Category Archives for "Purpose"

Why Business is Not About Quality

Perfection is a theological virtue and nothing to do with reality.  Yet, many business owners are plagued with perfection.  They call it quality and when quality is absolute, you are in trouble.

Quality and Quantity

Quantity is measurable and if it is relevant and measurable, you should measure it.  There may be cost implications but think of the advantages. You:

  • follow progress, so long as you interpret your figures
  • have evidence for potential customers to show they can trust you.
  • eliminate unproductive processes
  • show customers the progress you make with their contract

Quality is impossible to measure.  Every practice is open to improvement.  You sell the best there is but there is no guarantee it cannot be improved. Someone may find a better solution and topple your dominant position.

But a superior product is no guarantee of success.  The history of marketing is full of competition where a poor product won out over its superior.

Quality is important. No-one knowingly buys a poor product or service. Taken to extremes, quality is problematic because: 

  • It prevents marketing a good product or service, while you seek something better
  • Agonising over copy means you waste time for very little gain.
  • Launching early is a smart move, sometimes called Beta testing, where you do a pre-launch and test your offer before you refine it.
  • Marketing before you produce your offer is often wise.  You waste a lot of time perfecting something that doesn’t sell.

The Best Thing in the World

A well-known cartoon in marketing circles shows a row of pizza shops.  The first has a sign outside: “The best pizza in this district”, the next reads “The best pizza in this city”, the next “The best pizza in this country”, then “The best pizza in the world”.  The final shop has a long queue outside and the sign reads: “The best pizza on this block”.

Your thing may be the best in the world but that is no guarantee it sells.  There’s little advantage to the best in the world.  Why?  People do not always base their choice on quality.  They want to know whether they can trust you.  This is not about honesty so much as compatibility.  Can you work together? 

I’m not saying sell substandard goods.  Quality is important so long as you don’t take it to extremes.  Other things matter too when you make a sale.

The Best is the Enemy of the Good

When something is good enough, get it out there.  You don’t know how to make it better until you test it and get feedback.  All the improvements you make before you launch are tinkering with something you don’t even know sells.

The issue is not quality so much as confidence.  If you are confident in your ability, then you don’t worry about your capacity to improve with feedback. 

Receive complaints graciously and gratefully.  Reply as quickly as possible and thank the person who complained.  Explain the steps you intend and how long it will take to make them.  This is a new promise and the customer has grounds for complaint if you don’t meet your deadline.  So, keep channels of communication open. 

When someone makes an initial complaint they draw your attention to something that needs fixing.  If you vanish or avoid the issue you appear to be dishonest and create anxiety. 

They say the customer is always right.  However, customers can be unreasonable.  Don’t assume their expectations are realistic.  You may need a new deal but occasionally, a refund and removal from your list may be the best course of action.

Fixation on quality undermines your business.  It distracts from more important issues.  The final post for now about reasons for business failure is financial mismanagement.

Child contemplating formula

Are You Too Theoretical for Your Market?

I’m guilty as charged!  This is my weakness!  I trained as a scientist and to write as if for a scientific journal is ingrained.  It’s how I think, which makes storytelling difficult!  It is little comfort that many business-owners are too theoretical.

Types of Writing

Let’s start by defining the problem.  There are four types of writing.  They differ in emotional impact, have particular uses and appeal to people in different ways. 

Theoretical Writing

This is default for many writers.  I’m following it in this post.  Theoretical writing is difficult to read because it is, well, boring!  The ideas it expresses may be exciting but the writing is mostly dull.  Why?

The strength of theoretical writing is accuracy.  So, it considers all options and justifies the recommendations it makes.  This makes for cold, clinical, objective language.  It works as background information, equipping the reader with unassailable arguments.  We read to be informed but rarely inspired. 

Technical Writing

This is easier to read than theory but mainly because we have to read it.  Technical writing answers the question, How?  Think of a recipe.  If you follow it, there’s likely to be numbered steps so you keep track of where you have got to following instructions.  Governing documents and legal agreements are other examples of this type of writing.

