When sh*&t goes wrong

Evelyn Wolf by Evelyn Wolf   23 May


When sh*&t goes wrong

Last Saturday, as I do most Saturdays, I went sailing. But, unlike most Saturdays, sh*&t just kept going wrong in this race. As I was covering my legs in the magical Arnicare (if you don’t know this cream, you are not prone to bruise a lot…), I started to think about whether we can apply apply some of the techniques we use on the boat to avoid and handle tricky situations to how we work, startup life and marketing.

In it to win it

Regardless of the weather, regardless of any hangovers, regardless of personal stuff, we come together as a team and we are in it to win it. As an experienced crew, who trust each other, we know each other’s limitations. On a very stormy day, our skipper will always say: “We’ll go out and take a decision then. If anyone feels uncomfortable, just tell me and we’ll stop the race.”

Now, I’m not saying stop the race at the first sight of trouble. But, know your limitations. On the boat, it’s about keeping people safe. In your startup, it’s about knowing your goals and setting milestones. If milestones are not reached, is it time to admit defeat and turn back on this particular campaign? Is it time to change tack? Trust your team, create a safe environment for people to speak out. It’s okay to say: “Today’s race wasn’t for us, but we’ll be back tomorrow. The season is not over. We are still in it to win it. ” Don’t be afraid to fail. But be afraid of not going out in the storm in the first place.

Fast reactions, well communicated

This Saturday, a halyard wrapped itself to a bow shroud and stopped our jibb from tacking right on the startline. For anyone who doesn’t sail: we couldn’t turn the boat on the startline of a busy race. Imagine needing to turn right on a busy intersection and unable to do so. My teammate loudly and clearly communicated fast what he thinks should be done. Our skipper confirmed, and within two seconds of the issue occurring he was up on the foredeck freeing the sail. It is vital to communicate clearly in these situations. If not, the skipper may have decided to try to turn the boat back while my teammate was making his way across the deck. That would have been dangerous and a small issue could have become a nasty situation.

When you see especially something small going wrong in the campaign you are running or plan you are executing, act. Act fast. Don’t ask why it happened or who screwed it up. Communicate your plan to the team, get the nod and get to work.

Know who leads your boat

Nothing on the boat happens without our skipper knowing about it and instructing it. He is responsible for the race, the boat, the crew. He knows each of our strengths, teaches us new skills on each sail, praises and motivates us, asks for advice based on our individual skills when needed and leads us through the race. Ultimately, the buck stops with him. When sh*&t goes wrong, he makes the calls needed to rectify situations.

Regardless of how big or small a project, if you work in a team, make sure there is one person who sees the big picture, understands all the moving parts and is able to lead a team effectively to success. When sh*&t goes wrong, it’s vital to have one person who can take responsibility of the situation and steer you back on the right course.  

Protest if it’s worth it

In competitive sailing there are rules. From the right of way, to how you are allowed to turn a racing mark and even how to approach said mark. There are people who don’t know the rules as well as they should. Today, we nearly crashed with another boat. That’s scary (yes, sinking comes to mind but worse, someone goes overboard into the freezing Irish Sea). We insisted on our rights. We were right. We pushed so hard that the crash was seconds away. We are a proud team. We pulled back. We also protested the move by the other team to the race officer. So while we opted for safety, we insisted on our rights and they lost points.

Whether it’s a competitor using your trademark term, Adwords, privacy regulations, Facebook or another marketing channel, there are rules. And, you need to know them. If a competitor is using your trademark term, then insist they remove it from all their communication and don’t back down. If you decide to ignore a privacy regulation, be ready for the consequences if you get caught (is your skipper okay with that?). If you believe you are right and your opponent is a Google or Facebook…well, is it worth the fight or could you simply change your course slightly and get back on track? Decide which battles are worth fighting, which risks are worth taking and make the right decision for your team and startup.

Expect the unexpected

The wind can shift. It’s unpredictable. A windshift can cause what is called a Chinese Gybe. The boom that holds the main sail swings across the boat at incredible speed and with dangerous force. Often, it can be avoided, but often the wind is unpredictable. Check it out here (that’s not us, and a little more dramatic than what you usually experience):

As the boom sweeps across, it takes with it anything and anyone in it’s path. There are warning signs. Our skipper will communicate these clearly and tell us to keep on course but be aware, we are in a potential dangerous situation. Bodies are hunched, heads kept well out of the way, hands are on lines to release sails (this will make the boat stop) if needs be. On Saturday, our Chinese Gybe caused our skipper to be hit in the back of the neck by the ropes holding the boom (thankfully not the boom and he’s fine). Without having to stop the boat, we recovered and got back on track fast. Simply because we were prepared.

Already in your planning, know what potential unexpected situations can arise and have a plan in place. Have the team prepared to react, talk through potential scenarios before they happen. This helps you avoid them in the first place. And, if the unexpected does occur, keep a cool head even if you are hit. Recover fast, lick wounds later, the race is not over.

Learn from the sh*&t that went wrong

After every race we have a few drinks as a team. We discuss the race. It’s a mix of a bitching session, self congratulation, praise and diving into what went wrong. During the race, it doesn’t matter who or what caused sh*&t to go wrong, it only matters that it’s fixed fast. During the drinks is the right time to learn. We all ask questions, we put our hands up to mistakes we made. It’s a safe place and more importantly a learning space. This Saturday, we came in fourth. Considering all the stuff that went wrong, we were happy enough. We looked at the end result, the times, the boats that were out and other metrics.

I don’t need to tell you that at the end of a campaign you need to measure against the goals you set at the beginning of the race. Decide on what metrics matter. Forget vanity metrics (e.g. how many likes you got). Look at leads and customer conversion. Always ask “so what?”. So what your visits increased – does that mean more of the right visitors or did you do a bit of clickbaiting? How do those visits stack up to your lead conversion? Clearly look at metrics and see what you can learn for next time around. Look at sh*&t that went wrong, what can you improve around processes, execution, timing, content quality, keyword selection….Learn. Adjust. Repeat.

Our team will be out again next Saturday. A new race. A new campaign. A new milestone in reach of our goal to win the season. Are you ready to learn from sh*&t that went wrong in your last campaign, prepare and start again? Let’s do it!

Topics: BusinessBrew News

Evelyn Wolf

Written by Evelyn Wolf

Inbound strategy specialist and content creator. She will turn your web presence into a magnet and always has wind in her sails.