How Canyoneering is Like Starting—or Growing—a Home Performance Business

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While off on what has now become a regular activity, another canyoneering adventure, I thought I’d pull this one up from the archives. Advice on preparing for canyoneering and home performance alike.

Rappelling in Upper Deer, Grand Canyon

As a way to get away from email and blog posts, I’ve been a long fan of remote wilderness backpacking, especially in the Grand Canyon. This past fall, I took a trip that added something new for me, and something well beyond my existing experience and skills: technical canyoneering. The technical part involved ropes, harnesses, helmets, wetsuits, and carrying a lot of stuff to hard to reach places. It was physically hard, neophyte nerve-tingling, and absolutely amazing. So much so that I’m planning an even more difficult trip for this spring.

This will be an extended version, more technical, further from any potential rescue, and with the extended distances, days, and gear, carrying more weight. Without adequate planning and readiness, it would be an extreme risk. And putting it all together reminds me a lot of some of the key elements of starting or growing a home performance business.

The big pay-off comes after you take the risks. There really is no way to see some of these beautiful areas without taking risks. I’m not talking about being reckless. But I am talking about risking losing something in a very calculated way, with due diligence, careful preparation, and hard work to reap big rewards.

You have to push yourself out of your comfort zone.  Risk usually means some degree of discomfort. Being in a remote side canyon that very few people have ever gone down, that isn’t likely to be travelled while you’re there, and that involves substantial risk, can be daunting, especially when it’s new to you. Sounds like moving into home performance. And the first step of the cliff can be one of the most unsettling. But you can’t move forward if you don’t take that step.

It’s good to research what’s been done. It often seems like moving into home performance is like heading into a remote canyon that’s been traversed less than a dozen times. The good news is there are examples—and more and more every year—of companies successfully taking the plunge. You can even learn by what has NOT worked. By building on the experience of others, you’re more likely to succeed, and you can do it much more efficiently. I know I was glad I knew that 200’ of rope was enough, and we didn’t need to carry 600’ just in case.

You’ve got to have the plan and the working capital to meet it. On an extended backcountry trip, you need enough food, water, and rope to get you through. That rope for instance. It’s nice knowing that you only need 200′. See above. But if you need 200′, then 100′ won’t do. If you need $50,000, then $8,000 won’t do. You’ve got to do the research. And then you have to put together a plan and track how you’re doing against the plan. And you’ve got to have enough working capital to get through the plan. Yes, sometimes the unexpected happens, and you fall short. That’s the risk part. But it’s better to go in with a plan, and the resources to meet the plan. You don’t want to start off knowing that you don’t have enough rope even if everything plays out exactly as expected.  Nor do you want to start out knowing you won’t have any way to meet payroll, pay your vendors, or keep the doors open. Oh, and if the plan says you can’t possibly survive, you might want to pick a different vacation.

Similarly, it’s good to have experts to check in with. You may be able to figure out home performance on your own. I could have experimented with anchor building techniques and rappelling methods—but it was safer and faster to get guidance and training from those who knew what they were doing, even though they would not be on the journey with me. It’s also okay if you have an expert along for the trip (thanks, Bob!).

You don’t get ready for an epic journey with a one-hour course. You have to learn the skills, even if you learn them on your own, and practice, practice, practice. And train, train, train. And then do it some more, and keep doing it. You’ve got to have the fundamentals ingrained in the company’s muscle memory so that you can clear the difficult and unforeseen obstacles that will likely be there. Can you tie that knot with your eyes closed? How about one-handed? Can you apply the building science you’ve learned to fix the problems you’ve never seen before? If you work to make the hard stuff easy, then you’ve got a good chance at making it through the challenges that at one time would have stopped you cold.

You do need to stop to look around, admire, and celebrate. Sure, I was nervous dropping off that slippery rock the first time and swinging in the air, dropping down into a frigid pool of water over my head while wearing a heavy pack. But there was much to see along the way, and it’s great to take in the success as it comes with a small moment of appreciation, and a big celebration when warranted.

Home performance is not easy. In a tough economy, it’s even harder. And success is not guaranteed. But it’s possible to thrive. We’re at a point where some of the routes have been traveled. Experience has built experts who can help. There are proven techniques to add to your skill set. Yes, you need to learn. You need to practice. You need to get better at the hard things. But it’s doable. And the rewards are there if you’re willing to step off the edge.


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About the Author:

Mike Rogers is the President of OmStout Consulting. A nationally recognized expert in residential energy-efficiency, he works with contractors and programs to scale sustainable market approaches to improving homes. More on Google+

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