People read this because they have to.  They applaud instructions that are easy to follow and deplore anything unclear.  So, it shares accuracy with theoretical writing.

Transformative Writing

Transformative writing aims to change things and so packs an emotional punch.  This writing includes stories. It aims to inspire and motivate around a particular problem.

It can be ideologically driven.  Any transformative writer has something in mind they want to change and there is no barrier to taking it to extremes.  This is why this third category should interest business owners more than the first two.  If you want followers, people who take an active interest in your business, use this type of writing.

Transcendental Writing

The focus here is on seeing things differently.  Poetry and religious writing fall into this category.  This writing can be challenging and so for business owners the message is, use it sparingly. 

Mind Your Language!

All four types have uses for business owners.  The trick is not to be confined to one.  Too many, myself included, default to theoretical language and that means people don’t understand us.  Why?  Well. It is hard, especially on a screen, to concentrate on closely argued text, where language is unfamiliar.  And if writing is dull (hard to avoid), where is the incentive to keep reading?

Ideally business owners default to transformational writing and venture from there into other types as appropriate. 

Let’s look at some practical steps:

  • Use stories. Stories convey a lot of information if you prepare them that way and also convey emotion.  They are by far the easiest material to read.
  • Avoid jargon.  Jargon has uses because jargon often has specific meaning.  However, it depends on the reader knowing its meaning.  Even if you provide a glossary with definitions, the reader has to remember what the unfamiliar word means, let alone familiar words with new meanings!  Remember jargon is often used to keep non-specialists out!
  • Use your customer’s language. Even without jargon, text can be incomprehensible because it expresses things in a way unfamiliar to your target market.  How do they describe the things you write about?  It’s not only words that differ.  Your customers may understand the problem you address in a very different way to you.

Too Theoretical?

You may have the solution to a real problem but it is easy to be too theoretical about it.  Don’t assume people are interested in the method you use.  At first they want to know what it does for them.  Do they have the problem?  Would they welcome a solution?  It really doesn’t matter what it’s called or how it works.

Some people want theory before they decide but they ask for it or you offer it.  If you provide proof your approach works, many people take it on trust.

Perhaps this is one of the milder causes of business failure.  It limits the people who listen to you.  They may think you always talk like that, they’ll never understand you and so your offer is not for them.

You need to find a space where people understand your business and make a decision where they sense a good fit.  Your problem may be you expect too much of yourself and of them.

cog wheels

Dependence on Technical Solutions

In business, the chances are you have, like me, tried technical solutions that do not match expectations.  There are large numbers of proven methods and they work – just not always.  One of the biggest challenges business people face is how to find methods that work.

So, let’s think about the issues to consider as you develop your business.

Technical Solutions

Technical solutions are proven approaches to solving problems. The reason they don’t work is rarely to do with their effectiveness.  There are good and bad technical solutions but mostly it depends on how you use them.  If you choose the wrong solution, whose fault is that? 

Actually, the answer to that question is not straightforward.  Here are some things to consider, when choosing a proven method.

  • What are you trying to fix? The obvious question many businesses fail to answer.  If you do not understand the problem, how can you possibly find a solution?  You can waste a lot of time and money pursuing a methodology that does not solve your problem!
  • What does it do?  This may seem obvious but try to penetrate beyond the hype.  Many online solutions automate some process.  It’s worth asking about the fit between your current approach and the approach the solution offers. 
  • How much does it cost? Many solutions require a monthly fee.  Once you have loaded your data into it, you have committed to a system that might be hard to get out of.
  • How long does it take to set up? I’ve heard of people who buy something on a monthly retainer and never take it out of the box because set-up is so daunting.  Remember, it’s not just getting started, it’s trouble-shooting during the early months until you understand the system and have sorted out the inevitable issues between your data and the new system.
  • How long does it take to run? It’s supposed to save time. Does it?  There are other issues such as getting things organised, tracking progress and security that may outweigh time taken but pay attention, is this actually beneficial to your business? 
  • Does it come with support?  If you pay monthly, you pay for support.  Support must be swift and effective. 
  • Does it provide updates? This is not about the addition of new bells and whistles, so much as how swiftly they deal with fixes to problems. 

