterday while teaching a “create your own website for artist’s” class, I let someone use my old machine when hers stopped working. It was so slow and small. I had forgotten how slow and how small.

I love my new machine and feel I am much more effective, and probably should have upgraded sooner.

Timing and Breaking a Larger Task Into Smaller Steps is Wise

This recent storm was shifting from snow to freezing rain, then more snow that night. Mid-morning, when my trashcan had about 8 inches of snow on top, and the freezing rain seemed to let up a bit, I decided that instead of waiting until it was all over the next day, I would tackle it then.

I was glad I did because by the time I was done, the snow was much heavier and wetter after the sleet and freezing rain picked back up.

A Willingness to Shift Gears and Expectations is Required

I will admit, halfway or more through, as it started to get heavy, I saw a private snow plow drive by. I decided to outsource the rest of the job. I flagged him down asking how much to finish my drive for me. He said he was late for a job, so couldn’t do it. I sighed and continued.

I decided to take smaller shovel loads and to not concentrate on the whole amount that seemed to be left. And, really, breaking it down into smaller chunks…literally…made each shovel load lighter, and it seemed to go faster. All of a sudden – I was done.

So now you know what I learned about small business from shoveling snow.

What are the best tips you use to move your business forward? And if you learned the idea from doing another task, let us know in the comments here.

Snow Photo via Shutterstock

22 Comments ▼

Cathy Larkin


Cathy Larkin Cathy Larkin is the owner and lead consultant at both Web Savvy PR and Keep It Simple Web Design. In both businesses, she makes technology and social media simpler for small business owners and authors to understand and use to propel their businesses forward. With over 20 years in the industry, she knows that it’s not about what site you are on, it’s about what you do when you get there.

22 Reactions

  1. Nice job, Cathy.

    Shoveling snow. I do it when I have to. When I can.

    It’s good exercise. And, like you, I have choices, too.

    And, nothing can’t wait 20 minutes. generally :)

    The Franchise King®

  2. What I learned from driving in the snow is about gaining traction….. when you get stuck don’t race to get unstuck, go easy and slowly until you feel your wheels catch and you start moving forward. This mindset can be applied to a small business when ever you get stuck :-)

    Great post Cathy, love the analogy!

  3. I agree with breaking a large task into smaller steps. But if you are pressed for time, it is better to just go ahead and just do it. From there, see where it takes you. This will make you tackle the task now and prevent analysis paralysis.

  4. Creating smaller tasks from the big ones is not only wise but effective. Not only will you make your goals more realistic but you also increase your focus on doing those tasks hence you produce a better outcome.

    • I agree, too often we look at a larger task and get overwhelmed, or distracted thinking about too many issues. But stepping back and thinking through the best way to approach something, then tackling each task on it’s own, can really help us do it more effectively. Although I do agree that sometimes it is easier to talk about breaking a project into steps, than it is to actually do it.

  5. Great post, Cathy! One of the unexpected benefits of shoveling snow (we get our fair share in Boston) is that it makes for great thinking time. Whether you have the job of shoveling snow or not, we don’t take enough time to take stock of where we are, what is swirling around our business and what priorities we need to attend to the most. Shoveling isn’t especially challenging so your mind is free to wander, enjoy the quiet and activity and/or consider what’s happening in your business.

  6. The points put forward by Cathy is truly important as planning & execution are vital part of business, where i liked the idea of work delegation which helps in good performance. As small business can be made successful if we all work as a team to realize the dream in actual.

    • True Steve. I think for many small business owners, especially for solo-preneurs, delegation or outsourcing doesn’t occur to them. They feel like they have to try to do it all, wear all of the hats. But there are so many opportunities now to hire a virtual assistant or another solo-prenuer who specializes in what you need help with, that it makes sense to do so sometimes. You have to weigh the costs and benefits, but it can be a good choice.

  7. Could you send that snow out here to Utah? It’s been unseasonably warm here and my skiing habit would appreciate it!

    • Robert, I’d Love to send our snow and rain out west, I know you need it. We had BOTH the rainiest month of June in over 100 years, and one of the 4th snowiest winters now. We’ve had more than our share these last 12 months. I’ve thought, what if we could shovel it up into freezer trucks and send our excess now to somebody who needs it – that would be a big convoy LOL

    • I just saw a weather report tomorrow will be out 13th snow event this season. The Philadelphia region doesn’t usually get this much snow, let alone two visits from the “Polar vortex” – which, until htis year I had never heard of!

  8. Cathy: Have you seen the hilarious music video by the Super Secret Project, Granite State of Mind 2: Plow Guy Boogaloo?

    I studied at Southern New Hampshire University between 1997 – 2000. They said in Manchester, NH: “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute…” ;)

    • Our weather in Philly is not usually like that, but it seems more so this winter. This morning, seemly out of the blue (alright the skies were gray) a huge clap of thunder and a strong flash of lightning made the windows of my house rattle, then it poured rain for a while. I jumped, and my cat hid under the chair.

      I tweeted a “What was that clap of thunder/lightning in #Philly – or something along those lines) and someone 28 miles away said she heard the same thing. That’s one big clap of thunder. Not sure what that can teach me about small business, except to keep cool under pressure.

  9. A timely article, Cathy. I would add the following similarity between aspects of running a business and shoveling snow: there are days when you’re sick of the task, but you get up and do it anyway. And somehow, once you get into it, it’s not nearly as bad the expectation of it! There’s always some activity you don’t like doing, but fretting about it makes the task seem worse. Just stop anticipating how bad you think it’s going to be, and do — and you’ll find it wasn’t so bad after all.

    – Anita

    • Good point Anita, On the east coast we keep complaining about the highest amount of snow we’ve had in years. Yet all that moaning and complaining doesn’t DO anything. How often we build it (whatever “it” might be at the moment) up to be much more than it is. Nike’s old slogan…”Just Do It!” holds merit for small business folks.

  10. A very interesting perspective on task management and prioritisation. You could easily apply the same principals to the workflow and backlog on your desk. How often do we end up with so much on our desks that we can’t see the woods for the trees.

    Mind you, it’s not really something most of us can relate to here in Australia.

    Thanks for the insight.

  11. Thanks for the note from nice and warm Australia. Stepping back from any task and thinking through an approach is rarely a bad thing…I wonder why we don’t do it as often as we probably should. LOL

  12. I like the idea of having the right tools for the job. This is crucial for business success. I think all businesses including small businesses should be using some sort of software to track company efficiency. Everything from managing employees to marketing initiatives.

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