Signs of Spring bring out the green-fingered entrepreneur

It’s been milder this week, and the first signs of spring are here – frogspawn in the dog’s outside water bowl (she just slurps it up without stopping, must be nutritious), salad has appeared at teatime and my daughter announced her thermal onesie and bed-socks can go back in the cupboard. Feeling reckless, I have put the snow shovel away.

I love spring. Spring is a time of renewal and rebirth.  Trees are budding, the grass is becoming green again and in northern climates, people are renewing friendships with their neighbours as they finally get to spend time outdoors in the garden after a long, cold, dark winter.

In the business world, spring is a time for renewal and rebirth as well. Now is a great time to do some ‘spring cleaning’ of your business, review your strategy and assess your progress during the first quarter. If you achieved your objectives, set new ones for the next quarter. If you didn’t achieve them, reassess and put the necessary pieces in place to achieve them this quarter. Lighter mornings and lighter nights also make us feel reenergised, coming out of hibernation imposed by of dark mornings and dark evenings on the journey to and from work, and we stop wasting time mooching indoors.

Ah yes, wasting time. I read once that over a lifetime the average man wastes 394 days in the bath. That’s 56 weeks. I can’t understand that being defined as ‘wasted time’ as for me those 56 weeks are some of the happiest and most peaceful weeks of my life. I love being in the bath, contemplating life or reading, more than I love being on holiday. I certainly don’t consider it time wasted.

But 56 weeks is nothing compared with the amount of time I really do waste, standing outside the front door in the freezing cold in the winter waiting for my wife to find the door keys in her ‘winter’ handbag, and this is in addition to the ages I waste waiting for her to answer her mobile phone – the delay often being explained it was lost in my handbag. Analysis of this response simply confirms that it was never lost, just that the handbag is too big. And another thing, the keys are always found nestling at the bottom of her bag…underneath her mobile phone.

The good news is, however, that the winter handbag (similar to Sherpa Tensing’s rucksack) is being replaced by a jaunty, smaller piece of lady-kit because it’s Spring. I assume the emergency rescue flares, extra-large can of windscreen defroster and crampons will be removed for the next six months or so. The American army thought they had a tough time seeking Osama Bin Laden holed out in a cave somewhere in the mountains on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, but they should thank their lucky stars he didn’t choose to hide out in my wife’s winter handbag.

But back to Spring. People who know me best know that at I am a secret but fervent gardener, and its great to be back out there. I’ve always had a passion for pottering and potting, I find the physicality rewarding, and being in the fresh air a great counter to my Monday to Friday routine housed indoors with clients. My garden has taught me about how things grow and thrive in a vibrant and sustainable manner, and the cycle of seed-grow-harvest. I’ve often reflected on this and parallels to encouraging growth in business, and to the ways I apply my attention and energy. Spring means its time to get out there and throw off the shackles of winter.

A gardener sees the world as an ecosystem of interdependent parts, where you need to get everything together, where connected and healthy, sustaining relationships are essential to the vitality of the whole. A real gardener is not a person who simply plants flowers and creates something good to look at, but a person who cultivates the soil, and thinks about shaping the garden for the long-term. The garden has taught me about patience and persistence and the principles of nurturing and working hard to create something you want, and feeling proud of once achieved. Appreciating the annual seasons and cycle of a garden has illuminated to me the stages in growing a business, looking at a business year as four three-month periods in which to grow and develop.

I’ve learned that it’s not just what you plant, but how you plant, and the thinking and design before hand, which brings long-term rewards. Gardeners know that once strong roots are established, followed by careful nurturing, natural growth will bring your garden on in leaps and bounds. The same goes for business, set your thinking to fix the foundations in place, and then with attention, thought and effort, your business will grow. Also gardening, like business, is inherently a local activity, set within an ever-changing and unpredictable global climate – the weather and the economy throw unexpected challenges just when you think you’re on an even keel.

Showing up in person, shovel, seeds, compost and humility in hand is essential, you’ve got to put a shift into your garden or it can get overgrown by weeds and go off track. Gardeners, like entrepreneurs believe in potential – and can be known to be pathologically optimistic. We can vividly imagine the bloom and the scent of the rose even in deepest of winter, and that our new business venture can be a success. In essence, the gardener’s work is like an entrepreneur – a life of passion, effort and care, we cultivate abundance from scarce resources, we nurture, encourage, fertilise and prune when necessary.

