In a recent blog, I wrote about the need for small business owners to eat the frog, tackling their most important challenges early and often. Doing so helps better ensure their long-term survival, but it requires attentiveness to what kills small businesses and, more specifically, what poses the greatest threat to their specific business. The answer isn’t always obvious.

Separate urgent from important

Small business owners often conflate their biggest issues with their most important issues. If food prices are up 230%, it’s easy to miss how the inability to hire needed employees is impacting your business through lost sales, lackluster customer service, and overall low employee morale. I’ve had these conversations hundreds of times over the last 15 years.

Lessons from a herpetology enthusiast

The original idea goes back much further, to my childhood, when I read a story about a Florida serpentarium owner who, in an effort to raise money to keep his facility open, spent nearly a month sleeping with reptiles. With spectators looking on, he could be seen lying on his back with snakes all around and atop him.

There were various deadly pit vipers and elapids, including the temperamental coastal taipan, all around him—some lying across his legs and others on his abdomen and chest, in addition to covering the floor across the entire room. One flinch, and he would certainly be bitten. During an interview, he described what was going through his mind during those long, seemingly frightening nights.

The hidden threat

“Each night, a large coastal taipan would sleep coiled on my chest, her tongue flicking at my nose to taste the air,” he said. “But I was really worried about the saw-scaled adder.”

Interestingly, the coastal taipan, Australia’s largest elapid, is widely known for being highly venomous and very erratic. The saw-scaled viper, however, is a small, irascible creature found in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Their name comes from the rustling sound they make by rubbing their scales together when agitated. But what they lack in size, they more than make up for with fearsomeness, as they are among the deadliest snakes in their world, though their appearance would suggest anything but.

Focus on the real danger to your business

The owner of the serpentarium was focused on what could kill him. For him, it was not the most obviously dangerous snake, but the most dangerous to him under the circumstances. Sure, the taipan was the greatest threat to bite him, but he could clearly see that threat right under his nose. The smaller saw-scaled viper could have been hiding anywhere; with one move, the snake whose bite is said to make victims feel as though their skin is being peeled from their body could have put the owner mere minutes from death.

Prioritize what truly matters

Just like the serpentarium owner who had to distinguish between the obvious and hidden threats, small business owners must identify and address their most important challenges, not just the most visible ones. By focusing on what truly matters, you can better navigate the complexities of your business, ensuring its long-term success and stability. When you have a better understanding of not only what kills small businesses, but also what poses the greatest threat to your brand, you can be better prepared for known and unknown threats.