I've got good news and bad news. The good news is that 98% of businesses are small businesses. That bodes well for the entrepreneurial spirit that has made our nation great. The bad news is that over 60% of new businesses will fail in their first five years.
After years of building my own companies and consulting for growing businesses, I've come to the realization that too many business owners can't see their business through an objective eye, which often leads to the business's demise.
It takes an incredible amount of intense drive, determination, and a strong ego to breathe life into a business and create products from scratch, but it's also that same ego that won't let a business owner be objective about what their business needs to succeed. The business is up and running at light speed, and management doesn't have the time or willingness to stand back and take a real look at what they have created. They are too close to the problems to see them.
Just like proud parents, they have spent sweat and time creating this "baby," and they refuse to believe that it might be less than perfect.
I call this the "business parent trap." There's an attitude of "Hey, it's gotta be great because I thought of it." It is in this trap that business owners often create and introduce products that would not test out in the marketplace.
I've found that there are usually two basic things wrong with a business: the product (the Baby) and the management (the Breath).
So how do you assess your business? Are your employees going to tell you that you're headed in the wrong direction? Not likely. Occasionally a consultant will be brought in to review the company's performance in a given area. Unfortunately, when management does bring in a consultant, they often are really looking for affirmation—not straightforward constructive criticism. Sadly, some consultants are more than willing to "affirm for a fee."
If you're going to succeed, then someone needs to tell you if your baby's ugly or you've got bad (corporate) breath. So here are some blunt yet truthful thoughts for your business, and perhaps you:
- Get over yourself: Know yourself, trust yourself, believe in yourself... then get over yourself. You're really not the smartest person in the world. You built the business and know it better than anyone else, but no one else really cares how much you know.
- Spectator sport: Conversation with you should not be a spectator sport for others. Remember that there's a huge difference between listening and merely waiting for your turn to talk. You hired your employees and perhaps a consultant because you assumed they had brains, so let them use them. Ask questions and listen to answers.
- Just another product: Realize that even though you think that your new product or service is the greatest thing since the flip-top beer can, the world just sees one more product and must be convinced. You created this product and you know every function of it, but customers do not buy functions, they buy benefits. Whether your product is a high-tech internet service or office furniture, you must show how it is uniquely beneficial to your customer. Functionality makes your products work. Benefits make them fly off the shelves.
- Paperweight: If you have the high-tech inventive skills to create a product, chances are that you don't have the skills to market and sell it. Many small business owners think that marketing and sales are the simplest part of their business, so it is almost an afterthought. There is only one reason that inferior products outsell better ones, and that is successful marketing. Think of your marketing plan as the complete story book that sells your product. If your story book is a best seller, then your product will be a best seller. Without the right story that will build sales and distribution, your wonderful product is just another paperweight headed for a land fill.
- Stand back: Your competitors are not all stupid. Guess what? They think their babies are cute too, and they may tell better stories that make them look even better than yours. So stand back and look at yourself and your baby and try to look through the eyes of a disinterested party... because, believe it or not, the world is a disinterested party.
Steve Baker is a business marketing advisor who has founded successful startups and specializes in market development. A professional speaker, he is also the author of PUSHING WATER UPHILL With A Rake; Memoirs of a Successful Failure. He can be reached through www.PushingWaterUphill.com.