Decontextualisation

Off-the-shelf solutions are generic.  They’re designed for general use.  Bespoke solutions are likely to be expensive and not always guaranteed to work. 

Let’s stay with the former.  If you’re going to opt for off-the-shelf, on grounds of cost for example, then it is safer to opt for simple solutions and build from there.  If financial investment is low, you are not so likely to find you lose money investing in the wrong solution.

Furthermore, you may do more with simple solutions than you first thought.  Invest in a basic email service such as MailChimp, and you can do a lot.  A few other similar low-cost systems may be all you need to develop your business.

This gives you time to work out your offer and how to market it, leaving greater investment in more advanced systems until you are clear about what you need to grow your business.  This way you integrate your business context, into a basic system, see how it works and invest in something more advanced once you have a clear idea what you need.

Adaptive Solutions

And this is where magic begins to happen.  Choosing technical systems is only part of what you need.  Your business has its unique approach and maybe you can solve its problems using basic tools.  Can you adapt your business to the prevailing environment, avoiding use of complex technical solutions?

Every technical solution begins as an adaptive solution.  It was created to solve a particular set of problems and may work for other similar businesses.  People stumble on new ideas as they wrestle with their particular problems and context. 

The question is whether to invest in one or more technical solutions or to develop your own.  If your business is to solve the same problem for customers, then it is worth investing in a new solution.  If something else is more important then you need the simplest solution that does the job.

Remember though, any new technical solution changes your business.  Your business has to adapt to your new solutions.  Businesses that can’t adapt fail.

One form of adaptation that some businesses find difficult is finding the language their customers need to hear to understand their offer.

Indian Scops Owl in a niche

Your Minimum Viable Market

Minimum viable market is one of the hardest things to understand about marketing.  It’s counter-intuitive. How is better to target a smaller market?  We’ve all been there.  At a business network meeting, you ask someone who their business is for and they reply: my market is everyone!  I’ve done it myself and so have you.  But not knowing your minimum viable market may damage your business.

Minimum Viable Market

In the early years of your business, until you are clear about your offer, lack of clarity about your minimum viable market is unavoidable.  Businesses fail if they don’t address this but it is a slow burner.

What is your minimum viable market?  It is the smallest market that generates the turnover you need for a viable business.  Too small and your business cannot grow.  Too large and your business lacks focus, trying to be all things to all people.

The idea is particularly important for niche businesses.  When businesses enter the mainstream, they inevitably standardise their offer.  They design an offer to appeal to the widest possible market.  This is a difficult transition to make and it is made only where a business develops a product with mass appeal.

Who Are They?

They have a problem and you have a solution.  This key unlocks your minimum viable market.  Before anything else, identify the problem you solve.  Define it carefully.  Describe it in crisp sentences with detail.

The hard part is identifying those who share the problem.  Understand how they experience the problem.  They may not realise they have have the problem.  Or they know they have it but do not believe it can be solved.  These are two distinct positions, requiring different approaches.  

You make voluntary decisions about your market.  Choose to market to one sex or in a specific geographical area, for example.  You make these decisions for reasons of preference or convenience.  Is it discriminatory?  Not necessarily.  If you provide a service for a specific group, you hone your service to appeal to that group.  For example, hairdressing is different for men and women.  There’s no reason why a women’s hairdresser can’t provide the service for a man.  Most men prefer the male version but possibly not all.  The few men who prefer to use a women’s hairdressers are a secondary market.  Any marketing the hairdresser practises will be to their usual market of women.  If a man approaches them, they decide whether they provide the service. 

