Taking Risks

Tom Panaggio

April 17, 2019

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When in charge of running a company or a team, it’s easy to be convinced that playing it safe is the responsible choice. Going out on a limb may be the last thing one wants to do. But risks need to be taken if wanting to do more than just scrape by—especially in today’s economy.

The truth is, risk avoiders are also opportunity missers. Hoping that sales will get better or conditions will improve is the wimp’s approach. One can’t wait for everything to be perfect, because it never will be. Action needs to be taken—accept risk and make things happen.

Following are eight common risk avoidance excuses that may hold one back:

The timing isn’t right—People who constantly succumb to this excuse are what Panaggio calls prisoners of hope. They’re always waiting for something else to happen before pulling the trigger and end up never acting. Millions of would-be entrepreneurs, for example, are waiting for just the right conditions—funding, free time, a better economy. And all the time they’re waiting, opportunities are passing them by.

We tried that already—Small business owners most often utter these words in relation to marketing. Maybe they spent a bundle on a TV commercial once, and it didn’t work. Or an online deal offer resulted in a loss. But marketing is far from certain and often difficult for small companies to predict. Without proactive, long-term, and consistent marketing, businesses die.

If only I had [fill in the blank]—For business owners and especially startups, there are always a million if-only-I-hads. And often, they involve technology. But if examining the situation closely, another way might be found. The road to success is through action, not accessories. While tools and technology may be helpful, they don’t guarantee success. Effort guarantees success.

I’m still working on a plan—There’s nothing wrong with planning. One needs to be prepared. But endless planning that replaces the reality of execution results in stagnation. A perfect plan might prevent failing, but it will also stop success if it’s never put into place. Saying ain’t the same as doing.

It’s a good idea, but things are different now—This kind of thinking often results in moving the target because certainty or perhaps just the motivation to move ahead is lacking. A plan may be ready to be acted on, but pull back and reassess for one reason or another. Moving the target changes the objective, goal, or focus of the business and thus delays plan execution, innovation, or change. And every time the target moves, preparation starts over.

I’ll get to it—eventually—I had a salesperson who did extensive research on each lead, compiling hundreds of pages of material so she’d know as much as possible before calling. On the surface, this seems admirable. But the salesperson was really putting off the moment of truth. She was afraid of being rejected, and research was a form of avoidance. In business, there’s no shortage of delaying tactics that can be used as a buffer. If immersing in busywork in order to avoid true priorities, the business will suffer.

I’m in a defensive posture—The hardest risks for cash-strapped business owners to take are often financial. Many choose to cut costs and do more with less when what they need to do is hire new talent, invest more heavily in marketing, upgrade technology, or something else. The truth is, you can save your way to mediocrity but not success.

Nothing’s broken, why fix it?—When nothing is going wrong, it’s easy to say things are fine, the future is rosy, and risks don’t need to be taken to improve. But that’s a good way to get left behind. Customers don’t always leave because they had a bad experience with the company. They may simply have had a better one elsewhere.

Risk avoiders live in a false reality. The temporary comfort they gain from rationalizing their inaction just postpones the inevitable. Hoping that something will change will result in defeat. Success comes only via constant forward progress, which requires making something happen. As a leader, enthusiastically seeking opportunity to execute, improve, and deliver results will be the beacon that guides all who follow. So stop avoiding—and start acting.

Tom Panaggio has enjoyed a 30-year entrepreneurial career as co-founder of two successful direct marketing companies: Direct Mail Express and Response Mail Express. He is the author of The Risk Advantage: Embracing the Entrepreneur's Unexpected Edge.

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