Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Fall Down Seven Times

Something that tends to throw people off who don't own their own business is the sheer number of times we business owners bang our heads against the wall attempting to find the right path. Finding the right combination of advertising, for example, requires learning as much about what doesn't work as it does what does. If you're not accustomed to this process, it appears wasteful, foolish and maybe a bit insane. But if the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result, the definition of small business is doing different things over and over until you figure out the best path. 

Succeeding at small business is learning from mistakes and you can't learn from mistakes unless you make a bunch of them. That requires throwing a lot of stuff against the wall to see what sticks. In my retail business, there's a certain amount of flex in my system for this very activity. I bring in new product to try out, gauge effectiveness and either bring in more or blow them out. We have "vulture" customers, a term I use to describe those who only shop us for our clearance items. They essentially pick the bones clean from my trial and error, serving a useful purpose in my economic ecosystem.

Am I foolish to buy these things? Only if I don't learn from the experiment. There is no harm, no shame in trying new things, finding they don't work, and moving on, at least as long as you do it within your parameters for experimentation. What you learn to do over time is fine tune and speed that process, whether it be new product that doesn't work, a dying product line, or even an employee that isn't working out. Where I would once lament, hand wring and make myself miserable over these difficult decisions, I've now learned to cut my losses as quickly as possible, even clearancing an item or line the day of release, if I've somehow miscalculated. 

You have to have the stomach for this in small business. You have to see money as a grease to lubricate your economic engine. Without grease, without trying new things constantly, performance wanes and can seize up as you're caught unaware. Customers have a short attention span, so although they may like today's new releases, they're already thinking about what's next. Will there be an expansion? A second game? Will they return to what they were doing? If you're not always willing to get out in front of that, you're going to have problems. This includes advertising, which has a finite shelf life, as well as employees, who in retail, are there until they're Next Thing comes along or for the younger ones, their real lives begin. To do this small business thing, you must enjoy the process, accept or even revel in your failed experiments, and get back up to do it again every day.


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