A service promoting itself for one group is usually accepted.  Problems start where a service with no stated preference discriminates.  A recent case where a cake decorator refused a cake for a gay couple for religious reasons, was problematic because the shop could not define a market that did not include gay couples and so some argued it was discriminating on grounds of prejudice.  Defining on grounds of demographics is fine so long as it does not discriminate against legitimate users. 

What Do They Believe?

Let’s follow the cake decorators a bit further.  They were accused of discrimination on the basis of faith.  They became known as followers of that faith and so may find they attract customers who share their faith.  People who agree with may start to go there to get their cakes iced.  Equally, those who disagreed may go elsewhere.

Businesses often talk about the need to know like and trust.  This is a powerful positioning tool. It is possible choices are seen as discriminatory and so business owners must take care what they say.  But a business owner’s worldview need not be discriminatory.  Mostly it doesn’t matter whether we agree on a particular issue.  But someone who knows me is likely to know where I stand and might choose me on that basis. 

My general worldview can be important. For example, I emphasise the contributions business people make beyond making a profit.  I buy from business people who take a very different view on this issue.  So, I know that worldview is important not because it attracts like-minded people but because it flags up what to expect. If someone needs support over a particular problem, they may explore whether I can help them precisely because I do not share their worldview.

Conclusion

In terms of business failure, there are two issues.  One is to fail to define a minimum viable market.  This leads to marketing with no focus and is likely to attract no-one. 

The other problem is where, defining your minimum viable market, you deliberately or inadvertently apply the wrong constraints to your market.  These may be perceived as discriminatory or else do not attract the people you thought it would.  Examine your own motivations here – if you attract people who are not the ones you expected, who’s to say they are not your market?  Maybe you need to overcome your own prejudices first!

A lot depends upon reading the context in which you market your business.  Another dimension to business depends on context: technical solutions.  Implementing a new technique can be fraught with disaster!

do not give up

Businesses Fail Through Lack of Confidence

We tell ourselves stories and sometimes we’re not aware we’re doing it.  Think of times you have contemplated a course of action and not taken it because it is too risky.  Right or wrong, you told yourself a story.  If you are not aware this is story, then how do you know whether it is true? These stories undermine confidence.

I’m not saying anything is possible but how do you know until you try?  Confidence is not solely being prepared to try, it is not being stopped by failure.  It’s the ability to pick yourself up and start over. 

Tenacity

Tenacity works when it is perceptive.  Attempting something that never works is probably not a good idea.  After any activity, ask yourself what went well.  What could have gone better?  Learn from mistakes.  Find out more about the barriers to your objective.  Apply what you learn to your next attempt. 

Remember, the biggest reason businesses fail is when the owner gives up. There are times when you have to conclude it is better to call it a day.  But usually, when you learn from experience, it is worth another try.

Consistency

Adapt your strategy to meet your learning but don’t forget why you are in business.  Your new strategy must be consistent with your business aims. 

People around you will offer advice.  Listen carefully.  Do they help you understand what went wrong or do they offer a solution to the problem, as they understand it?  Beware of solutions – they are often not what they seem.  Solutions, offered in a spirit of helpfulness, are rarely right for you or your business.

Ask why they think that solution would work.  Try to get to their analysis of the problem.  Then thank them and work out your approach, consistent with why you are in business. 

The Stories You Tell Yourself

“I am not the sort of person who …”   Maybe that is true for now.  But you need to see where your experience of failure points.  Repeated failure may mean you need to try things you genuinely believe are not right for you. 

Trust your subconscious mind.  You accumulate experience all the time and when faced with something new you are not keen to try, tell yourself a new story.  You could fail but equally, you may be on the brink of something new and exciting. 

The alternative is to give up.  That’s how businesses fail.  Draw inspiration from others in your field.  Their stories may help.  But beware!  Your heroes may not be as heroic as they appear.

Money exchanged for invoice

Your Pricing is Too Modest!

It’s tempting to reduce prices.  Reasons include low self-esteem, competitors with a large share of the market, customers who seek reductions on grounds of lack of funds or friendship. 

