Hope Is Not a Business Strategy
August 30, 2022
At the end of 2006, we were finishing our best year ever for gross revenue. Our employee numbers hit a peak of 28 that year, and we celebrated our good fortune with a festive Christmas party in the new office building we had just purchased in 2005.
Despite all the positives, I knew our fortunes would be changing very soon.
D.R. Wastchak, LLC (DRW) provided energy efficiency testing and inspections for the production home building market, labeling the builder's homes as ENERGY STAR for the EPA's energy efficiency program.
By the end of 2006, the record number of homes started in the first quarter of the year had declined steeply, and over the course of the next two years, would continue to decline to record low numbers as the nation entered The Great Recession, taking my business down with it.
We started laying off field inspectors in January, and other employees throughout 2007, but it wasn't enough to keep pace with the precipitous decline in income from fewer and fewer homes to inspect.
Things were looking pretty hopeless, not only for DRW, but a wide swath of the economy.
In those dark days, I wondered how we would find our way through the seemingly insurmountable challenges.
The words of friend and former business partner Howard Bashford provided the answer.
Hope is not a business strategy!
“The opposite of fear is hope, defined as the expectation of good fortune not only for ourselves but for the group to which we belong. Fear feeds anxiety and produces anger; hope, particularly in a political sense, breeds optimism and feelings of well-being. Fear is about limits; hope is about growth. Fear casts its eyes warily, even shiftily, across the landscape; hope looks forward, towards the horizon. Fear points at others, assigning blame; hope points ahead, working for a common good. Fear pushes away; hope pulls others closer. Fear divides, hope unifies.”
The presidential race in 2008 made the idea of "hope" a front and center topic of discussion, including contrasting views on the phrase, "hope is not a strategy".
However, this phrase did not originate in 2008.
My friend Howard exclaimed to me and our other partner, "hope is not a business strategy", three years before the 2008 campaign season had begun.
A search on Google provides few clues to the origin of the phrase, and all references to it date back to only 2004.
All of this is summarized in an online article from yourdictionary.com, including a very well stated explanation of the meaning of "hope is not a strategy", not just for business, but in general.
"Hope will only get you so far. You cannot just wish away your... problems. There needs to be a concentrated effort to reduce problems and to increase positive opportunities. Just sitting around thinking about how the current situation could be better is not going to change anything, you also have to act." (emphasis added)
Conquer Your Fear
Believe it or not, the 1997 Hollywood film The Edge provides a great case study on the important differences in how to approach your fears.
The two main characters, billionaire Charles Morse (Anthony Hopkins) and fashion photographer Bob Greene (Alec Baldwin), find themselves stranded in the Alaskan wilderness after a harrowing plane crash.
Cold, hunger, and exhaustion turn out to be the least of the two men's concerns as they face the ongoing threat of being killed by an angry grizzly bear intent on eating them for his next meal.
After days of being chased, threatened, and harassed by the bear, Greene has finally had enough. Giving up hope, he lays on the ground, resigning himself to dying of starvation or being eaten by the bear.
Morse, in contrast, decides to take matters into his own hands. He decides to act!
Turning from hunted to hunter, Morse tells a disbelieving Greene that he's going to "kill the bear."
With a new plan in place, and facing rather than shrinking from fear, Morse motivates Greene with a positive outlook for their future.
An outlook based on hope, but executed with deliberate action that ultimately leads to their survival rather than death.
Hope Is Not a Business Strategy!
Not every business I've started was a success.
In 2003, I purchased a precast concrete basement franchise with three partners, with high hopes that my relationships with the home builders could be leveraged into a successful marketing plan for an avant-garde basement system.
By 2005, after suffering the loss of one partner and most of the dollars we'd invested in the start-up, it became clear we were in trouble.
Struggling to find a way forward, and only hopes of landing a production builder who could give us enough work to survive, Howard shared his important words of wisdom... "Hope is not a business strategy."
While it spurred us into action, finding other clients to purchase our product, it was too little too late, and we were forced to shut the business down in 2006.
It was a very expensive lesson for us all, but one that I can clearly point to as THE reason why DRW survived The Great Recession, which started for us at the end of 2006 and negatively impacted our business until the Spring of 2012.
By the end of 2007, I found myself in the unenviable position of owning a second business headed toward its demise.
However, rather than give in to what was most definitely not an inevitable outcome, I gathered the key members of my team in our conference room and repeated the words of wisdom Howard shared two years earlier, "hope is not a business strategy."
With that, we proceeded to clearly define a realistic projection of our income over the next several months, not one we hoped would happen, but one we were confident we could achieve. Then we created a plan to shrink expenses to match the realistic projection of income.
Some in the room volunteered to leave, while others agreed to work part-time. I immediately started the process to sell the new office building, and every expense that wasn't essential was curtailed or eliminated.
On the income side of the ledger, we brainstormed new revenue opportunities and created a plan to turn them into reality.
By January of 2009, DRW had "right sized" from 28 people in a 6,000 square foot office building, to just 5 (including myself) in a 1,100 square foot office suite.
Revenues stabilized and we were prepared to ride out the storm that would plague the home building industry, and our business, for three more years.
We survived, but only because we took deliberate action to overcome our fear of the significant challenges we faced, and put a plan in place that would carry us to a favorable outcome.
Faced with new challenges in 2014 that spurred me to try and sell DRW in 2015, ultimately coming up short, I once again decided to take deliberate action rather than hope DRW would one day magically turn into a business that no longer caused me struggle, burnout, and unhappiness.
An Essential Part of Business Strategy
While "hope" may not be a business strategy in and of itself, I would argue that it plays an essential role in every business strategy.
As I've shared often in my articles and podcasts, clarifying your vision for the future as a business owner is critically important to greater alignment, cohesion, and engagement of your team.
A clear vision allows everyone on the team to understand how the work they do each day fits into a bigger context, creating greater excitement, a cause to collectively work towards, and an end result to rally around.
A clear vision developed and shared by the team, creates an opportunity for everyone to maximize the future for not only the organization, but for each person on the team.
Last, but not least, a clear vision creates a positive, motivational, and indeed hopeful, picture of the future that everyone on the team can look forward to.
In this way, through vision, hope is an essential part of every business strategy.
Leading with Vision
At the beginning of 2016, with the start of the final rebuild of DRW, I created a very positive outlook for my team, guided by an optimistic and hopeful vision for the future.
Included in that vision was an opportunity for members of my team to buy the business from me when the time was right.
After two years of growing knowledge, confidence, and desire to become entrepreneurs themselves, three members of my leadership team decided that the time was right, and offered to buy the business.
I was concerned that as the date to close the sale approached, March 31, 2018, they would get cold feet and let their fears scuttle the purchase.
Instead, they conquered any fears, relied on each other as partners to stay the course, and fulfilled their own hopes for a bigger, brighter future for themselves, as well as for me.
As we stare another recession in the face, stoked by double digit inflation that we haven't seen in over 40 years, a falling stalk market, and souring consumer confidence, it's more important than ever that your vision of the future is not stuck in your head, but clearly written down and shared with members of your team.
Click here for a free copy of my Vision Builder tool to help you create a "vision statement" as well as a "future state vision" for your organization.
With your own clearly defined vision for a bigger, brighter future, you and your team will gain all the benefits that follow, including greater personal and professional freedom as you move one step closer to creating a Freedom Focused business.
Best of luck, and don't forget to always stay...
Focused on your freedom!