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PRODUCTIVITY

What I've Learned From My Addiction to 'Deadliest Catch'

Everything I wanted to know about running a tight ship, I learned from the Discovery Channel.
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My name is Mathew Swyers and I am a crabaholic.

It started off innocently enough back in the summer of 2005. While doing late-night feedings for our child, I was channel surfing for anything interesting.

One night, I happened upon a reality show featuring a band of roughneck fishermen seeking hard-shelled gold at the bottom of the Bering Sea. Their days were long and the work was exhausting, but the characters were oddly charismatic. Thus began my addiction to the Discovery Channel's Deadliest Catch.

The show combines a classic theme from literature--man versus sea--while following guys that can only be described as real men: rough, tough, and tumble. As an entrepreneur, one thing that truly surprised me were the business lessons you can learn from the captains and deck hands. Make no mistake, the owners of these boats are savvy small business owners and everything they do is for the bottom line.

Here's what I picked up from years of watching the show: 

Focus on Profitability.

Too many businesses focus on keeping costs down or maximizing revenue without focusing on profit.  While we must always be mindful of costs and revenue, the number one metric driving a business is that.

When running a boat on the Bering Sea, profitability depends on how many pounds of crab you can get on the boat and how quickly it can be done. The longer the trip, the more costly it gets, especially in terms of the fuel. A longer trip leads to less profit. In business, you must find the happy medium between revenues to maximize profit.

Find Your Customer. 

All too often, crab fishermen find out there are no crabs where they're fishing. So what do they do? They move. In business, you need to do the same: Locate your customers first and then market to them. The greatest product in the world won't sell a unit if it isn't marketed where the customers are. 

Have a Chain of Command.

One voice tends to tower above the rest on a crab boat, and it's the captain's. The command that most of them have is impressive. In your business, it's your money on the line, so when the captain speaks, your team ought to listen.

Build a Great Team.

On a crab boat, everyone matters. So surround yourself with team members who support your goals and objectives. They should embody a similar work ethic and encourage you to accomplish what you set out to do.

Pay People Well--But Demand That They Earn It.

To build a good team, you often have to pay well. On the show, a deckhand on a crab boat earns between $30,000 and $80,000 a trip, and one boat paid its deckhands about $120,000 for a single trip.

Those figures may be eye-popping, but these workers have earned it. So pay your employees well, but demand they earn it (and have a good attitude). 

Clean House.

On a crab boat, new employees are called "green horns." Rarely does a green horn make it more than a season or two because most of them quit or get fired. 

In the same way, a business must be willing to endure the short-term pain of under-staffing to meet the long-term goal of getting the right people on the boat. And keeping mediocre workers only prevents you from finding the exceptional ones.

So never stop seeking exceptional talent. Weed out mediocrity when it's uncovered.

IMAGE: National Geographic/Getty Images
Last updated: Aug 9, 2013

MATTHEW SWYERS | Columnist | Founder, The Trademark Company

Matthew Swyers is the founder of The Trademark Company, a Web-based law firm specializing in protecting the trademark rights of small to medium-size businesses. The company is ranked No. 138 on the 2011 Inc. 500.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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