The rule of thumb is, if you think of changing prices, increase them. 

The Race to the Bottom

Perhaps prospects don’t buy and explain they can’t afford it.  Not having enough money is a great way to let you down gently.  We’ve all done it.  “Your offer is really great but I can’t afford it” sounds better than “I don’t like your offer”.

Then you find someone who turned you down on grounds of price has found money to pay someone else!  What does this mean?  Perhaps, you were not right for them.  Or perhaps you did not make an offer as irresistible as your competitor’s.

If you reduce prices, you might undercut competitors.  What if they respond by undercutting you?  This is called the race to the bottom.  Experienced competitors hold prices or increase them.  We need to understand why.

Cut prices and you need more customers to break even and more time for marketing.  Reduced prices are a prelude to going out of business.

Credibility

Another reason to resist price reduction is self-esteem.  Price tells your prospect how much you value yourself. 

Successful businesses increase prices for a reason.  They think about capacity.  When a business attracts many customers, providing a reliable and quality service is important.  The business also needs time for marketing.  Increased prices reduce demand and the business needs fewer customers.  Having a waiting list is no bad thing!

High prices communicate about your business.  They are part of your story.  If prospects want your services enough, they find the money.  Your challenge is to respect that and meet or exceed their expectations.

Pricing Tells a Story

Pricing opens up options for your business.  Your prices tell a story.  You need a range.  Always have one or more high-end offers and free stuff that captures interest, drawing people into your business as prospects.

In between, offer opportunities for prospects to try you out.  A coach might use workshops to engage interest.  This can be at a significant price but not huge; between £50 and a few hundred pounds.

If your basic price is high, you have room to make offers and not lose out.  These might be early bird offers or offers for those who are on your list or those who bring a friend.  So long as you have a good reason, you can make generous reductions. 

Consider using a workshop or low-end events to upsell to higher end offers.  If someone attends something, offer a reduced rate for higher end activities. 

With high end offers, you have scope to make reductions for customers where there is a good reason to do so.  This works where you have a good story!

A lot depends on confidence and so that is the next topic in this sequence about business failure.

four happy and one grumpy ball

Using Positioning to Market Your Business

We hear a great deal from politicians about competition.  They say competition is a driver of capitalism; competition provokes innovation.  To get one over on my competitors I must be cleverer.  I have to be more powerful, if I have more money I can take greater risks and outgun them.

In practice, this false worldview does not play out so much in armed warfare, where armaments are business cards, flyers and social media posts, as fear.  Fear of competition leads to stasis, you draw back from engaging in your market for fear of offending more powerful or experienced competitors.

Collaboration

Experienced business people know capitalism is rooted in collaboration.  Let’s start starry-eyed and then look at some issues.  It is easier to promote someone else’s business than it is your own.  Apart from thick-skinned individuals, most people find it easier to be generous than overtly confrontational.  Pooling knowledge leads to strategies that raise awareness of the need for your products and the range of solutions on offer.  This is a purpose of business networking, even though we sometimes lose sight of it.

The downside of collaboration is where businesses form cartels and work against the interests of their market.  Perhaps the most dangerous example is lobbying politians.  If you invest cash in lobbying, you can support cartels of interested parties.  Huge business interests bend political discourse through social media.  It may be one person’s investment, until you look closely and ask where they got the funds they invested.

Big business collaborates because they know collaboration works.  They compete in tacitly agreed ways.  The principle applies to small businesses too but they inhabit a different world, where opportunities for mischief are scaled down.

Positioning

Business is a force for good, especially at the local level, where they aim to produce something of value.  Whatever market you target, you find many other businesses competing for the attention of the same people.

Why should a prospect choose you and not one of the others?  There are three main ways to gain separation.  Once clear about what makes you distinctive, your position helps you collaborate for mutual benefit with others in similar markets.

