My favorite joke begins with the line, “Ask me what the secret to comedy is?” Then, before someone can respond, I blurt out, “Timing!”
The joke’s effectiveness hinges entirely on timing. While the importance of timing in comedy is apparent, I don’t think that I have fully appreciated its role in business. There are so many circumstances, both positive and negative, in my business career that have been influenced by timing.
There was the prospect who coincidentally shared a cab with me on the way to a convention that ultimately led to a big sale. If I had arrived at the cab line 20 seconds later, it wouldn’t have happened. There was the time when we were about to sell the company until, during the final process, we lost a big account that forced the buyer to pull back and ultimately walk away. Had the process started two months earlier, we would have sold the business, leaving us to muddle through a difficult time with the new buyer who would have undoubtedly had buyer’s remorse.
So how do you harness the magical power of timing? I wish I knew. After having a fair share of timing mishaps, I have learned that several factors are at work. The most obvious concept is awareness and giving consideration to the element of timing. Whenever timing is a crucial element to an outcome, I murmur to myself, “timing.” I push myself to analyze the situation and fully understand its impact. It’s amazing how many times I end up giving credit to timing. You’ll never control the possibility of sharing a cab with a prospect (unless you are really clever), but knowing that these opportunities are rare is a big first step.
While awareness is important, knowing when to act is just as crucial. Carpe diem, the Latin phrase that generally means, “seize the day,” is often quoted. If you do some research, you’ll find that about 10 U.S. presidents have famously used this quote or the derivative, “seize the moment,” to either develop important strategies or invoke a critical decision point to their followers. How many golden opportunities have you witnessed that you let pass without reacting, later punishing yourself for not seizing the moment? Countless, I’ll bet. But there are books filled with stories of entrepreneurs who saw an opportunity and turned timing and their good observation skills into great fortune.
What you can control
When it comes to timing, there are some things that you can control. Before making big decisions, you should probably ask yourself if the timing is right? Is it the right time to launch a new product? Is it the right time to go after a customer by undercutting the competition? To let an employee go? To hire a new employee? Is it the right time to sell? Maybe you already instinctively do this, but more often than not we take for granted the powerful element of timing. For instance, knowing when it’s time to end this article …
Steven L. Marks, founder and CEO of Main Street Gourmet, a manufacturer of frozen bakery products with distribution throughout the U.S. He is a two-time winner of the Small Business Administration’s “Small Business Person of the Year” award. He is also the founder of the Akron Marathon.