It’s funny how business is akin to so many things in life, be it sport, family life, relationships and many other things. For me, fishing provides some great metaphors that really resonate with running a business.

So what happens when you miss out on the catch of your life?

You have been building your business for years putting in the hard yards, extremely long hours and countless sleepless nights, not to mention taking lower pay, the impacts to your personal and family life, etc.

Like fishing, you prepare and get ready for the possibility of catching the elusive big one. You make sure your rods are prepped, and you have a strong enough line. You have the right amount and type of bait, and in fact, you have alternative bait just in case one type doesn’t work. You’re wearing the right clothing just in case it gets cold, and you have sunscreen on so you don’t burn. You have food and water for the journey. Basically, you have done everything you need to do in readiness to catch that big one.

You go to great lengths to be prepared and make sure you have covered as many bases and scenarios as possible, and you feel quite confident you have everything, well most things, covered.

You have been out on the boat for several hours now. You feel you have somewhat mastered the experience and nothing has gone wrong. You’re not cold as you have the right clothes, you have enough bait, and your gear is in order. Oh, and you have ample chocolate to last you the whole journey!

At this point, you become somewhat complacent.

Instead of holding on to your rod, you decide to place it on the edge of the boat as you think you have it covered and there hasn’t been any big fish biting, so the probability and risk are low of anything going wrong.

We can reach a similar point in business.

Jim Ilievski

Serial entrepreneur Jim Ilievski.

You have been in operation for over 10 years. You have delivered some great work, and your clients love you and are constantly referring you to other clients and so on. You have a great team, and you now have good processes in place and feel confident that all is under control. It’s going so smoothly that your team also feels the same level of confidence.

Then the boat rocks!

You hear the fishing line being rapidly released and the rod starts jumping around—your heart races. You instantly know you have got “the big one”, and as quickly as that happened, the rod that was left on the edge of the boat unattended goes overboard and sinks to the bottom of the ocean. Your heart sinks, too.

In business, the above scenario can be devastating. The one that got away could be the difference between your company doubling in size or staying as is. The opportunity you have been building towards for a decade literally sinks to the bottom of the ocean. That golden chance you had to inject the one thing which would have propelled your business to the next level, from small to medium, from medium to big or from big to extremely big … is gone.

So what does one do? How do you recover from such a misfortune? Here are five key principles to guide you during such an event.

1) Go back to basics

If you’ve put the time and effort into preparing your business and putting good processes in place, stay the course. Don’t immediately go into panic mode and throw away all your good work because of one mistake. Assess what went wrong, but don’t wreck all your good work in the process. Stay true to what makes your business special.

2) Learn from the experience

As you coolly assess why the fishing rod sunk to the bottom of the ocean, and your golden opportunity with it, map out alternative scenarios to see how things could have been done differently. Scenario planning can be a powerful tool for business improvement. Maybe there is something simple in your processes and operations that you have been overlooking until now. Turn this lost opportunity into an opportunity to learn, improve and get better.

3) Fix what you can

The best learning comes from doing. Now that you’ve made your assessment of the situation, how do you fix it? Put in place the processes that will help to mitigate the same type of mistake happening again. If it was a matter of complacency, find ways to keep yourself and your team on your toes. Can you look for data points in your business that show where complacency has crept in? Missed deadlines, a succession of lost clients, a drop in sales? Find ways to build in warning signs that things might be getting a little too laid-back and relaxed.

4) Forgive yourself

We all make mistakes. Please don’t dwell on them to the point of distraction. Beating yourself up over a missed opportunity only means you’re taking your eye off the main game. Move on to your next great adventure!

5) Cast your line back in

Get one of the other rods you spent so long preparing for every scenario. Put bait on it and cast it back into the water. There’s only one difference now; you would have learned not to leave the rod on the edge of the boat! When you are consistently doing the right things in your business, you create a virtuous circle of opportunity. As the old saying goes, there are plenty more fish in the sea! So get fishing!


Jim Ilievski is founder and CEO at CKI GROUP