What if your business got sick?

Two mini stories today. One is about business plans (sorta) and one is about healthy people (sorta).

The 1st story, with a moral thrown in

I hired a coach who specialized in teaching better business planning a few years back, and I highly recommend it: All coaches should periodically be hiring coaches in related fields of expertise, or in anything new and of interest to them. Learning erupts like a fiery volcano spewing lava which will change the landscape forever. In fact, everyone has some area of expertise to be offered to another person: Think about the barter possibilities, and propose a trade. (Put it in your business model.)

My coach covered an awful lot with me; perhaps too much, for not everything made a lasting impression, and it might be time I took a refresher course. However there was one thing he suggested which at first seems quite disconnected from having a good business plan, especially if you get stuck in that box connected to the financials of it all. I would learn that on the contrary, it had everything to do with my business plan, and so much more. He said something like this:

“Rosa, let’s say we were playing charades, and you wanted me to guess the name of your business. In the first clue you gave me, would your business be a person, a thing, or a place?”

At the time, within the context of the rest of the coaching I needed, he wanted to jar me loose from the hang-up I had with “sense of place” (tomaytoes tomahtoes” “hang-up” to him was key concept to me, but I digress”), point being I wasn’t thinking big enough, nor globally enough, true to the ‘universal’ part of Managing with Aloha. And he was right about that.

The correct answer, was supposed to be “a person.”

He suspected, and he was a thousand percent right about this part, that I would treat my business remarkably different, and hence open my eyes to new and different possibilities with my business plan, if I thought of my business as a person depending on me for nourishment and sustenance.

My business is like a person I need to take care of, vibrantly alive, and needing food, water and air to survive” and so my business plan had to define and get real about keeping that “food, water, and air” readily available.

And that was simply foundational. Nourishment and sustenance is not the same as growth. My business would not grow (and growth comes in many different stripes) unless I invested in his/her growth, and in mine. My business the person was not me, but a different person. We were not the same; we just worked together.

This was quite a breakthrough in thinking for me. However I’ll let you sit with that on your own for now, for I said this would be a mini story. Let’s shoot to the moral of the story, and you can get there within your own business plan (keep reading the blog in future weeks and I’ll help. Stuff in the archives will help you too).

Moral: LOTS of advantages to thinking about your business as a person, AND as a person who embraces a lot of other people too, not just you (Businesses affect people; you know that).

Think about that for another second before we move on: Your favorite businesses are probably very personable. They’re downright loveable. Infectious” though not in the way of my second story…

The 2nd story, prefaced with a question

Question: Well, three questions, but they go together as one:
My first story told, are you thinking of your workplace as a person, and not as an intangible entity or single place? Great.

Now, what if your business got really sick? How much would have to stop, or dramatically change?

Nourishing gourmet ‘food’ (or local grinds), pure mountain-filtered Hawai‘i ‘water’ and fragrant vog-free Pacific ‘air’ may not be enough if your business gets sick. It hasn’t been for mine.

This has been a reality check AND fresh idea generator for me over the last few weeks. I am newly looking at what else is involved in keeping my business the person completely healthy. Completely healthy as in never sick, where I am acknowledging (and cheering for) the super-human quality my business the person can have, even when I can’t.

Now, another thing I did learn in that business plan coaching, was that no business should rely too much on one person (even if you are a solopreneur): Your business model should seek to automate reliable, steady income in some way. Thankfully mine doesn’t rely totally on me working day in and day out (I did learn that part pretty well). But still, when I get sick, my business catches it from me, and gets sick too. There is a LOT which either stops or dramatically changes.

Long story mini-short, I happened to get pretty ill these last three weeks, and yesterday was my first day back in my office since mid-January, a half-day, and the first day I got my voice back enough to use the telephone. Not good when speaking, teaching and coaching is a BIG part of your income.

I have learned so much about me and the relationship I have with my business the person during these past three weeks where, other than writing in my lucid moments (I hope you found it lucid…), I could not work, even if I wanted to. Being forced to stop everything else, has caused me to reassess all kinds of things connected to my Ho‘ohana, my income potential, and my capacity for serving others.

And it shouldn’t be just “my.” It should always be me AND my business the person. Another person. Separate from me, separate from my team, separate from all our other stakeholders.

As I sat in my office again yesterday, looking around me and feeling like it was some old neighborhood I returned to, only to find new neighbors were next door encroaching, their dog trampling my flower beds, I resolved not to publish another blog post until I urged you to think about the metaphor, and write your own fictional story, imagining both the best and the worst.

What if your business (or your workplace) got sick? And not just take an extra day off sick, but really sick?

