Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Map reading - for the tourist and small business owner

Have you ever been to London, England and used their underground system, the Tube?  When you first look at the map, with its 14 coloured “lines” taking you across the city and beyond, it can be overwhelming.  I chuckled to myself that if you were colour blind, you would really be stuck.

Within each service line, there are junctions when you can change and go into a different direction, but the key is to work out your end destination, and from there work back on which is the best route to use to get there.  And there is never just one perfect way, so if there are problems en route, you can change course, go to another station and attack your journey from a different direction.

It is actually a very efficient system, and with a day pass, we were able to hop on and off, depending on where we wanted to go.  The trains are pretty frequent and if your plans changed, you just go on another route, which is what we did because we also walked a lot around the city and would end up having to find the nearest station and travelling from there.

All very nice, you may be thinking, glad you enjoyed your trip to London, but what has this got to do with me?  Well actually I see a straight correlation to starting and running a business.  There’s no one route to success, some of you may be on the fast lane, taking the most direct and shortest route, while others get sidetracked or take a more convoluted path to get there.  Sometimes we hit on roadblocks, but as we found with the Underground, you just “recalculate” your route and make the necessary changes.

The underlying key is that you have a plan to start with, where you have documented what you want to do and how you plan to get there.  Knowing what you want to achieve, makes it much easier to determine if you’ve actually got there or not.  Otherwise, just as the first inspection of the Underground map can seem overwhelming, so too can be starting a business without some sense of where you want to go.

Somehow getting off at the wrong station or taking a wrong turn in your business, is less scary, because you know there are alternate routes to get there and you can still reach your final destination, which may well change as your business evolves.

Just as the map you are given at the Underground is pocket-sized so it is easy to take with you, so too can your business plan be compact.  It doesn’t have to be a 150-page document.  In fact there are books out there promoting the one-page business plan, which still demand the same due diligence and thought process as a more formal plan you might do for the bank, for example, but mean that you are more likely to check in and see if you are on track.

Whether you are travelling or growing your business, it helps to know where you are going and if you are headed in the right direction. What you don’t want is to get lost – be it in London or in life. Take time to make a map for yourself.

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