In 2001, just months after buying my first business, and spending tens of thousands of dollars on renovations and system upgrades for it, the 9/11 terrorist attacks devastated the company’s already tenuous cash flow. The business was a travel company, and the result of the attacks meant a contraction of the industry, and scores of competitors who started going out of business on an almost daily basis. Combined with the impact of the Internet on the buying habits of consumers, the result was deadly for business – and costly.
While not every business challenge is that severe, the lessons I learned are all explained by the courage my team had to do some radical things for our business. Our success today is a result of some radical payoffs too, and the time we took to do the work demanded of us by our business.
1. Find Your Way Home
From the outset, we recognized the challenge to our industry – and few if any industries cannot relate to some kind of external challenges like the ones we faced. Whether it is pricing, aggressive competition, or the slim margins on which you survive, getting back to the core of your business and where you and/or your company’s best talents lie is the only way to carve out your successes.
Our first radical step was to reduce, yes REDUCE the number of products we offered. While competitors were desperately trying to be all things to all people, we focused our products and services on one specific thing. We devoted untold hours to researching and exploring how we could master and dominate that one specific area, and built a new customer base that knew who we were and why we were in business. They became our new home in the marketplace. What about your business? Are a niche specialist or jack-of-all trades?
Our next radical step was one that not everyone can take; it depends on your business. We literally went home. We negotiated an early out to the lease, and bought a house with a separate building behind from which we could incubate the business as well as refine our focus on our core services. If literally going home isn’t an option, what can you do to still give your business room to grow? Where can you network where everybody knows your name? Where is “home” for your business?
2. Create Value Where There Wasn’t Any
Over many years of working with and coaching other small business owners, I have met more than my fair share of owners whose passions and talents are in alignment, but they just don’t know how to best promote themselves or their own business. It goes beyond defining your company’s value proposition, it means articulating the reason you’re in business through your networking and other marketing efforts. But how many business owners, perhaps yourself, discount what they know and what they really offer clients? Can you explain why people come to you or your company instead of the competition? Do you know, or just think you know?
One radical step we took to add value to our company was to take the unusual step of making our business phone unlisted. Say what?! Who does that? What we found was that although we weren’t listed in the Yellow Pages, our number also wasn’t impossible to find. But when we met someone and exchanged business cards, our card became more valuable when we explained to them to “be sure to put that somewhere safe, as our phone number is unlisted.” Besides creating a conversation, it created value for our card, and made the recipient feel special in receiving it. Maybe going unlisted isn’t the right option for you, but how do you become found by only your ideal clients? What demonstrates to people you meet that there is value in doing business with you that reaches beyond the product or service? How hard would your customers search to find your number to do business with you again?
Another radical thing we did to add value to our company came as a result of our product specialization. We developed our own technology platform, and made it the centerpiece of the business. Its unique features and concepts now propel the Delmay Corporation, which continues to offer the same suite of products and services, but has expanded to other markets. If not a technology platform, then what can you offer your clients that is unique and proprietary? Maybe that something is YOU!
3. Tell Your Story
Being a business radical takes courage, and a belief in yourself and in your company. But that has to be shared. Whether it is your company, or you own a franchise or work for a company you believe in, there is always something courageous in your company history to share. And, there is always the next courageous thing you can do right now too.
Telling your story is an important and often underrated way of demonstrating who you are as a business professional. It isn’t a sales pitch; it’s simply a window into your company that often has lessons and ideas from which others can benefit too. By sharing your story humbly, you inform and educate others in a non-threatening way that highlights your courage in business, and the radical ways you are willing to serve your customers. It might just be the reason why you were meant to survive all of the challenges you’ve already faced in business. And why you’ll succeed going forward.