Problem

The problem you solve is the most important positioning element.  How you describe the problem, its effects and the changes that happen when it is solved, matters.  Stories demonstrate the problem is real, how to know whether you have it, that it can be solved and why your solution is best for some people.

Your market determines the problem and understanding of the problem comes from study of your market.  If you notice a problem behind the problem, you demonstrate understanding of the issues your market faces.  But always your stories demonstrate understanding.

Demographics

Here you impose constraints on your market.  You might offer services primarily to women or to men.  Your market might be a particular age-group or locality.

You make choices for reasons of preference or convenience or to narrow your market.  Aim for the minimum viable market; that is the smallest number of people who can generate enough customers to make your business viable. 

Using demographics helps because you are in control.  Say you choose to market to women only.  You could decide that men are not ruled out.  This might mean you design your marketing solely for women but consider any men who express interest.  They are your secondary market.

Or it could be you choose women only.  At a later date as you grow in confidence, you are free to decide to extend your market to men.  They’re your rules!

Worldview

The final dimension is your worldview.  What might appeal to your market?  You could let it be known which way you voted for the EU referendum.  Maybe you don’t want to serve those who voted the other way.  Perhaps you want to convey a specific worldview that attracts a particular type of customer.  If the referendum is irrelevant, then don’t say anything about it.

Given 2 or more businesses with similar problems and demographics, how does a prospect choose between them?  Customers don’t always choose on experience or competence because businesses are often hard to tell apart on these factors.  Customers are drawn to someone they feel they will get on with.  Who at least understands their worldview. 

Innovation

The point is not to be like everyone else.  Your offer may be similar to many other peoples’.  You could redesign it but if you are successful, others will copy you.  If you are innovative in positioning, you have an advantage because others cannot be you.

By narrowing your market, you make space for others to position themselves relative to you.  Once all are confident in their positions, opportunities for collaboration by promoting understanding of a shared problem or available solutions become possible.

One common error, is to position on pricing.  This triggers the dreaded race to the bottom.

stone tower

How Lack of Persistence Fuels Failure

Businesses fail all the time.  How many fail through lack of persistence?

My father was self-employed as a sheet metal worker for about 30 years.  My goodness, he could have given up a thousand times over.  It was always difficult.  Not only did he have to find work (and that became progressively more difficult) but he also had to get his customers to pay.  The problem was everyone was waiting for the next person to pay.  As money entered the chain, it passed down the line.  There was no point in taking someone to court.  They would be made bankrupt and no-one would be paid.  The real problem was end-creditors such as the Inland Revenue. 

Neither Conservative nor Labour governments favoured small business owners.  My father, a life-long socialist, was the boss. When it came to disputes, he had no union to bat for him.

And yet he paid his way.  Brought up a family; I don’t remember wanting for anything.  He paid for my sister’s and my university education.  In the end ill-health defeated him.

What kept my father going?  He enjoyed his work and valued his independence.  He solved problems by creating solutions out of steel.

Consistency

Once you decide what your business is, it is important to be consistent.  You may be bored, your family may be bored, your employees may bored, your customers may be bored – it doesn’t matter, keep on keeping on – that is until your accountant (if you have one) gets excited and tells you it isn’t working.

Marketing and sales is a slog.  It is a necessary slog.  Unless you are a very peculiar person, marketing and sales are nowhere near as exciting as delivering whatever you deliver.  But if you give up, you have nothing to deliver.

When you start you’re not ready.  When you’re ready, your market is not ready – it all takes ages to get right.  In the meantime, you see other business owners motoring past with loads of work.  Don’t think for a moment they don’t have their own problems! 

Patience

Most things don’t work.  Finding something that does work and provides a reliable income takes time. It’s frustrating and there are no guarantees.

Patience is a virtue.  Those who stick with it are more likely to succeed than those who do not.  Even the most successful entrepreneurs had their wilderness years. 

How do businesses keep going?  It isn’t for the money.  They keep going because they enjoy what they do, can see the benefits they bring to others, create a body of work.  Business is an opportunity to try out new stuff and create something new. 

