The Odds are Stacked Against Small Business

As a small business owner, you’re always on the go.  Every day, you’re faced with a hundred things to do.  Fortunately, you are a dynamo, and with the energy of a superhero, you blast through every project and the myriad of details surrounding them.  More often than not you’re hearing about problems than solutions, but that’s what you signed up for.  You are a problem-facing, solution oriented machine.  You work in your business and pick up the slack where you find it.  From a technical standpoint, you are the best and everybody knows it.  The only problem is, that while you are working “in” your business, you are very likely failing to work “on” it.  You probably haven’t yet learned that while the technical things that comprise your business need to attended to, as a business owner who is interested in maintaining and growing business, your focus needs to be on marketing and business development.  Nintey-five percent of businesses that don’t learn that in the first year are likely to fail.  Of the five percent remaining, only five percent of them are still around five years later.  One in 100 are not good odds, so if you don’t intend to take your marketing and business development seriously, you’re probably better off taking your money to the casino and gambling it away.  

When most small businesses look for solutions to the challenge of getting more clients and generating more revenue, they often are looking for a magic bullet to get it done.  Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet.  What’s needed is a true multi-faceted plan of action, followed consistently and improved on over time as results — or lack of results — present themselves. 
 
Let’s face it, there are many very inexpensive and even free ways to market your business today and most small business owners are very aware of this fact.  Most small business owners also know, if theyre honest with themselves, that they don’t really have as much of the time, energy and expertise necessary to execute these ideas. Therefore, they need to either reach out for help or risk being one of the majority that fail to thrive. 

The Benefit of Being An Idiot (Abroad)

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While it’s hard to justify watching much television, an hour or so a day probably won’t hurt and I think could help round one out.  It’s the eyes glazed over Netflix marathons–buzzing through a season of a series in a day or two–that is kind of unforgivable, though I forgive myself for such past transgressions.
What I like about The Office-famed Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s “An Idiot Abroad” is that the “idiot,” Karl Pilkington, is sent around the globe to places he doesn’t want to go, to do things he doesn’t want to do.  I have great sympathy for the character because his resistance is palpable.  I mean, who wants to handle snakes, wing-walk, get a massage in which fire is an element, etc.  So he wines and complains, gets brow-beaten by constant unsympathetic call from Gervais or Merchant, and gets on with it, despite his trepidation.  He is doing his duty.  Gervais reminds him constantly (by phone) that he is on a travel show for Sky 1 and not out there on holiday.
What I find interesting about my viewing experience, besides being put off by “the idiot’s” constant moaning and complaining, is that he does what he agreed to do, which is essentially anything the sadists thousands of miles away tell him to do.  What I also find interesting is my internal reactions to the constant unreasonable assignments he is given.  I find myself mentally putting myself in his position, and every fiber of my being screams NO!  I wouldn’t do that thing or the otter.  It’s insane, it’s unreasonable, etc.  Yet he does it.
I wonder if the Idiot realizes just how much of a lesson he is providing those who are really paying attention.

Sometimes It’s Good to Stereotype: Creating an Avatar

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If you are like me, you were brought up on the value that it’s not good (or fair) to stereotype people.  While I still stand by this principle as I do the “Golden Rule,” when you are striving to identify your ideal target market, thus your ideal client, stereotyping is not only forgivable, it is admirable.  Marketing to your avatar is the best way of staying focused on the person most likely to use your product or service.  In most cases, it costs money to market, and even when it’s free, it costs time.
You may have heard the term “avatar” floating around the web recently — no it has nothing to do with a Gameboy character.  An avatar, for business purposes, is an accurate, well-analyized representation of  your ideal customer or client.  It is a sketch of all the attributes you are likely to encounter as you approach and develop a client from prospect to life-long devotee.
When designing your avatar, you will want to ask yourself the following questions about your avatar:
  • Most likely age range and gender
  • Income and lifestyle – family unity, housing, community, vehicle, etc.
  • Personality – serious, generous, determined, dependent, etc.
  • Interests – affiliations/affinity groups,  television, reading, vacation destinations, etc.
  • Likely non-negotiables – smart phone, physical activity, alone time, etc.
Take some time to analyze the information your assemble and bounce it off a friend, team member or spouse.  Check out images on the Internet and see if you can find someone who looks like your avatar — or maybe find several such pictures.
Put this all together and put it in your marketing box.  Don’t have a marketing box?  Get a box and write “marketing” on it — now you have a marketing box.

