We were in serious trouble, but then I remembered the kitty litter. How a freak snow storm delivered a vital business lesson.

My hands were numb from the cold. I was physically tired. And I knew that if I didn’t figure out a solution, things were going to get worse.

Let me start at the beginning so this will make more sense.

I live in the foothills of the Sierras in a region referred to as the “Gold Country.” Actually, my home is eight miles and three stop signs from where gold was discovered in 1848. That discovery spawned the California Gold Rush. I imagine gold miners used to camp in the creek that cuts through my back property.

The realtors in the area refer to where I live as “pleasantly above the fog line and below the snow line.” Since moving here six years ago, it has snowed all of three times. Each snowfall provided only a light dusting and disappeared by noon.

I do not own a snow shovel.

So, I wasn’t concerned when radio reports said there was snow headed for the Foothills. After all, it had never been a problem in the past. Those warnings were for people “up the hill.” As I went to bed that night visions of warm California days danced in my head.

I awoke at 6:30 the following morning to a deathly quiet. Outside, everything was covered in blanket of white. A glance at the table on my deck showed that about ten inches of snow had fallen.

My bedside clock showed that power had gone out at about 2:30 a.m.

There were no lights. There were no phones. There was no Internet. Worst of all, there was no heat.

The quiet was punctuated sporadically with splintering pops like rifle shots as large branches in the surrounding oak trees snapped under the weight of the snow.

A glance out the front window at the long driveway that slopes down to my house confirmed that our cars were not going anywhere soon.

Did you know that a garden shovel works just as well as a snow shovel — as long as you’re willing to work four times harder? Although still wet and slushy, the driveway was basically cleared later that day.

That night the temperature dropped to 18 degrees Fahrenheit.

Now I know that people in the Midwest are saying, “So what? That seems like a warm day for December.” Remember, I live in California. Teenagers here are still wearing shorts in December. (Although that might be a indication more of the cluelessness of local teenagers than a statement about our weather.)

What happened next can be summarized with two words: Black. Ice.

Consider the situation for a moment: a bunch of California drivers who are not snow savvy, lots of hills, and enough ice to host the Winter Olympics.

Remember the long sloping driveway? The cars were not going anywhere. Their tires spun like tops on glass.

There I was, garden shovel in hand, cold, stuck, and more than a little cranky. Then I remembered something from my past.

A number of years ago, I had a client in Green Bay, Wisconsin. During one of those frigid winter visits, I noticed people carried large bags of kitty litter in the trunks of their cars. When I asked why, I was told that it was used to help them get out of snow drifts.

Recalling this piece of previously random information, I now had a plan (or at least the hope of one). While I don’t have a snow shovel, I do have cats. A half empty bag of kitty litter was retrieved from the garage. Pretty quickly the cars were out of the driveway and life began to return to normal.

A day and a half after the storm hit, power was restored.

The broken limbs and fallen oaks are being cleaned-up and turned into firewood.

The cats have gotten a new bag of kitty litter to replace what was borrowed.

So where is the business lesson in all this?

My home is, in many ways, like a successful business before the recession. It was built based on a certain set of conditions. Everything worked well for years. Then, those conditions dramatically changed overnight.

Frankly, being trapped without power, without heat, and with temperatures below 20 degrees is a dangerous situation. It’s very hard to survive very long in those conditions.

Luckily, those conditions didn’t last long.

I learned that I need to make some important changes around my house in order to continue to operate with this new set of conditions.

I’m investigating a generator for power. I’m making sure I have plenty of wood to burn for heat. A new snow shovel is being acquired. And yes, I’m stocking extra kitty litter.

Has your business adapted to the changed business ciimate?

If you are not promoting your business more aggressively now than you did six months ago, you are probably in a business slide. Fortunately, that can be turned around.

Bluntly, to succeed business people are finding that they need to operate differently now than they did a year or two ago. Old sources of business have dried up. New business sources must be developed.

So how do you start to adapt to the new world of business? Here are a series of questions to ask yourself that may help shake loose some ideas you can put to use:

• How can you change your product or service to make it more valuable?
• Can you work harder to improve your output?
• Can you work smarter to improve your output?
• Can you increase the amount that people buy in each transaction?
• Can you increase how often people buy?
• Are there groups of people who could be your customers but aren’t yet?
• Can your online presence be improved?
• Are you using traditional marketing to drive people to your website?
• Can you stimulate more referrals?
• Can you reach new customers and get them to try your product or service?

Don’t just look for one right answer. Instead explore how multiple ideas could give you a competitive advantage.

Once you sort out what you are going to do differently, the next step is to tell the world what you are doing.

But, like digging out a long, sloping driveway with a garden shovel, it will take some effort, and some time. It can be done. Others are already doing it. What it takes is the decision to start.

You don’t have to dig alone. The Sentium team can help. We can assist you in strategically getting your marketing programs in place so they can generate the results you need.

The next step is easy. Call Sentium at 1-800-595-1288 to schedule a no obligation telephone meeting. We’ll discuss your goals and help you with a marketing strategy that makes sense for you and your business.

When conditions change, one needs to adapt. Often those modifications are already known to other people. So, instead of reinventing the wheel, why not learn from people who know the solutions?

And, sometimes, the solution is as simple as having a bag of kitty litter at hand.

To your business success,


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Richard Wilson is the Founder/Chief Marketing Strategist for Sentium Strategic Communications which helps companies craft the right message for extraordinary results. Over the past 31 years, his clients have ranged from start-ups to major technology companies.
© 2009 All Rights Reserved. All people who are looking to dramatically boost their business should read this e-zine. Don’t even think about reproducing this document or its contents without written permission from Richard Wilson. But feel free to forward this to all of your friends. For reprint permission, please call 800-595-1288.