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Shawna Schuh

What Running an Excavator Can Teach You About Business

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This spring, we started a project to put in additional roads around the barn and a huge parking lot to accommodate horse trailers coming to use the new trail course we’re creating in the woods. Highly exciting and fraught with risk.

If you have a pet business, you know all about excitement and risk.

On the one hand, you know expansion is smart, needed and potentially lucrative. The end goal, right?

On the other hand, there is a lot of outlay, many moving parts, and it’s uncertain how much or how fast the investment you’re making will pay off.

Somewhere the expression, “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room,” crossed my mind. Though funny at the time, that feeling of hanging on by my toes is a good description for what I  experiencied as the project swirled around me.

To make this project work, friends stepped in to lend their expertise. To do the work, we ordered a bulldozer and an excavator at great expense. One of my friends can operate both, and both were needed. But he couldn’t do both at once, so the excavator was sitting idle a majority of time that first day.

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The cost of this idle time was weighing heavily on me. You know that feeling?

So, I thought to myself, “How hard can it be to run this thing?”

I think that most lessons or experiences begin with a question like that. You might have thought something similar before you jumped into business, “How hard can it be?”

And then we find out.

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Running an excavator is not that difficult, after all, and so the point is made that nothing is impossible or difficult, at first. What I learned, however, is how difficult it is to do it well. And how frightening it is when you get yourself off-kilter or to close to the edge. I nearly tipped it over a handful of times and scared myself silly in the process. But I figured it out, same as you do.

What I learned from this adventure are a couple of things that will help me, and you, do business even better:

1

Take the risk. If you’re not growing, expanding and stretching, what are you doing? And if something really scares you, remember you are strong enough.

2

When you get on shaky ground, back up a bit. It’s unlikely you’ll tip over, but moving back a bit will gain you confidence and help you reposition for higher success.

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3

Even when you can do something, hiring an expert, or turning it over to an expert, is smart, especially if you want to get more done and in a better way. Necessity may be why you climb into the seat, but it doesn’t mean you should stay there. I was happy I took the controls and even happier to relinquish them to a better operator who magically appeared.

The project is still in process, but it’s turning out even better than imagined so far, and I have a feeling the risk, the stretch, the fear will not only be worth it, I will remember all of it fondly when I say, “I even ran that big excavator myself!”

Shawna Schuh  is a certified speaking professional, an executive coach, master neuro linguistic programming practitioner and president of Women in the Pet Industry Network. Email her at shawna@womeninthepetindustry.com.


This article originally appeared in the September 2018 edition of PETS+.   

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Shawna Schuh

 Pushing the Pig: Try It, and You’ll See Why It Doesn’t Work

Stop pushing…

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I’M THE KEEPER of a pig, the size of which is an interesting subject. Herbert the Hogster is a mini pig. And now that he is in his fifth year of life, though I have no scale to weigh him on, nor could I lift him to gauge it that way, it’s looking like he could weigh in at 150 pounds or more.

I share this with you because Herbert has taught me an important leadership lesson recently. He was in the house uninvited. Sometimes I invite him into my office, which has a door to the outside and stone floors for easy cleanup of dirty hooves, but he snuck through the barrier and into the main part of the house and was heading in the direction of the dog food when I spied him.

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Immediately, I got behind him to push him back through the door and into the outside. He was having none of it. He planted his little hooves, and the more I pushed him, the more he grunted and squealed his displeasure.

That’s when I realized you can’t push a pig. Especially one that outweighs you.

This situation is like others we encounter where we want one result, and it seems nearly impossible to attain it by what we’re doing. Think about how you have sales goals — and because of those sales goals you do some pushing. And if you are feeling behind or overwhelmed, you might be pushing from behind. And nothing is happening.

Kinda like pushing a pig. No matter how hard you push, no matter how much you want to move forward, no matter how “nice” you are, that pig is not budging a bit.

So I stopped pushing.

I would like to say that I made this decision with a clear head and without using any off-colored words, but let’s suffice it to say after exhausting my strength and patience, I decided to take a different approach.

Do you quit pushing when the results are not there? Or do you keep at it because it’s the easiest thing to do or the thing we know? And do you notice that the harder you push the less you accomplish? This is true for so many things.

For me, it was my immediate reaction and that’s the real lesson. If I had stopped for a moment and thought about it, I had several other options that I could have done, including the one I did next: I went and got some pig food and put it in a pan so when I shook it, the sound made the most alluring and effective noise that Herbert wanted to follow. Which he did, right outside!