Maintaining Viability In The Age Of The Google Search

Since I’m about to expand the NetworkStrong Small Business Alliance, I have been looking around for some new and fresh ideas from some of my professional contacts.  One such contact is a gentleman that I have known for about five years.  We have a good deal in common — I enjoy riding my bike or running a few miles during the summer and he has run over 100,000 miles in his life (no kidding) and is a veteran of a very famous 100-mile, 24 hour run through the mountains of Colorado (LOL).  He’s about 30 years older than me and could easily beat me in a race around the block.

So since my friend — let’s call him Rick — had, in his professional career, been an international business and marketing consultant and had dealt with many heavyweight organizations, I thought it would be helpful to pick his brain regarding my planned expansion of NetworkStrong.  Over a Greek omelette and a bowl of soup — he was the soup guy — we discussed the state of business and marketing in this ever-changing digitally oriented world.  So much opportunity, yet so much commoditization.  So easy to get lost in this age of the Google search.  So hard to stand out as the preeminent business, or the business with the best value proposition, or as the business that cares the most.  The best businesses can do now, I suggested, was band together in tight networks and use whatever tools are out there to make themselves look as good as possible to the local marketplace.

Our conversation was going along great until I mentioned to him that my mission was evolving toward my interest in building local small and very small businesses into strong networks.   And that as part of my basic service, each month I would offer both “do it yourself” ways to execute marketing ideas that are free or very inexpensive, or to provide those services for these businesses for a very reasonable / below market price.  In doing so, I would make professional marketing services available to an underserved market, namely those on a very limited budget.   I also told him that my mission was to get the businesses within the network to communicate and build strategic alliances whenever and wherever possible.  My job is to stir the pot and help make things happen.

I got a lot of good thoughts and advice from Rick during our lunch, but was taken aback by what seemed to be his primary message, or his “takeaway” as they say in marketing.  His opinion was that “very small businesses,” those that consist of a sole proprietor with maybe only  a couple other employees (if any) or a franchisee perhaps, were not viable.  He is of the opinion that they come and go in a flash in this business environment and were not worth “pursuing.”

Well, as I said, I was taken aback.  Not just because I didn’t want to hear what he had to say about the fragility of the small local enterprise, but because upon short reflection, I had to openly admit that I agreed with him.  It’s true that most businesses, despite their best intentions, fail.  I guess that’s what really has me fired up about NetworkStrong and what we represent.  We can’t guarantee success, but we can help put the “little guy” (or girl) get more business flowing in their direction.  We can help prevent small businesses operators from being isolated just because of their size. or lack of ability to network in more traditional and formal groups.  We can help small businesses identify and exploit their strengths and present themselves as a strong option to those looking for the products and services they offer.

Sure, in a lot of cases failure is more likely than success, but failure is only permanent when you give up.  I, for one, don’t believe failure should ever be permanent.  And I certainly don’t think failure should be the result of not doing some small easy things that will help beat the odds.  And that’s why I’m here to help.

Thanks Rick!   In trying to dissuade me from taking on the businesses you label as “not viable,” you have opened my eyes to the fact that this is the very thing I must do — this is my Mission.  And that’s why I, Eric Johnson, am the proud founder of the NetworkStrong Small Business Alliance.


And The New Year Starts…

…NOW!

So the year has gotten a little head start on me.  It’s January 4 and this is my first blog of the year.  Good thing doing a blog every day of the year.  Or maybe it would be better if that were my resolution.  Might as well get the failing of that out of the way, right away.

Look, there are so many shiny things out there.  You know and I know that we’d like to do sooo many things.  Problem is that we only have so much time and energy.  The reality is that we need to look around and decide what is really worth our “intention.”

My suggestion is pick a thing, or two things, or even three things, that you want to do this year.  Do what you can, when you can and keep your intention in mind.  Relax, breath and realize that you are not perfect and you will not always be the picture of consistency, although having good rituals and being consistent are worthy attributes to strive for.  Just keep telling yourself to relax and focus..  You’ll get there!

2014 is going to rock, even if we only have 361 days, and 35 minutes left.  Happy New Year!


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