Last month at Gazelle’s first ScaleUp Summit, I got some profound advice. The summit was an opportunity for companies implementing the Rockefeller Habits to share techniques and strategies, so there was a lot of advice to be heard–wise mantras abounded.

“Improve the people to improve the business.” “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Each speaker shared smart tips, but one phrase really stuck out: “Build the well before you need the water.”

The concept wasn’t new to me. Of course, good planning can prevent disaster and set you up for success, but having the foresight to plan for what you need before you need it struck a chord with me. So I Googled the phrase to find its origin. What I got were instructions for building a well, a geological survey of ground water, and ten steps (with pictures) on how to drill a well–not exactly what I was looking for, but it got me started.

I continued browsing and eventually found some practical instructions: “Three crucial steps when digging a well.” As I read through the list, I thought about how those steps apply directly to scaling up a business. At the conference we talked a lot about building a strong foundation, relying on a smart team, and establishing measurable goals. The well analogy put all the tips together.

Step #1: Siting

In well terms, siting refers to exploring the area for groundwater. Basically, dig a deep hole to find out how much water is accessible, whether the conditions are suitable, what kind of equipment you’ll need, etc.

In business, siting is perhaps the most important part of your endeavor. Know the market you want to enter, and if you’re already there, know your competition. A great way to “site” is to complete a SWOT analysis. Determine the Strengths, Opportunities, Weaknesses, and Threats of your idea or company. From there, you can develop goals and strategies and start drilling.

Step #2: Drilling

For well builders, this part is self-explanatory: pinpoint the optimal location, and start digging. Of course, be sure to avoid underground fuel tanks, gas pipes, and anything else that can pollute your water source.

For entrepreneurs, this is the part where you drill to the core of your company. What are you built on? Where did you start, and how did you get where you are? Evaluate your core purpose and think critically about whether it’s illustrated in each facet of your organization. Start by hiring people who reflect your values and working with clients who share your goals. Remind yourself of the foundation of your company, and beware of anything that might pollute the principles that got you started.

Step #3: Building Up

When you’ve dug the well, you’re ready to install a water system with a pump, filter and storage tank, and then build the surrounding wall. Scaling up–so that your well functions or your business grows–requires hard work.

Within your company, think of the water system as your internal procedures. You’ve got to install a deliberate culture that ensures alignment among leadership, outlines career development for employees, and creates standards of practice that keep the whole team on the same page. Only with these elements in place can you begin laying bricks to build upward and expand your business.

With an amateur knowledge of well drilling and a lot of experience building companies, I left the ScaleUp conference feeling both optimistic and challenged. Even when we know all the steps to take, leaders without the foresight to think of future needs will be left in the lurch. If you have wait until you’re thirsty to start siting the well, you’re bound to be parched before it’s built.

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