How to make your business crash and burn - a tale of warning
Is your business on a pathway to doom? I set out to interview 100 American Small Businesses about their challenges with marketing and the rapidly changing business environment - this is what I learned.
How it began
A few months ago I set out a research project to understand the American small and small-medium business and how they are responding to the rapidly changing marketing world we are living in.
Having now spoken with business people across the country, pages of notes and commentary it has been an education on the diversity between states, on how to thrive, and on the devastation that comes from resistance to change.
Being an Australian I had seen America as the leader in most things “Western World” - and true in many ways they still are.
Growing up in Australia just outside Melbourne was a great experience. Access to a modern progressive city and all that it brings yet with beautiful coastlines only a few minutes away. Diverse wildlife, culture, arts, food, education, commerce.
I had always believed that our specialty was in croc wrestling, beer drinking, weird sports and the happy-go-lucky attitude. I’d thought that the small-medium business people of America would be further advanced, more up-to-date and on the cutting edge when it comes to marketing and getting customers.
But now I see that business people in every modern country have the same, very real challenges.
You see, the situation we all face is this:
The way business has ‘always been done’ is rapidly changing
Tech advancements are forcing change upon marketing and sales departments of ALL business at such a rapid rate, and many small-business people - it seems - have missed the boat, and are being left behind.
So, after many emails, facebook chats, phone calls and lengthy conversations, I’ve compiled my notes, corrected my assumptions, and have for you some thoughts in summary.
Three lessons that you can take and apply to your business mind
1) All the sad stories I encountered had one thing in common - resistance to change
- Family business and businesses with a family element
- Actively pushing against the internet
- Trying to force sales mechanisms offline
- Thinking that the internet is only about marketing, and not realizing that ‘sales’ itself has changed
It was common to talk with staff who knew where the problems where, and in general how to go about correcting them. The sad truth was their bosses had failed to act, and now these people look like they will need new jobs soon. Some of these staff have been with companies for generations.
2) All the positive stories I encountered had one thing in common - a total embrace of change
3) All sad stories had a bad online presence - BUT not all businesses with bad online presence had sad stories
- What does this mean? Well, not long into a conversation with someone and realizing that their business is on the decline, I could guess with accuracy what their answers to my questions about tech would be - that they would have an old website, and little or no social network
- After talking with someone whose business was doing well, it would be anyone's guess to see what part of their online presence was strong. Sometimes it was only strong in one area (social or website), sometimes it was both. But it was not uncommon for a successful & growing business to have a terrible website, or a terrible FB page, or zero Instagram etc. I found this very interesting.
- Finding the commonalities in the growing businesses wasn’t easy, but simply put - they all had at least one strong area of tech marketing, and this always directly supported their sales mechanisms
Your online presence is not a dictator of your business success, but rather an outward expression of your attitude and understanding of the current marketplace, and how to do business effectively.
I stopped short of my intended data scoop
Speaking to 100 business people was going to take a million years. The answers became obvious to me at around the 30 mark, and I stopped just past 50. The process was laborsome and honestly, draining.
The good news
People who understood their customers motivations seemed to know what areas of their marketing to focus on (and to leave everything else to ‘when we get around to it’).
Older winning businesses adjusted their sales mechanisms around the new marketing tech (rather than fighting against it).
Newer businesses started with the marketing tech, and then bolted on sales mechanisms, therefore enjoying high conversion rates and low customer acquisition cost.
I have been enlightened on the diversity of America’s business culture, specifically small and small-medium business. Many are being left behind and it seems to me that in most cases (not all) they have no one to blame but themselves, because they refused to change.
I get why there are a lot of upset Americans, and how the political outlook has come to resemble a South Park episode. “They took our jobs” the locals cried brandishing pitchforks...
Reflecting on the energy given to this project, this notebook full of stories, the people who I’ve spoken to… I’m reminded of the classic story “Who Moved My Cheese? (by Spencer John)” in which the characters (mice) complain and bemoan about things not being the same as they were, about the cheese being gone, having no food, and eventually losing all their vitality. Meanwhile, other mice simply figure out that the cheese wasn’t gone, it just moved somewhere else - so they go there and get it.
My own history and involvement in a family business fills me with empathy and sympathy, and I really feel for these people. It’s hard dealing with stubborn family members. Especially when you care for the individuals.
The pleasure of winning
A crazy, almost not spoken part of winning in business is the feeling of pleasure you get from knowing what you’re doing is working, and that you are the one that did it. The money is the outward expression, the proof - not the source of that powerful feeling you get.
Knowing that you were faced with a problem, a changing set of circumstances and that you used your brain, you considered your options, and you then took action - you created a set of circumstances in which your business had a chance. And you worked it.
Many people I spoke with, the winners - they all had this ‘thing’ in their voice. Sure, most of them were constantly looking for an idea, or an angle, or a hint of a tip on a new method - but all of them had an ‘attitude’.
The tech will change, but it’s the attitude of the winners in business that will guide them to the next workable solution.
What to do
Every business experiences tough periods, times where you just grit your teeth and march it out. But other times, you know what you are doing isn’t working. The smart person listens to that small, scary voice - and reaches out for knowledge.
If you are stuck in your business, remember that you are living in a world of crazy tech, and most of history's knowledge is available to you from your phone while in bed if you want.
Think your problem is social media? Got no money to hire professionals? Make a study of it - let your teachers be Youtube and Google.
Think your problem is sales & process? Make a study of it.
Think your problem is bad management? Make a study.
Think your problem is understanding marketing principles and how they apply in this rapidly changing landscape? Study.
BUT if you have money, then go and get some help. There is so much help available! Make some calls! Have some meetings! Vet some professionals! Get moving!
Don’t be the horseshoe company who rallied against the auto industry, and cried because it wasn’t fair.
Don’t be the western labor industry who cried because all the jobs went to China.
Don’t be the [insert something that used to be] who got upset because [insert how things changed].
Most of my clients now have online stores - most sell stuff online. If this is you, and you can’t get sales moving, then either we can talk, or here is some free training. Seriously, if you sell stuff, and it’s not selling like you want it to - take this workshop and skill up.
Your attitude determines so much.
Thank you to all my mentors (both alive and in history) whose words have taught me.
And a big thank you to all the American business people that gave of their time to talk to me and to enlighten me. I wish for you more personal growth and all the business success you can handle.
Until next time, Pat
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