Promises of Great Wealth

Don’t listen to the stories of undreamed of wealth.  Yes it works out that way for some.  For most successful businesses its skin of the teeth, bringing up a family and getting through university before everything stalls.

We can’t all be millionaires and that is why we should steer clear of the big promises.  Remember the Pareto principle?  It means 20% of the market holds 80% of the wealth.  Yeah, you could be in the top 20%, you have a 1 in 5 chance. 

But there is room in the middle to make a niche that generates the income you need.  High end clients are not difficult to find and if you do, your niche can be comfortable.

Many who make large sums find they are not satisfied, for satisfaction is in the work.  What balance between work and income works for you?  If you’re not happy, you will find the money does not compensate.  So hold out for what is of value.

If you do that, you position yourself in a niche that works for you, with customers who appreciate what you distinctly offer.

Tug of war between computer screens

How Conflict Undermines Business and What to Do About It

Let’s start with Brexit!  Here is a rich source for understanding why most things don’t work.  Sometimes commentators talk about “groupthink”, although I haven’t heard it used of Brexit.  Groupthink is an unassailable shared truth no-one challenges.  It does not mean everyone agrees.  On the contrary, it generates divisions because the shared belief is false, there is no possibility of agreement.

There is no shortage of false beliefs in the Brexit debate.  But perhaps “the will of the people” is one particular.  Why so?  Well first, it is not the will of all the people.  If we accept the result of the referendum, it is the will of 52% of the people who voted.  17 million as opposed to 16 million, out of population of 60—70 million.  John Stuart Mill warned about the dictatorship of the majority.  It is always a hazard.

Worse is the practicalities of pinning down the will of the people.  Most people, myself included, are very bad at working out what we want about anything, let alone an issue as complex as Brexit.  We change our minds about stuff, all the time.   Representative democracies entrust decision making to informed politicians, accountable through voting.  It is decidedly not that people are stupid for voting the way they did. 

And actually we don’t know why people voted the way they did – on either side.  When people say the (small) majority all meant the same thing – there is no evidence they did.  And if they were such a coherent group of people, with a crystal clear understanding of all the issues and had the poll positions been reversed why should 16 million be less persuasive than 17?

The will of the people is a powerful debating tool, used to manipulate people on the other side of the debate.  Brexit repays study because conflict is one common reason businesses fail.  Perhaps freelancers don’t find this so much but even they can play a blinder from time to time.

How to Make Enemies

Come off it!  You are perfectly capable of making enemies without help from me.  Indeed there is a basic type of non-directive consultancy called a case.  A case is where someone triggers conflict and needs help to resolve it, so the whole community can move on.

Any community entrenched in dispute ties up energy.  Businesses are vulnerable and so are community groups, schools or churches.  Very often shared assumptions create division and it is a painstaking task to track back and work out what they are, let alone how to resolve them. 

Managing Other Peoples’ Conflict

People trained in mediation may be able to help.  But pity the poor manager, minister of religion or headteacher who enters a situation where there is entrenched conflict.  They might see where shared erroneous beliefs lie but what are they to do?

The worst thing they can do is plough on regardless.

Tasks and Issues

“Tasks and issues” is a useful tool.  To assess a situation, make two lists.

The first is a list of tasks, things that need to be done.  Start these with the word “To”: To

  • move the font to the left of the pulpit.
  • improve performance on phonics in Year 3.
  • start a Facebook advertising campaign.

So far so familiar.  The second list is for issues.  These begin with words such as “conflict between” or “disagreement between”:

  • Conflict between those who want to move the font and those who have to apply for a faculty, remembering what happened last time.
  • Disagreement between Year 3 staff about the best way to improve performance.
  • Conflict between staff who want to use social media for marketing and those who point to the proven success of traditional marketing methods.

These are examples from different organisations.  Your lists will be from a single organisation.  The key question is: do you have issues likely to prevent, delay or subvert your tasks?  If so, how serious are they? 