For example, you could write a chapter on immunity, and how fragile it is when sickness comes calling, and then oddly, how quickly another kind of immunity sets in, but not the kind you want, when those expensive over-the-counter drugs you’re taking no longer work for you halfway into the box.

Even seemingly rich businesses like Toyota can get terribly sick, to the point where they might be incapacitated, or they disappoint people in catastrophic ways.

Getting sick is not pretty. Not for you, not for your business.

The metaphor serves, for I don’t want you to really get sick (it sucks.) I’m betting you don’t need more details from me: You can remember the last time you got sick and what it was like (and I am getting much, much better now, thanks. Call me so I can speak for you again).

Besides your food, water, and air, what keeps your business and your workplace culture at its healthiest best? Take this even further: How can you keep your Ho‘ohana [your most passionate work] from ever getting sick, getting it to be super-human too?

As the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Don’t learn that wisdom the hard way when you don’t have to: Talk story about the metaphor in your next huddle. You know you’ve caught something when you start to get that scratchy feeling in your throat” what are the earliest symptoms you’ll feel (and the other person, who is your business will feel) when your workplace catches cold? It would be very interesting to compare the answers you get from others on your team.

Give a swig of that castor oil or fizzy Airborne to your business the person. Get healthy together, and attend to it today: For 2010, with Aloha.

Photo Credit: 137: this is where i spent xmas by assbach on Flickr

Cross-posted: This also appears on Say “Alaka‘i” at The Honolulu Advertiser today.


  1. says

    I also like the metaphor of the business as a tree. Leaves (which you rake in) are current products/services. But is the root system healthy? Is the tree being nourished. Bad roots and you do not regenerate lost branches, the leaves are less dense year after year and then a bad storm knocks the tree over. An appropriate metaphor for a sick business. Toyota forgot about its roots. K
    .-= Kay ´s last blog ..Toyota’s Once Unbeatable Business Model Now Anything But =-.

    • Rosa Say says

      That is a good metaphor Kay: Wonderful imagery with trees, and a tree can be a very “present” reminder in so many workplace settings. Makes me think of how parents will plant trees when their children are born, or when they move into a new house, to watch and reflect on its aging and growth over the years.

      My daughter and I visited Central Park in New York City a few weeks back. We made it just before I took ill, and before the snowpocalypse now descending in the east, and as we walked along the mall in the south quarter I was very happy to see how they’d intentionally kept the lawns with the great American elms fenced off, so that people would not trample on the roots during the winter months when the weather is so challenging. In fact, I had posted a picture with that comment on Flickr: This photo is just past the Literary Walk and you’ll see how though winter-barren, the elms rise above in an impressive canopy:

      Tree-lined Mall

      And oh! the bounty a tree can reveal! This beauty is a coconut tree in my neighbor’s yard:

      Coconut Tree Bounty

  2. Roselia Conrad says

    Aloha Rosa,
    “What if your business got sick?” was the most helpful article. To think of our business as “a person” just changes everything!!! What different decisions can be made. My business is a person I love…how will I diagnose her, treat her, how will I care for her?
    As a woman, (and a physician) I can REALLY GET the need to approach my business like this.
    Mahalo nui loa! I love you Rosa…your bright light inspires me to shine ever brighter.
    Roselia (Lokelia)

    • Rosa Say says

      Ah good Roselia, I am so glad this resonates with you, and knowing of the work you do (and are seeking to do) I too can imagine the decision-making connections for you, aligning with the values of good health you so actively encourage.

      That particular coaching, to keep my business a “person” separate from me, has also helped me a great deal in thinking about succession and legacy. I do not have the desire to grow my business via larger scope right now (on the contrary, I want to “focus like a laser beam” on what I am already doing), however I constantly think of the future, in terms of how the business will continue without me when I am long gone, or in the shorter term, when I am ready to tackle something else (yet within the value of Ho‘omau, causing the good we have already created to be long-lasting).

  3. says

    Rosa, this is brilliant and should be mandatory reading for leaders, corporate succession planning, entrepreneurs, and solopreneurs. I’m never one to put my head in the sand, yet your words have served as a shake-up and wake-up call! I’ll be sure to read this post over to let it land on terra firma to take root. Forgive my mixed metaphors but I must share that throughout my initial read, you took me on a roller coaster ride of fear and amusement about my inattention to something so very important. Thank you!
    .-= Jeanne ´s last blog ..Do YOU Have What it Takes to be an Entrepreneur? Part I =-.

    • Rosa Say says

      Aloha Jeanne, no need to ask forgiveness, for I do like your metaphor of a roller coaster ride as well… tells me you felt that volcano eruption, “spewing lava which will change the landscape forever.” Metaphors are fun, aren’t they?

      Mahalo too Jeanne, for sharing my posting as you did with your Twitter village.