This morning I made a very treacherous journey to a large trade show about fifty minutes from my home. As we got underway, a light rain turned to snow; no big deal. My Audi Quattro is well equipped for this. However, I soon realized that what looked to be wet roads, was actually black ice. It was just cold enough to cause the moisture to instantly freeze as it hit the ground, turning everything into a slick sheet of ice.

I observed no fewer than 60 to 70 cars off the road in this normal one-hour journey. However, this time the drive ended up taking two and a half hours. I saw crashed highway patrol cars and 4-wheel drives off the road left and right. Despite this there were idiots cruising by me in 2-wheel drives, one hand on a cell phone the other hand on the steering wheel. And I couldn’t help thinking, “You’ve got to be more careful; if not, you deserve to crash.”

This is not an untypical example of what happens in business. Individuals are so eager to zip ahead that they miss the obvious dangers, ignoring key indicators and risk colliding their brand-new, wonderful business right into side rails, hopefully not killing themselves in the process.

There are a number of signs for when it’s really slippery. For example, you could observe the trends, moves and reactions of other businesses in your industry or sector. Look for the tightening of financial instruments. Also observe any fluctuations in order frequency or flow.

When you observe these signs, let me suggest a number of solutions:

1. Ease off the gas pedal = Cut back on unnecessary expenses.
2. Don’t assume the speed of other drivers is safe = Don’t be as liberal with the financial terms that you give your clients just because others offer extended, more liberal terms.
3. Place both hands on the wheel = Be extra vigilant on your cash and your cash flow
4. Maintain a safe distance with the car ahead = Make sure that you put a financial buffer in place. Give yourself more latitude to break in your business. When you know conditions are slippery, slow your business down just like I slowed my Audi down today.

Now the implication of this is that the growth of your business will slow down a little bit. But it’s better to be safe and stable (particularly in economies that we’ve just come through) than it is to be stomping on the gas pedal and careening off a barrier wall.

There is also a fine balance between being cautious and putting out negative, doomsday vibes. So you really have to be in tune with what is taking place in your market because sometimes you can accelerate ahead when the road is wet as long as you have the right equipment, much like I knew my Audi could handle normal wet roads. However, when it is truly slippery and you see other businesses in your sector closing their doors, then it is time to slow down and be extra vigilant and extra careful.

As sad as this sounds, it may be an appropriate time to cut back on your staff, scale back, do more jobs personally, and most certainly it is not a time to take a month’s sabbatical. Everyone knows that I love my month sabbaticals, but in the middle of a rain-turn-to-ice storm in your business you’ve got to get both hands on the steering wheel, become actively involved, and don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions even if it makes others uneasy. Be sure all of your employees are watching the key indicators especially during those critical times.

The result is you will arrive safely, intact with your vehicle ready to zip to the next milestone.