As a young adult, I found myself driving a bus, unintentionally. I had volunteered to coach a club team at a local school, and soon after taking on the position, I found out the group’s entire budget was being eaten up by transportation costs to nearby competitions. After some failed attempts at finagling the pricing, I figured the best way to save on the cost was to drive the bus myself.
My career in mass transit may have been short lived—I stopped coaching the following year —but the lessons it taught me about preparation, prioritization, value proposition and critical thinking are ones I still use today, particularly during the shifting landscape caused by a global pandemic.
Be Prepared to Change Lanes
Traditional business wisdom would have had us continue to outsource transportation, focusing our time and energy on our core skills as a club. The idea, of course, being that if we could optimize what we were good at, the rest would fall into place. However, that’s not how the world of club competitions—or business, especially today in a post-Covid-19 environment—works.
When your business has a need, is acquiring the skill worth it? Too often, I’ve seen an entrepreneur’s focus on an initial idea be too strong to see the gaps, opportunities or money pits within the plan.
This is understandable. Entrepreneurship takes confidence to do something that’s often never been done. However, an “always outsource” mentality can drown you in debt or, equally challenging, in a network of vendors too complex to be effective. It’s why we’ve seen VC-backed startups burning through cash, as though they’ve somehow forgotten the gritty, GSD-mentality that got them to that system in the first place.
The answer isn’t always “spend.”
Be Willing to Pay the Fare for Technology and People
When evaluating the resources hurdle—whether it’s time, money or the need to get a bus-full of teenagers to Minneapolis in one piece—it’s critical to have a clear vision of priorities. For me, this has boiled down to a single principle: invest money in technology, and time in people.
In the case of the bus, it took time for me to acquire the license, but very little money. That time investment freed up cash that we were able to put back into the club.
In the business world, investing in people can be more costly; therefore, it is critical to find tech solutions to curb the most time-consuming tasks. By investing your money in technology, you give yourself back the time to invest in people, fueling your creative growth engine.
The need for technology is why I started my current company, Ease. As a broker, I spent hours circling back with individuals to fill out their name correctly for the umpteenth time in a stack of paperwork, frustrating benefits recipients and burning away my time. Ease streamlines this process into a single online system, and now, thousands of brokers across the country are freed up to spend their time helping employers and their employees to better utilize the benefits they’re paying for, rather than filling out a social security number or tracking down a missing date of birth. Now more than ever, as the workforce has gone virtual seemingly overnight, we are seeing a surge in companies who are scrambling to adopt the technology they need to help them keep operating business as usual.
While our bus wasn’t a piece of sophisticated technology, the decision map that led me to learn how to drive it is the same process a business owner should utilize when evaluating a technology today: weigh if the time investment can save you money in the long run.
Know When to Take the Wheel
Even if you have a business need and the barrier to entry on that skillset is low, there is still the issue of distraction. After all, no one business can do everything, so it’s critical that you maintain focus.
Again, to the bus. You see, I didn’t stop at just driving my own team. I realized very quickly that if we were in this situation, it was likely that other schools faced the same spending plight. Sensing an opportunity, I began calling neighboring schools and offered my services—at a discount to what they were paying. For us, these other club payments were all “profit,” because we were already driving to competitions.
As a business owner, you, too, should evaluate not just what you can do well, but what is highly valued by others. For instance, today you see many hospitals outsourcing their back-office functions to smaller facilities who struggle to afford the staff to keep up with the complexities of today’s complex health care system during this public health crisis. For many, this has turned into an unexpected profit center. In fact, sometimes these business ventures become businesses of their own.
While my career in mass-transit may have only lasted for one year, the lessons I learned from it continue to serve me to this day. No matter where you are on the road to your career destination, remember to focus less on what you started out to do, and more on where you’re going—and be prepared to adapt and change lanes a few times along the way.