Next time before I — or you — push the pig, remember this lesson:

  • Think before reacting.
  • Determine the best plan or plans.
  • Lure rather the pressure.

Anytime things come to a standstill in your business, stop pushing the pig and do something else.

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Shawna Schuh

4 Steps to Pair with the Right Mentor

Tips for gaining the most from the experience.

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WHEN I WAS STARTING out in business, I sought both coaching and mentorship. When I paid for coaching, I gained value. When I sought mentorship, it usually fell flat, until I joined a structured program that had mentees and mentors go through an interview process. I happened to score a wonderful mentor, however another woman who went through the program found little value in her experience.
So to help you find a mentorship and to gain the most from it, here are the steps.

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1. Have the right goal. The more you know and communicate what you want from a mentor, or what you want in seeking mentorship, the better. You don’t get results without stating what you want them to be.

2. Determine a time frame. When each of you knows what you are agreeing to, you can use your time more effectively. From the length of the mentorship to when and where and for how long you will meet. Treat this like any important appointment and respect each other’s time.

3. Be prepared. When someone has asked me to mentor or wants to learn from me, I usually ask them to come up with the top questions they want to ask. This throws people off, which is surprising. If you are going to use leaders’ time, then use it well. Asking them to tell you their story is a waste of their time. Get to what you want. If you do not know what you want, then you are not ready for a mentor yet.

4. Set clear expectations. Mentors are not your teachers, your parents nor your accountability police. They are guides, so seek their wisdom rather than their secrets or systems. If they choose to provide you with those things, it’s wonderful; however, ask questions that will help you move forward rather than expecting the mentor to give you a plan. You can even ask them how they would most like to provide guidance, and then you can adjust from there.

Most important of all, a mentor is someone who is willing to give you their most important asset: their time. And so the most important thing to remember is to use their time well, which in turn will be an excellent use of your time, too.

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Shawna Schuh

To Get to the Bottom of a Complaint, Pause, Smile and Ask

When a customer lies, it may not be for the reasons you think.

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THE RESTAURANT IS a favorite of mine. The food is good, and it’s fun and kinda funky. When we sat down to meet for this first date, I had no expectations. The conversation was fast and fun, and so we decided to order dinner. He ordered a burger and fries, me a salad.

When the food came, the female server set it down with a flourish, and it looked great. I barely had a moment to admire my salad when the man sitting opposite me said, “The fries are cold.”

The server was momentarily stunned but quickly recovered and said, “I’ll bring you new ones.” And she hightailed it out of there to have a word with the kitchen.

There was a pause, so I said, “I’m so sorry you got a bad order, this place is usually great.” Because, of course, I’m feeling bad for suggesting a place that, it turns out, serves cold food. What does that say about my taste and judgment?

Then he said, “No worries, the fries aren’t really cold. There’s just not enough, so now they’ll bring more.”

I blinked in stunned silence and then gathering my wits about me asked, “Do you do this often?” To which he said, “Only when I think I’ve been shorted on something.”

Think about this for a moment. Where do you land on the right or wrong of this exchange?

As a consumer, you might agree that if you feel shorted in service, or product, or value, it’s within your rights to complain or ask … but to lie?

As a business owner, you may feel outraged and taken advantage of by a customer who is clearly misleading you or your team for additional gain.

Here’s my take from a leadership standpoint:

  • Pause to take a breath. This can allow you to get emotions in check.
  • Smile. This may be forced — after all, they are bringing up a complaint.
  • Ask a question. This is the best thing however only if it’s a question that still makes the customer feel in control (rather than wrong), and it clarifies the real issue.

The example in this instance may have been that the server could have paused, smiled and asked, “Do you want me to replace them?”

Since the answer is most likely yes, then take the whole meal away.

If you get pushback — “It’s OK, just bring me more fries” — this is when you know the real intent behind the comment, and you can say, “If the fries (or whatever the complaint is) are not to your liking, we must check your whole meal so you are completely satisfied.”

If you have a pet business, you’re not selling fries, of course. However, you do have some customers who are hard to satisfy, and they can surprise you or take advantage of you, all the while feeling justified in doing so. Luckily, the same techniques will work: Pause, smile, ask a question.

Think about and discuss with your team the kinds of questions that are able to get to the bottom of the issue (or customer intent) without making the customer feel wrong.

For me, I learned several things that evening, the most important being to put myself in the position of both the customer and the business owner. If all of us did that more, maybe the experience for everyone would be better.

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