If possible, address the issue before the task.  Ploughing on with a task when there are powerful groups opposed is a recipe for failure.  On paper this may seem obvious.  But it isn’t obvious because if it were, people would do it!

We have seen this played out in the Brexit debate.  The closeness of the referendum debate matters.  And up to the time of writing it has been ignored.  My prediction is the nation cannot move forward until the issue is resolved.  You can’t ignore such a close result.

People are more likely to be interested in tasks than issues.  The temptation when facing opposition is to pack it in.  And that’s another reason for failure – lack of patience.

disused car with flowers in the engine

What You Do and Why You Do It

A few years ago, I started in business not at all clear about what I was going to do.  I was clear about why I wanted to be in business.  My business why has never changed, even though several people have told me it’s no good!  I’m convinced why you do business is crucial for success.

I looked back to my time as a development worker and realised something true for me and many other development workers.  Most of our projects no longer exist.  Some were successful at the time.  Now they are no more and the communities we sought to change are unchanged or worse off.

I concluded the reason for this was not quality of the work so much as funding.  Grant aid is not sustainable.  Thriving communities form around businesses that serve local residents.  My vision is of business as a means to local transformation.  I aim to coach in local marketing, businesses mindful of their impact on the lives of those around them.

I found when I spoke of this aim, audiences were always inspired.  My challenge was to turn this why into business activities.

In an earlier post, I suggested you need three aims for your business: your business, financial and lifestyle aims.  In this post I return to the first of these. 

Why versus What

It is worth reading Simon Sinek’s book, Start with Why.  He explains why knowing the reason your business exists is important for success.  People buy why you do your business, not what you sell.

Look at it this way.  You offer something similar to many other businesses.  Even if you come up with something completely new, you will be copied.  Assume your competitors are as good as you are or even better!  What does this mean?

You could argue it’s best to hand your customers over to someone who is better than you because the public always chooses the best offer on the market.  You could compete on price – I may not be as good as the others but I charge less!

Let’s say you’re one of three people equally good at what you do.  Each is invited to pitch their business.  How will your audience choose?  Telling them what you do won’t help them decide. 

Telling them why you do it, offers them a choice.  They won’t all choose you.  Whatever turns one person on, switches someone else off.   But that’s OK, you’ve helped them decide. 

And who says the other business is better than yours?  When you help the people who choose you, they and you are happy.

Forgetting Why You Started

What you do is seductive.  You spend years honing your skills and you are proud of your achievements  You know you help people but somehow you can’t reach them.  They show no interest. 

You spend a lot of time designing better products and services.  This is productive, if part of routine housekeeping.  But don’t lose sight of your reason for being in business.  It should drive design of products and services and inform marketing. 

Don’t lose sight of why you started.  Maybe you need to persist with the packages you started with.  It is tempting to move on and abandon old ideas.  But if you chop and change, it makes it difficult for your market to remember you.  People need to hear your message many times before they take it on board.

Stay with your why.  Eventually people remember you and so turn to you. 

Failing Through Success

Which just about says it all except …

Success can undermine your why.  Most small businesses make a living from early adopters.   Their niche market makes enough money and they enjoy the work.

Some businesses make the breakthrough to the big time.  They grow into premises and staff and loads of customers.  It is possible to lose sight of your why when this happens. But remember it is still the reason people choose to become your customers.  If you lose track of your why, your customers will move on.

One business that has maintained clarity about its why is John Lewis.  Think of its Christmas commercials.  Do they lead to more customers?  There’s no way of knowing.  What they do is remind staff, customers and shareholders of their why.  They use their marketing to build their business.

It’s tempting is allow your what to overwhelm your why.  Many people don’t make the distinction, they don’t understand why your why is important.  In time, this means your why does not hold your business together and multiple whats polarise your stakeholders.  Conflict creates enormous problems and so it is the topic for next time.

Do you know why you are in business? How does it help you market and sell your products and services? Leave a comment below.

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