Peeking through the trees, the early morning sun illuminated the fog along the banks of the Osage River…and we were fishing. Cousin Bobby knew the best holes for catfish and proved his prowess early on as he hooked into one before the July heat had a chance to burn the dew from the aluminum John boat.

As he struggled to get a handle on what seemed like a monster, his over-the-shoulder grin filled me with envy…as I hadn’t even gotten a nibble.

The plan was to have a fish fry that evening, which meant we were out there working. But whenever Cousin Bobby and I got together— it was always a competition.

“This is a Lunker,” he yelled as the still-hooked fish swam away from the boat, pulling us downstream.

A hit…And finally, it was my turn as my pole took a hard dip toward the water. “The first catch of the day”, I gloated as I quickly reeled it in and took it off the hook.

He smirked as he continued to work his reel, “This one’s ten times the size ‘a that one”

“Maybe…if you can get her in the boat,” I laughed, adding, “…sure that’s not a log?”

Sweating, cursing, and nearly breaking his rod, Bobby worked for at least an hour trying to bring in that big fish… While I caught fish after fish, filling one stringer and then starting in on another.

Time passed, and Bobby grew tired. The excited gleam that had been in his eyes was gone, replaced with a mixture of desperation, fatigue, and anger.

Finally sick of working for something that wasn’t going to happen, he reached for the knife at his belt and cut the fish free. And in a splash —Bobby’s hopes of catching the big one were gone.

Sadly for Bobby, sometimes you just gotta cut bait, but it’s not always a bad thing…especially if you do it before it’s too late.

Do you know when to cut bait when it comes to your business?

Whether it’s wasting your money on advertising that doesn’t work, catering to something-for-nothing customers, running hard for abusive third-party dispatching companies, or coddling unappreciative employees, there’s got to a point at which you go in a different direction.

That’s not to say you should close the doors and go job-hunting. Instead, try this:

  • An example of advertising in the wrong place would be trying to sell clothes to millennials by placing ads in the Ladies Home Journal or The New Yorker magazines. Millennials aren’t looking there. An example closer to home would be selling towing services by advertising in the yellow pages. Very few of your customers look there.

  • Work for people who appreciate you and are willing to pay you what you’re worth.

    Catering to people who make decisions based solely on price is the quickest way to go out of business. Sure…you must compete but do it on the value that you provide. If you can’t compete on value then you’ve got some work to do.

  • Let your competitors run the abusive calls.

    Although it may seem like you’re losing and they’re winning, when your competition takes work that you refuse to do because of the pay schedule, this gums them up and costs more time than it’s really worth. Consider the opportunity cost. Is it really worth it to lose a regular customer who values your service—only to help someone whose sole reason for choosing you was because you were priced under everyone else?

  • And only keep valuable employees who are willing to go the extra mile.

    If you’re an employee, you may not like this one…but if you’re not valuable to the company, then you’re just filling a gap until someone else better comes along. If you’re an employer— put the fear aside— get rid of the bad—have high expectations— and hire people who could one day become your competitors.

But all this stuff’s hard to do when there are bills to pay…Right?

In another lifetime, I owned a convenience store, and we were in a highly competitive cigarette market. We’d juggle prices— and kickbacks from the manufacturers— to keep prices as low as possible and still eke out a few pennies’ profit per pack. The running joke was that we’d “sell ’em at cost and make it up in the volume.”

Anyone who can do the math understands that selling anything at cost means that there is no profit.

So why do so many towing companies accept less than they’re worth? Is it that their owners can’t do the math? Or is it the same mentality that convenience store owners get into when competing in the cigarette market? The desire to win…at all costs.

Many times it becomes less and less about making a profit from each sale and more of a game of attrition. Hoping to hang in there until the other guy cries, uncle. But if you play just to see who can hang on the longest, nobody wins.

Bobby worked hard to not be outdone, but I focused on catching fish…with the goal being to catch enough to feed a crowd.

Competition and the egos that drive us can be a good thing if we understand our nature, but they can also be our downfall if we don’t continuously remind ourselves why we’re in business.