Let enthusiasm, initiative help get you through this scary ride

Posted on Written by Wanda Kenton Smith
Wanda Kenton Smith

Have you ever watched NBC’s blockbuster “America’s Got Talent?” It’s that wild and wacky show that brings all sorts of squirrels out of their nests, along with some real nuts.

Hyped by celebrity judges and host Jerry Springer, the show is both fun and painful to watch. It’s like witnessing a train wreck — you can’t believe what you’re seeing. Some acts during the audition stage were so terrible you were downright embarrassed for the talent (or lack thereof). On the other hand, some performers are so spectacular you wonder what took so long for them to emerge.

The talent pool represents all ages, races and genders. But one trait shared by all of the performers is fearlessness. Even the tiniest tots march out on stage bearing total confidence. I’m amazed by the drive and focus of these contestants. From homeless hopefuls to well-heeled prima donnas, they travel the distance and wait hours for their shot at fame, hoping for a million bucks and a headline act in Vegas.

Talk about the odds … but hey, they believe in themselves.

OK, so what could this possibly have to do with the boating business?

No doubt we’re in a wild, unsettled economy at the moment. It’s a scary ride with plenty of ups and downs, twists and fast drops. Despite the conditions, I wish we had a little more of America’s good old-fashioned, go-for-the-gusto courage right now as is unabashedly exhibited on “America’s  Got Talent.”

I wish we could suck up our fears and do whatever we had to do to win, or frankly, to survive.

I wish we could envision our names in blazing marquees long after this seemingly endless sale drought is over, instead of picturing tombstones.

Don’t think I just fell out of the tree. And don’t make any quick assumptions that I don’t have a grip.

Don’t assume for one single moment I don’t understand fear. I, too, have suffered restless nights of late. This is the toughest market I’ve experienced in 30 years. When the industry stumbles, everyone feels the pain, with rare exceptions.

That being said, I want to challenge you to capture that “America’s Got Talent” spirit of enthusiasm and competition. Adopt a renewed sense of optimism and focus so you have the necessary mindset to fight the fight. Here are some suggestions:

First, never stop firing silver bullets. I’m not talking about quick-fix magic pills. Silver bullets are constructed of optimism and hope, and their aim is powerfully hard-hitting when properly directed. They force you to take the time to think, brainstorm, be creative, and ask the following questions:
* What else can I do to get some traction on my products or services?
* What can I do differently?
* How might I diversify my products or services to target a new potential audience? Specifically, what else might I build or deliver utilizing my same resources?

Second, don’t limit yourself as a solo act. One person doesn’t a business make. If you’ve tried everything you know to do, enlist others for new ideas and be open to suggestions. Conduct a focus group with your best customers. Talk to others in your company who may have some suggestions, being sure to pluck people from different areas to gain fresh perspectives.

Meet with those in other industries and find out what they’re doing to keep their businesses healthy during these turbulent times. Read a relevant business magazine or two, and do some online research. Consult with outside experts who can lend an ear and provide professional advice in the areas in which you have the greatest need. Seek input from a wide variety of sources to stimulate your thinking. You don‘t have to have all the answers. You just have to be smart enough to know who to turn to for help when you’re tapped out.

Third, don’t delay taking calculated risks. The times we are in are made for risk-takers, not cowards. Use the street smarts or education that has gotten you this far and try something new. Don’t forget the adage: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Acknowledge that nothing will happen if you don’t do something.

Fourth, talk to your customers. Create a game plan and systematically work through your customer list. Have a purpose to call. Make it an enthusiastic encounter, not one that signals desperation. When at all possible, make personal contact instead of snail mail or e-mail. Nothing beats one-on-one touch points. Call. Meet. Visit. Throw a party. Give your customers a truly compelling reason to get excited. Instill confidence. You need your loyal customers now more than ever. Embrace them.

Fifth, seek to celebrate the little wins. When you’re hammered by a constant onslaught of bad news, consciously strive to overcome the powerful pull of negativity and doubt that threatens your sensitive winner’s psyche.

If you’ve read Randy Pausch’s best-selling and highly praised new book “The Last Lecture,” you’ll recall the Tigger and Eeyore syndrome. When things are gloomy, it’s tempting to fall into the dangerous, woe-is-me Eeyore mentality. The idea, however, is to take upon yourself the positive, upbeat attributes of Tigger. Pausch, as you may know, was a popular college professor who discovered he had terminal pancreatic cancer. Instead of falling into depression, his zest for living directed his every waking moment until his recent passing. The book is a surefire cure to beat the blues and one that puts life into perspective.

Another suggestion: avoid Eeyores like the plague. They drain your energy and drag you down. Consider the slogan, “Misery loves company.” Don’t allow yourself the luxury of listening to losers or vultures who will pick apart your confidence.

Sixth, be sure to regularly communicate with all those in your immediate circle. Even well-intentioned managers sometimes hide in caves when business gets difficult, leaving those around them flailing in the dark. Extend the courtesy of candid, ongoing dialog with your team if you want to instill a sense of ownership and if you need them to be part of the solution.

Finally, take a deep breath and look at the big picture. Some among us are struggling to figure out how to it make it through another month. However, we must look beyond the immediate horizon. Many have already made major adjustments and hard decisions. In reality, our robust boating climate of the past may not bounce back rapidly or to its former zenith, so we likely will be required to develop new business models. Don’t postpone this significant consideration.

It’s outrageously tough in the boating business. I don’t know a manager or business owner who isn’t scrapping for every sale, or who isn’t working harder than ever to keep the corporate boat afloat.
Besides employing the tips I’ve provided, my final advice is to find some occasional relief from the stress of life. Do something for yourself that provides a temporary escape and brings much-needed joy and pleasure. What’s more, sit back, relax and catch an inspiring episode of “America’s Got Talent” to keep you motivated.

For comments on this column or to suggest future topics, email wanda@kentonsmithadv.com

Wanda Kenton Smith has 25 years marine industry marketing experience. She is president of Kenton Smith Advertising & Public Relations, a full-service agency in Orlando, Fla., and Marine Marketing to Women, an educational/training/seminar firm.

This article originally appeared in the September 2008 issue.

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