Don’t you wish opportunities would show up with a large ribbon and a sign affixed to them proclaiming their greatness (or to stay away)? Many times opportunities are disguised as ordinary events. While it’s tempting to dismiss some of these, true entrepreneurs will recognize that this just might be the lucky break they’re looking for. How do you know what’s in front of you?

Before I attempt to answer, let me share two stories: the first is of an opportunity lost and the second, of an opportunity seized.

Two days before Christmas I was in a local jewelry store with my son, Ben. He needed to have his new watch resized (it was a present from his sister and he was excited to wear it). I knew it was a simple and quick request so we popped into a jewelry store that we had passed by many times before, but hadn’t been inside due to its poor location. The holiday spirit was not alive in this shop. When we entered this really tiny shop (so small you have to make an effort to overlook customers) the owner somehow managed to completely ignore our presence. It was rather awkward standing a few feet away from him and being totally ignored but he was with a customer (who was having some very expensive jewelry appraised) so we were patient. After five very long and uncomfortable minutes he finally managed to look up and tell us he would be with us shortly.

Lesson #1 – if your store is no wider than 10 x 10, at least say hello to entering prospects (Duh!)

When he finally allowed us to explain the reason for our visit, he had the audacity to tell us that he “didn’t feel like doing this today.” Seriously, you just can’t make up this stuff. He explained that since it was the day before Christmas (actually, it was two days before Christmas) that he was simply too busy. Geez, he didn’t seem all that busy when he was talking with his prior customer, offering to clean her ring while we stood waiting (like misbehaved school children who were awaiting their punishment). Honestly, how hard was it to help us with this simple project? Sure, it was only a $10 repair, but a $10 customer today can quite often be a $100 or $1,000 customer tomorrow.

Large client projects rarely just land on your desk…. Success is about building relationships. However, he made it clear that we were NOT a priority of his (i.e., take your business elsewhere). I guess he’ll never know if we’re in the market for a 5-carat diamond pendant (his loss!) 

We left (pretty peeved, as you can imagine) and ended up going to another jeweler in town (where I’ve been many times, Holliston Jewelers), which was super crowded. Nonetheless, they fit us in. They obviously understand what it means to provide exceptional service, regardless of the size of the project or the day of the year. They will get my pendant purchase (whenever that happens!)

What NOT to Do

Afterwards, my poor son was subjected to a long diatribe on what to do and what ‘not to do’ to be successful in business. But, I wasn’t done – bah, humbug! I decided to give this business owner one more shot. I wrote him a long email, outlining my dismay at his customer service skills and asked for a response… Guess what? He never bothered to answer my email (surprised?). I have often wondered how his small shop survives (as mentioned earlier, it’s in a really lousy location) and now I’m even more baffled about how he has managed to stay in business.

My second story has a happier ending. The week before this fiasco, I was meeting with Christine Sullivan, the CEO of The Enterprise Center at Salem State, where I teach a business accelerator program every fall. She’s an amazing businesswoman and informed me of an opportunity to respond to a media request from a reporter at The Boston Herald. The reporter, Jennifer Powell, was working on a story highlighting lessons learned from 2011 and how that would impact small businesses in 2012.

Honestly, it was the end of the year and I was burned out and long overdue for a vacation…(like the jewelry store owner, I didn’t feel like talking about business). But, here was this opportunity and in the true spirit of entrepreneurship, I responded. Turned out to be a pretty lucky opportunity. We had a great conversation but even more interesting was what happened next. Jennifer decided to write a feature article on the “Making of Lucky By Design,” my latest book. She did a great job explaining how I followed my own business advice and applied the business lessons described in the book to the creation of the book itself. The article (kindly ignore the alfalfa hair — you’ll see) has lead to additional opportunities and my publicist is now doing a media campaign around this theme. Honestly, I didn’t see this coming, yet its outcome has been a big win. I’m glad I didn’t go all “crazy jeweler on it” and pass it up! LOL!

So, how do you decide which opportunities have potential and which should be ignored because, erh, you’re not in the mood to follow up? That’s a really hard question to answer. It requires being very careful in your selection of opportunities to pursue. You have to look at each opportunity on its own merit but it must meet one key criteria – it must align with your business goals, in some shape or form. You don’t want to might miss a great business win but you don’t want to get too distracted on the road to success!