Get Out of Your Cave

By: Marshall Atkinson

Do you remember March of 2020? I do. That’s when the NBA shut down due to COVID-19 and the rest of the world followed suit. I won’t bore you with details because you already know them.

Since then, just about everyone has mastered the art of working out of their cave. You know. Your office. Your shop. Your kitchen table. Wherever you want, just as long as it isn’t around people.

The “Great Resignation” happened as people found out after they were laid off that they didn’t want to go back to whatever they were doing before. A gigantic chunk of people started their own business. Maybe you were one of them. If so, congratulations!

How’s that going?

Every business has its ups and downs, and hopefully, you are steadily growing. Believe me, all of your fellow entrepreneurs appreciate the struggle.

But the time is now for you and everyone else to take a step forward and get out of the cave.

Go See People

I’m a big believer is human to human business practices. Nobody does business with an enemy. The more your customers like you, the more they will buy from you.

Sure, we have the technology to bridge distances with video calls so I can see your face. (I love that by the way.) But, let’s take that one step further.

Show up in person. That’s right.

Don’t just sit there behind your webcam, emerge from the cave and pay some personal attention to your best customers. Go see them.

● Don’t ship them their next order, hand-deliver it.
● Come by their office with a gallon of chocolate ice cream and a box of cones.
● Show up when they open with donuts or bagels and a gallon of coffee.
● Participate in their Habitat for Humanity build.
● Walk side by side with them on their next Breast Cancer Awareness march.
● Invite them to a trade show and escort them around the floor, brainstorming on ideas continuously.

You get the idea. Interact with your customers on a human level. Focus on building and strengthening the relationship with a higher level of engagement than we’ve been doing over the last few years.

Ask yourself, “What can we do to surprise and delight our best customers today?” Then do it.

Go Get New Ideas

Another reason to leave the cave is to acquire new ideas.

Sure, you can Google just about anything, and probably do, but often the real inspiration comes from the serendipitous moment that comes from taking a class, walking a trade show floor, and interacting with people in other industries.

The spark of creativity happens when you are open to receiving “the new.” This happens when something catches your eye, and you stop. “Hey, what’s this thing?”, you ask.

In that brief moment, there are opportunities and possibilities in front of you for your taking. But like they say, “You must be present to win.”

This is why I attend trade shows, conferences, networking events, classes, and really anything that has fun and interesting people presenting new ideas. Sure, there is a reason to go…the event. But, I’ve found that on the outskirts of the event is where the true action happens. In the line for coffee. About 8:45 pm at the bar. Sitting next to me at the presentation, or organized lunch. You just have to be receptive to what destiny places before you.

In college, seemingly a million years ago, I took a leadership class. The one takeaway that has stuck with me all these years is the phrase, “Your best friend is only a handshake away.”

Here’s a secret. I really don’t like to go to events where I don’t know anyone. Especially when I’m going by myself. It always feels weird and awkward. If you know one or two people at the event, it may seem safer to try to hang out with them. But I’ve found that if I make it my mission to find one to three new people to introduce myself to and start a conversation, then I’m OK.

I’ll open up, and start asking easy questions.

Getting out of my cave and networking this way has been the number one method of developing my industry connections, deepening relationships, and finding new business opportunities. You can post all you want on social media, and there truly is a place for that, but if you want to grow your business into something solid, the real relationships you make can be an integral driver of that success.

People want to do business with other people that they know, like, and trust. In-person discussions are absolutely essential to building that. New ideas spring from discovering new relationships.

Go Have New Experiences

Everything you have ever done in your life, both from a positive and negative perspective, has led you to where you are now.

Even when you have crappy customer service at a restaurant or when shopping in a store, has built your ideas on how you think something should be performed.

Your interactions with other companies and their staff can help you implement better processes and experiences in your own business. The sensory encounter of walking into a bakery and smelling the fresh bread, or opening the door to a gym and getting a noseful of sweaty effort can be opportunities for you if you are open to them. You just have to connect the dots to what you are doing now.

When I was an art director, a couple of times a year, I took the staff to the mall for a field trip and then lunch. We would go through a dozen stores reviewing their apparel lines. Colors, designs, motifs, print applications, textures, finishes…we would intake it all. Then, over lunch, we would digest what we saw. What stood out? Were there any ideas that we could use for our own clients?

