Diving into business? Some dos and don’t

Phil Castle

I just flew in from Mexico. And, boy, are my arms tired.

Actually, permit me a bit more precision. I returned at the beginning of March from a scuba diving trip to Cozumel. My arms aren’t tired from what was a pleasant commercial airline flight, but rather lugging nearly 50 pounds worth of dive gear through the Grand Junction Regional Airport.

I don’t write this to perpetuate a cheesy joke so old I’d have to scrape off the mold to get to the punch line. And I don’t write this to brag about my vacation, although the diving off Cozumel really is spectacular. If you don’t want to take my word for it, I snapped hundreds of photographs to prove it, each of them worth a proverbial thousand words. You should see the sea turtle that almost bumped into me — a close encounter of the best kind.

Rather, I’m inspired to address two of my favorite subjects: scuba diving and business management. What could diving and business possibly have in common? From my perspective, a lot.

I’m convinced there’s knowledge to be gleaned from even the most unlikely sources. Robert Fulghum offers the most compelling example in his book claiming right there in the title “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”  It’s difficult to dispute his case for playing fair, cleaning up your own mess or enjoying warm cookies and cold milk.

Not counting the lemonade stand I operated when I was a kid,  I’ve never run a business. I suspect, though, a lot of what I’d really need to know I’ve learned in interviewing and writing stories about successful entrepreneurs over the past 20 years. Put in the hard work and long hours required to realize your aspirations. Cherish your customers and obsess over service. Care for employees like they were family. Give back to the community.

Besides newspaper journalism, there’s that other passion in my life from which I’ve learned some important lessons: scuba diving. Consider some of these dos and don’ts of diving that also apply to business.

Do prepare. Scuba diving affords a remarkably safe sport. But like so many other activities, the potential for disaster looms for those who aren’t prepared. I’ve read countless stories about careless divers who giant stride into the water without first making sure their buoyancy control devices work properly — or even turning on their air. The endings are seldom happy. Careful divers first go through a routine. Mnemonic devices help to remember a list that includes buoyancy, weights, regulators, air and final checks. Big white rabbits are fluffy. Bruce Willis ruins all films. Careful entrepreneurs are no less prepared in developing a business plan that takes into account products and services, market analysis and financial projections. Sorry. I don’t have a good mnemonic device to help with that. I’m open to suggestions from those who do.

Don’t hold your breath. While it might seem counterintuitive, you never, ever hold your breath under water. If you ascend while holding your breath, you risk injuring your lungs — kind of like inflating a balloon until it pops. The same advice applies in a metaphorical sense to running a business. Don’t wait for something to happen that might not. Don’t wait for sales to pick up, a competitor to fail or problem employee to finally get his act together. Consider a more proactive approach.

Do learn as you go. Regardless of the preparations, nobody descends to 130 feet or enters a cavern on a first dive. That requires the accumulative knowledge and skills gained from instruction and experience. Good divers base their decisions on realistic assessments of not only the conditions, but also their abilities. Entrepreneurs similarly face the temptation when business is going well to quickly expand their operations when a more measured approach might work better.

Don’t go it alone. Scuba divers adhere to a practice in which at least two “buddies” stay together in the event one requires assistance from the other. It could become a matter of life or death if an emergency arises and a diver needs a buddy to share air. Entrepreneurs sometimes go into business with buddies and sometimes not. One way or another, entrepreneurs shouldn’t go it alone. Help is close at hand from mentors, business organizations and government agencies.
A variety of resources are available in the Grand Valley. Take advantage of them.

Do savor the experience. I’m among the first to admit scuba diving can intimidate — especially when diving on new sites, descending to deeper depths or swimming in fast currents. I’m still apprehensive on night dives. At the same time, diving offers one of the most rewarding pursuits I’ve ever enjoyed. The experience can be sublime, in fact. I’ve never faced the fear of running a business — of making payroll or making decisions that affect my fate and those of others. But judging from what entrepreneurs tell me, running a business also offers an enriching experience in every sense of the word.

There’s a substantial difference between diving into water and diving into business. But there are some similarities as well, particularly in the steps people take in making those endeavors safe, successful and ultimately rewarding.