William Rosenzweig wrote a thoughtful piece around the parallels of gardening and business which inspired me to write this blog, so as Spring beckons, here are some seeds of thought he inspired in me from his writing to cultivate new habits in your business:

Make sure you’re planting what you want to grow I don’t like green beans, so if I were to plant them, they would be quickly shriveled from lack of water, and would be overgrown by some very healthy weeds. That’s because I wouldn’t care about growing them! In your business, which goals matter to you, and what are the actions that will help you to achieve them? Follow your passion in business, because that will create a compelling proposition to customers.

Don’t over plant It takes a lot of work to grow a healthy garden, there are things to do every week. The more you try to grow, the more time you need and we all have lives apart from our gardens. In business, if you set out to cultivate 10 new habits you are likely to fail at several, and then feeling despair, give up altogether. Limit your plantings and increase your success. Focus on one part of your business at a time.

Mix in some compost Stuff grows in the garden, but flourishes if you provide some compost, nutrients and organic matter to stimulate not only growth of your plants, but more importantly, make your soil healthy. Apply some of this thinking to yourself, and invest in training and personal development to grow yourself, for today and tomorrow’s business challenges.

Take cuttings I often get cuttings from friends to put into my garden, it’s a great way to introduce new plants. In business, investigate ideas and insights that have worked elsewhere and make them part of your thinking.

Planning & preparation You can’t have a great garden overnight just by planting indiscriminately. The job must be broken down into tasks, and some will need to be completed before you can begin others. You need to start your seedlings or take cuttings, turn over your soil, provide extra nutrients that your ground is lacking, and create a plan for what will grow where. You need to know when you will take care of each of these tasks. And have a back-up plan, it inevitably rains cats and dogs on your scheduled planting days – as in business you need some options in case things change, as they inevitably will.

Dig in! You can spend forever planning every detail, and never get holes dug and seeds in the ground. It’s time to get out there and put your foot onto the spade and get it into the ground. My business mantra is the same – 20% thinking, 80% doing, you’ve talked about it for long enough, get started! Digging over vegetable beds and pruning trees makes me sweat. So does mowing the lawns and pulling out piles of weeds. Perspiration is a sign that I have put some effort into life. It’s the same for business, customers and sales don’t happen by staring at a spreadsheet.

Weeds and bugs I do everything organically possible to prevent weeds in my garden, but weeds and bugs happen. Weeds certainly seem to grow faster and stronger than the other plants. It’s the same in business, you’ve got to attend the everyday washing-the-pots tasks, they may be mundane but it’s the detail that matters, and remove any threats to your business, stuff that’s getting in the way and choking out new ideas. Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them said Eeyore, but I’m not so sure. Equally pruning, trimming and cutting back is vital – sometimes in business you have to reshape and refocus when it’s not going how you want it to do.

The gardener and the entrepreneur are alchemists alike, with a vision and a plan, turning ideas into designs into reality. We really do reap what we sow. In gardening, as in business, taking short cuts and slipshod efforts do not work. Like anything worthwhile in life if you want to succeed, hard work and commitment come first.

Gardening is a way of showing that you believe in tomorrow, and that you’re looking forward. To dig a spade into the earth, has life anything better to offer than this on a Spring Saturday morning? Of course, you can bury a lot of troubles digging in the dirt too, but the most noteworthy thing about gardeners is that they are optimistic, enterprising and never satisfied. They always look forward to doing something better than they have done before. If you take that attitude into your business, you won’t go far wrong.

To me, there’s something magical about being in my garden, it seems to make me calm and refreshed. I will make time for my garden every single day without fail, even if it’s a quick walk to the bottom down the hill first thing in the morning. It just feels like something that I need, and maybe I do, mentally, spiritually, and physically.

Fertilizer happens! In fact, nothing much grows without it. When people don’t weed their business, it gets overrun by nettles. If you don’t tend to your garden, the end result is a lack of colour. Gardens, like a business, are not made by sitting down in the shade – so get up now and go get your hands dirty, be a green-fingered entrepreneur and go for growth.