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I got sidetracked from my main business several years ago when I started working to syndicate a radio program with a world-renowned comedian. I risked a lot of my own hard-earned money-and failed. However, the knowledge I gained from that experience and the contacts I made eventually helped me start my own radio program, which led to my TV program, which gave me greater visibility and credibility. You get the point: No pain, no gain.
The world is full of great, albeit risky, opportunities. If we get complacent and try to take the "safe" route all the time, we lose chances. Taking a risk means jumping out of the comfort zone, adapting to changing situations and going beyond the norm. Here are four ways to do that:
1. Shoot for the big deals. Go after the large accounts you don't think you can get. Aim for the big contacts-presidents, CEOs and key players who can leverage your efforts. Going for the big deal is like planting bamboo: It remains underground for four years, then suddenly breaks through the earth and grows more than a foot in one day. The next day, it grows another foot, and the next day, one more. In 100 days, the plant will grow as much as 100 feet.
Your "big deal" may not happen overnight (it may take years of nurturing to come to fruition), but once that account starts sprouting, you'll reap the rewards. And although you may have to risk putting time, energy and money into it, eventually you'll get a great return.
2. Go outside your world. Whenever you take time away from running and growing your business, you take a risk. However, using that time wisely can return a great deal of value. One valuable risk is taking time to look at other industries. Study how management works in different fields and how other products are sold. Learn how to apply other industry successes to your own business. Studying what's going on outside your world can give you a unique viewpoint that will differentiate you from the competition.
3. Invest in people even when you think you can't afford it. A few years ago, a study looked at companies with the most successful sales forces. What's the common trait shared by those businesses? Even when business (or the economy) was bad, they doubled their training budgets. At the most critical times, those companies risked spending more for a greater payback.
Rick Yoswein, president of Alpha Business Machine Corp., an authorized dealer of Ricoh copiers, printers and network solutions in New York City, knows all about risk, which he defines as "a matter of looking beyond what you have, seeing where you want to go, evaluating what it's going to take to get there and then doing a risk-to-reward ratio." That means asking yourself if it's worth doing all the things necessary to reach your goals. Adds Yoswein, who recently invested about $300,000 to renovate and add office space, "You have to keep up with changing times and technologies."
4. Dare to be wrong. Carl Hamilton, author of Absolut: Biography of a Bottle (Texere) and a columnist for one of Sweden's largest newspapers, says, "When Absolut introduced its vodka to the U.S., it broke all the rules. [Company executives] wanted Americans to drink vodka from Sweden. They came up with a clear bottle, and everyone said, 'That's wrong; you can't see [it]. Put it on the shelf and you can see a bottle of Smirnoff right through it-magnified.'"
But Absolut succeeded in taking a new and original approach. The lesson? When you challenge the conventional, you risk being defined as "the guy who's doing it wrong." But if you truly believe in what you're doing, you have to take that risk.
We have to make difficult decisions-we have to risk being wrong. We risk money, energy and time. We sacrifice one goal to achieve another. But risks can be calculated so they pay off more times than not. When you lose sight of risk, you lose sight of opportunity. Erica Jong once said, "The truth is, if you don't risk anything, you risk even more."