Have you ever seen the traffic in a Vietnamese city? Once you do it will change you, mostly because the thought of navigating it will scare you silly. But also because there are lessons every small business owner can take away from how it operates.
I recently returned from an amazing 10 days in Vietnam and learned a ton. You see, a Vietnamese city, like its capital Hanoi, is a motor scooter town with one motor scooter for many of its 7.1 million residents. They have almost no stoplights or traffic guards, yet people still figure out how to navigate through a messy maze of windy, overpopulated streets to get where they’re trying to go.
Here are some lessons every small business owner can learn when navigating through the mayhem of running a business:
1. Decide where you’re going
You wouldn’t just get on your scooter for a leisurely drive through Vietnam’s traffic bedlam; there isn’t enough room on the road for that. You need to know what direction you’re going otherwise you’ll literally get hurt.
As an entrepreneur it’s not enough to just want to create something, you need a sense of direction for where you’re going. That’s your vision. Once you know what that is you need to make sure you stick to it. You may have some roadblocks that pop up along the way, and your vision may shift, but so long as you have your vision in mind you can keep moving towards it.
2. Other drivers will be fearless and aggressive
Picture this: thousands of people rushing at you trying to get where you’re going, or get to where you just were. They are driving at you, behind to you, alongside you. One wrong move or hesitation and SMACK – your paper-thin helmet flies off and you’re lying on the ground now with others driving OVER you. If you hesitate on the streets, you will get hurt.
Any entrepreneur knows the business world is just like this. There are threats to your livelihood every day. If you don’t get aggressive and tackle your fears, you will get smacked around. You’ve got to get good at prioritizing, making decisions, and moving forward.
3. Find a way to make it work
Ever pack your car out so much that you can’t see out of the rear view mirror? Ever have to rearrange how you loaded up your trunk so everything would fit just right? Now imagine you had all that stuff and only had a small motor scooter to move it around town.
The roads in Hanoi are filled with drivers in that exact situation, and they make it work. They don’t have the extravagance of a back seat or a big trunk. I saw one woman carrying five 10-gallon flower planters, a cage of chickens and her purse all while driving her scooter in high heels and checking text messages. For all I know, she may have left a few things at home because there was no more room on her scooter. I bet that wasn’t an ideal situation for her.
In your business, everything will not fit nicely into the world you imagine. The most successful entrepreneurs find a way to make things work. You may call it “being scrappy” or “resourceful”. At the end of the day, you’re the one responsible for getting things done no matter what the packing situation will look like. Prioritize and make it work.
Hanoi has more horn honks per capita than any other city in the world. Okay, I made that up, but there is a lot of honking on their streets. It’s loud and annoying. Nevertheless, it’s for a good reason.
The only reason there are not thousands of crashes on the road every day is because the drivers are constantly “speaking” to each other with subtle honks to let other drivers know where they are. As a driver, you can’t see all around you while looking forward so you have to rely on the other drivers on the road letting you know where they are so you don’t crash into each other.
Just like a scooter honk, you need to over communicate when running a business. No one person can see everything. Businesses have many stakeholders to think about, including customers, employees, owners, financiers, press, etc. The only way to make sure you avoid a (serious) crash with any of them is to have excellent communication strategies in place. And sorry, I hate to tell you but no matter how great you communicate, fender benders will happen.
5. Roads are guidelines only
The stress that comes from walking across one of these traffic-jammed streets as a newbie to town easily removes minutes from your life. My wife and I learned the hard way though that the scooters don’t stick to just the streets, but they even get up on the sidewalks when they need to. In fact, the curbs are built with a gradient seemingly to make it easier for the scooters to get up onto the sidewalks when the roads aren’t good enough for the drivers. I have the bruises to prove it.
Similarly, a businesses roadmap is never the only way to go. There is no roadmap that is ever final or is ever going to paint the picture for exactly how you’re going to get where you want to be – no matter how much you plan. Don’t be afraid to hop off the road from time to time if it helps you get moving. Just try not to hit any pedestrians too hard because they may not see you coming.