What do you see when you get out of your cave? Are you open to fresh ideas? Pay attention to what you react to and why. What pleases you? Are there things or policies that make you upset? Who has the best and most frictionless way of doing business?

In your pocket right now is a magical device. Your cell phone. Use that to take pictures or videos to review later. Send a note to yourself with a few bullet points.

When you venture out of your cave, use the experiences as a well-spring for fresh ideas that you can deploy in your own business.

Make Time To Go

Emerging from the cave can be difficult. You have orders to fill. Sales call to make. Stuff to do.

I get it.

What is the number one reason (excuse) as to why any reader of this article won’t emerge from their office and be present somewhere else?

“We are just too busy.”

This is why I want to introduce you to a concept called ROI. You may think that ROI is an acronym for “Return on Investment,” but you’d be wrong. In my way of thinking it stands for “Return on Intent.”

Return on Intent means that the action that we are doing has meaning. It is purposeful. Meaningful. Intentful.

This is how you quantify and justify the time and money you spend taking these “out-of-office” actions. Can you describe the result that you want to have by taking the out-of-office action? Could you even go so far as to rate that result on a scale of 0 to 10?

For example, let’s say that you went to a chamber of commerce networking event or a local business trade show. These happen all the time. There may be one right around the corner from you now. In the past, you went because of some industry obligatory pressure. It is just the thing to do.

But if you were purposeful in your intent, and knew the result that you wanted to achieve, you may have a different experience. For the sake of discussion, let’s say you have two objectives by attending.

  1. Network and meet new people to develop relationships.
  2. Discover new business opportunities, ideas, techniques, or methods to use.

At the event, you notice Monica who is one of your top customers. She is speaking with two people. You wave hello, and she motions you over. Monica then introduces you to the people she is chatting with, Dave and Tony. They operate a business in a different industry than Monica’s.

Monica says, “I was just telling them about how they need help with their employee retention problem by revamping their branding and internal merchandising for their staff. You should share with them how you have helped me with that online store for our employees."

That conversation won’t happen if you are stuck in your office being busy today. It certainly won’t happen if you don’t have a personal relationship with Monica. If she doesn’t know you well enough to trust you and wave you over, then that opportunity doesn’t present itself.

If all Monica does is send you Purchase Orders that you fulfill, what happens when she gets promoted? Does the rest of the staff know you and trust you?

You need to make time to go so that Monica waves you over at the crowded event, gushing about how you saved the day for her. All the previous visits and in-person time you have spent with her earned that introduction to your next customer.

Those past experiences with other people stack into a valuable trusting relationship when they develop over time.

If You Go, Say Hello

Be prepared to introduce yourself. To hand out business cards. Have a few ready-to-use ice-breaker questions to ask. Here are some of my favorites:

  • “Tell me about your business?”
  • “Right now, what is your biggest challenge that you are facing and working to overcome?”
  • “What’s the biggest disruption in your business right now?”

But it really doesn’t matter what you ask, your main job is to get the conversation started. Ask good follow-up questions that can’t be answered with a Yes or a No. You want them to tell stories about their lives or their business.

If you are like me and struggle with remembering names, try to work their name into the conversation a few times so you can have a chance of remembering it later.

The worst thing you can do at an event is to walk around and not talk to anyone. If you go with more than one person, do yourself a favor and split up. Go your separate ways. Sit and talk with new people. You already know the people you rode in the car with. Meet up later and compare notes. Who did you meet? What was the best trade show booth? Did anyone have a really interesting conversation?

Be sure to follow up immediately after the event. I like to do it the same day if I can, but otherwise, it is always the following day. Have a process.

Take the Get Out Of Your Cave Challenge

So let’s end this article with a throw-down. Take the “Get Out Of Your Cave SupaChallenge.” Put this article to the test.

Be purposeful.

Go see a customer. Attend a trade show. Help a philanthropy. Organize your own event. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it isn’t in your office. Get out of your cave and expand your experiences. Be open to opportunities.

If you find something good, share it! Use #supachallenge and report back on Twitter or Instagram. We want to share your discovery or victory too!

“Every sale have five basic obstacles - No Need, No Money, No Hurry, No Desire, No
Trust” - Zig Ziglar

Mesa, AZ-based Marshall Atkinson is one of the decorated apparel industry's leading production and efficiency experts. Follow Marshall on Twitter at @atkinsontshirt and visit his website at