Lessons From The Overlook: Stick to Your Core

Note: Lessons from The Overlook is a monthly update on lessons learned from owning a vacation rental property in the Southern California mountain town of Idyllwild. It's a hands-on opportunity to apply some of the techniques I advise my clients to use. You can find past updates here.

I haven’t written about The Overlook in awhile. That’s because my wife, Sally, and I have been working on a big change that we’re finally ready to announce.

We’re selling the cabin.

It was a difficult decision in some ways. We really like the cabin and we've put a lot of time, money, and effort into making it nice. Revenue is looking good this year, and the cabin was rented every weekend in May.

Yet the decision came fast when the moment was right to make it. We know we're doing the right thing because we're sticking to our core. 

Here's how we made the decision and how our process can help you make your next strategic move. 

The Overlook cabin in Idyllwild, California.

Know Your Core

Your core is the reason your business exists.

For small businesses, it might be your passion. Perhaps you started a wedding photography company because you love taking pictures. Or you spent years playing with recipes in your kitchen before opening a bakery.

The core can be tougher to find when a business grows larger and you have employees. Larger organizations often define the core through a mission statement. Some use a customer service vision, which is a shared definition of outstanding service that gets everyone on the same page.

What's our core at The Overlook? 

Sally and I wanted a mountain retreat. We love hiking in the mountains or just relaxing under a tall tree while soaking in big views and clean air. Property is expensive in Southern California, so we decided to turn the cabin into a vacation rental to help finance the cost of ownership.

Discussion question: What's your business's core?

Use Your Core to Make Decisions

Business leaders face a lot of difficult challenges every day.

Too many are based on theory alone—"I think this will work"—with no data to support it. Other decisions are backed by financials or other good data, but it's still hard to say for certain what's the right move.

That's where your core comes in. It acts as a compass to point you in the right direction.

The real estate market in Idyllwild has been heating up lately. Several real estate professionals have told us we could make a nice profit by selling our cabin. We ran the numbers and it seems they're right.

So we put it up for sale. You can see the listing here.

The decision wasn't too difficult because we stuck to our core. While we love The Overlook, it's too big for just Sally and me. The cabin has three bedrooms plus a loft bedroom and three bathrooms. It's usually just us, our dog, and maybe one other couple who visit the cabin, so that represents a lot of unused real estate for us personally.

In other words, the cabin doesn’t fully align with our core.

Our plan is to sell The Overlook, reinvest in a smaller cabin that better suits us, and pocket the profits. We still plan on turning the new cabin into a vacation rental, so we're not shutting down the business.

We never would have made that decision if we looked at our business as this particular cabin, rather than a more expansive view of why we started the business in the first place.

Discussion question: Think about a difficult business decision you have to make. What choice is most aligned with your core?

Take Action

It's easy to lose sight of your core.

Let's say your wedding photography company starts to expand. Your first love is taking pictures, but now you spend most of your time managing logistics. And if you're really honest with yourself, you love photography but not particularly bridal photography. Uh oh.

It's even worse if you work for a company. The company many not have a clear core, or it might not match yours. Or things just change over time in an endless pursuit of what's next. Work just becomes a serious of tasks, like in this example.

You can change that with a simple exercise:

  1. Reflect on your company's core. (If you're an employee, does it match yours?)

  2. What are you doing when you are fully aligned with the core?

  3. What would you be doing if you were aligned with the core more often?

I was lucky to learn the lesson of sticking to your core many years ago while working for a nonprofit. We were running a fundraiser that was very profitable, but pulled away from our core. Funding and impact both improved dramatically when we refocused.

Sally and I are excited about what happens next. I’ll be sure to keep you posted.