Squirrels and Business

What can a squirrel teach you about running a business?

I’m thinking about squirrels this morning.

Earlier this summer I set out a bird feeder at our new home. Peeking out the window, I watched with anticipation for all those beautiful song birds common to backyards: chickadees, cardinals, gold finches, red poles and more. Instead, I got squirrels. Big, fat hairy grey squirrels.

My blood pressure would rise every time I saw those little furry creatures on my feeder. Freeloaders! Party wreckers! “ARGH!!,” I’d yell. I’d bang on the window. I’d run outside to shoo them away.

Finally, I took the feeder down. It just wasn’t worth the stress—bird watching is supposed to be a peaceful pastime.

But I missed the birds. And the snow came and made food less plentiful. I decided to try again.

I trekked out to Hugo Feed Mill  & Hardware—a veritable bird feeder’s mecca—and met a fella in flannel and suspenders who knew his birds, and better yet, squirrels. After filling our cart with bird seed and suet, I quizzed him about squirrel-proofing our feeders.

“Well, you can buy these fancy domes to keep them off, but I wouldn’t bother,” the squirrel sage replied. “Just buy a 50 lb bag of feed corn and scatter it around the yard. The squirrels love rooting around in the snow for it.”

Feed the squirrels? Really? Reluctantly, I took his advice.

That afternoon, I filled the feeders and hung them from the oak tree out back, and scattered the corn around the base of the tree. To my delight, the birds came! All kinds of ’em. Pretty soon I was watching a community of hungry little feathered guys and gals eating enthusiastically from the feeders.

And then came the squirrels.

The first squirrel wound his way down the trunk of the tree and stopped to glance at the feeders. I held my breath. “Here we go,” I thought. But then it continued down to the base of the tree, where it spotted the corn. It picked up a kernel, plopped back on its hind legs, poofy tail rising behind him like a feather boa, and proceeded to nibble at it with its tiny hands. It was actually…cute.

It’s been days and I still haven’t seen a squirrel on the feeders. The birds are happy. The squirrels are happy. I’m happy.

So this has got me thinking…what’s the lesson here in business?

Imagine the song birds are your potential clients, and the squirrels are your competitors. Now imagine you reach out to your competitors, offering advice and resources to help them thrive. Your competitors learn new ways to reach out and service their own clients, you benefit from an enriched  network of people you can go to for questions and pass referrals, and you’ve established a feel-good vibe for your company.

So, help your competitors = get clients AND good karma.

Or, feed the squirrels and get the song birds.

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