Mark Dunn
January 26, 2023
min read

Four Critical Action Items when you face the Fork in the Road

We’ve all had the experience.  You stand at a decision point, the fork in the road – ready to go to the right or the left.  You have to make up your mind.  To the right is what you’ve always done, the status quo.  To the left is the new thing, the “terra nova,” the undiscovered land where there could be a lot of different outcomes, some of which you may not have even anticipated.  

To the right lies the familiar, the path you’ve taken before.  This path leads to the outcome, you know, the challenges you’re used to.  And frankly, also to the right lies the disappointing reality, the increasingly unattractive situation – else why would you even be considering what’s beyond the path to the left?

Most of us don’t just happen upon these decisions.  We don’t just wake up one day and say to ourselves, “Gee, I think I’ll try something completely different that could have serious repercussions for all aspects of my life.”  Circumstances push us to the fork in the road.  We go about our daily routine until something significantly changes or until we reach the breaking point.  Or we shuffle along until some event or a new piece of information tilts our world, forever changing the previous equilibrium.  

The crossroads decisions always involve four critical action items:  1. Getting good information, 2. Projecting outcomes, 3. Evaluating all types of risk, and 4. Dealing with stuff that goes on in your head, heart, and gut.

Action Step #1:  Get good information

Governments, corporations, attorneys, and ordinary small businesses go to great lengths to piece together an understanding of what is really going on and what it means. This is a critical factor in a good decision-making process.  In fact, some experts say getting more good information is the single greatest factor.  You have to fight hard to get the complete picture of a situation.   Some people call this process “peeling the onion” because the facts seem to peel off in layers of depth and complexity.

So what can you, the small ISO or agent, do to get good information?  Here’s some simple, practical advice.  

A, Get the contract or offer and read it.  In almost every case, a business relationship or a new job relies on a written agreement for a definition of the relationship, the responsibilities of both parties, what happens if the process breaks down, and the limits of the relationship.  Clients tell me they are amazed when they email a nine-page agreement to a potential agent for the first time and get the signed agreement faxed back an hour later.  I recommend you take some time and potentially help from qualified legal counsel.  Know what you’re being asked to commit to doing and what that means.  All relationships ask you to give something up to get something back.

B. Do a basic Google search.  It takes less than an hour to research key players, processes, terms, and backgrounds.  Start with the companies and the people.  Try searching the key process with the word “scam” added.  You may be amazed at what you find.  People who have had bad experiences with companies or processes often post complaints with the word “scam” in the post.  You want to know all about the bad experiences so you can factor that in.

C. Talk it through with your significant other or spouse, your parents.  Consider asking that uncle or aunt who has navigated life and whose counsel you trust.

Call on your “advisory board.”  I have advised clients and friends in the payments industry to get involved in the industry trade conference scene.  One reason for doing this is to develop your own personal advisory board of trusted industry people.  Try developing contacts with bankers, processors, attorneys, vendors, and people who do what you do.  Keep the relationship going.  Provide your people a benefit for staying in touch.  Tell them what you’re seeing happening in the industry—work at staying in contact.  Then, when you need their crucial information and perspective, get them on the line.  You can get three or four different perspectives that will challenge your thinking in less than a day.

D.  Keep digging and give yourself some time.  Don’t fall prey to the “limited time offer” pressure.  Most of us don’t make life or death decisions that can’t wait.  We can almost always get more time to get more information and evaluate.

Action Step #2. Run the numbers

Seek insight in a spreadsheet.  Here’s my admission:  “Hi, I’m Mark, and I’m a spreadsheet-aholic.”  (My apologies to AA.)   I’m constantly turning to simple spreadsheet projections for modeling alternatives and outcomes.  I have to run the numbers to see how small changes multiply their effects across projected outcomes.  If you’re not good with spreadsheets, get some training.  Everyone you talk to will want to know you’ve crunched the numbers and understand where the money goes.

Action Step #3. Evaluate more than financial risk

Sure, the numbers will reveal where the financial risk lies.

But also, consider more than just financial risk.  Bankers always consider reputational risk.  In the payments industry, this means evaluating what it would mean for us, our business, and our standing in the banking and merchant community.  Consider whether you would hire the potential partner, supplier, or boss you’re evaluating.  If you wouldn’t want them on your immediate staff, what are you doing considering working with them?  Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want to be described in a headline in the industry press.  You’ve heard it before:  “If it sounds too good to be true….”

Action Step #4.  Dealing with your head, your heart, and your gut

At some point, you have to listen to the inner voice.  Sometimes that voice speaks the moment you first encounter the new option.  That’s your gut telling you what to do.  After you get all the information, evaluate options and alternatives, and project what could happen, you’ll probably circle back to your gut feeling.  Don’t forget to listen carefully because your first reaction often tells you something about yourself.

If your heart’s not in it, don’t do it.  You can’t commit without your heart.  God save us from commitment without passion!

Your head is the easiest thing to wrap around anything.  We can talk ourselves into bad decisions and it will seem right to our heads.  Afterward, the question becomes:  “Where was your head?”  But try this, open your heart and consider the third path.  Why are you limiting yourself to just the right and the left?  

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