March 7, 2010
By Michael Kline, The Entreprenologist
It’s true! I’m not just trying to be provocative in my title; I really do have good news for all of us who lose at something from time to time. Today’s business losers have a shot at being tomorrow’s winners. Unfortunately for today’s winners, is they are at risk for being tomorrow’s losers. Let us talk about how to get ahead and how to stay there.
In 1999, my partner and I moved to Conway and spent a year studying the local market before deciding on a business to open. We came up with what at the time, proved to be a brilliant idea; we opened the Framed Art Superstore. Our thinking was that decorative wall art for the home was about the only item for the home that was not being competitively marketed. The world was full of naked walls and the housing market was booming, building more and more naked walls every day. Our role was not to compete with local artists and collectors, but to help decorate homes and make nicer home environments more accessible to more people. We bought aggressively to lower prices and be competitive with the TJ Max’s of the world, but with dramatically increased selection. Agree or disagree on the commercialization of art, the following years proved us to be correct in our thinking.
Big trouble. One day (yes, ask anyone in the real estate business, it seems like it happened on one specific day), people stopped buying homes. The next day, consumers stopped spending on discretionary items, especially for their homes that they once thought were so valuable. Meanwhile, big-box stores starting cutting into the art pie. This winning business would become a losing business if it stayed on course. We must constantly reinvent the business, which has gone through several reincarnations over the last eleven years in response to, or anticipation of market changes.
This is the problem I see with most start-up business clients who have a great idea. What happens when the marketplace changes and the good idea is no longer valid? Many people start a business to fill a void or to do something better than the competition. The problem is they’re only measuring the current competition, not the future competition. The void exists today, but what do you do when two other so-called entrepreneurs start to fill the same void you saw? This happened with art, coffee hoses, hardware stores and mattress stores, and many others in the valley in recent years. If you are a wanna-be entrepreneur, understand that you are not the only smart person in town, and that everyone else sees the same void you see. What will you do when (not if, but when) the market conditions that support your business change? To be successful, you cannot just be an operator who has an entrepreneurial moment, then goes back to being an operator. You need to constantly be entrepreneurial, constantly reinventing your business, not only to keep up with changing conditions, but to anticipate future changes and be ahead of the trends. If you’re really clever, you might even cause the changes. The point is, you can’t win by ignoring or fighting change, change is good.
Change creates opportunities for today’s losers to be tomorrow’s winners. People with twenty years of experience do not have one moment’s advantage over you, if tomorrow’s marketplace demands a brand new method anyway. All you experienced people want to argue with me right now, and that’s good – pay attention or become extinct! Take calculated risks on something new. Focus on the customer to find out what they want to experience today, what they value today, what solves today’s (or tomorrow’s problem. If you’ve bet on yesterday’s ideas and lost, this is your big chance to bet again on today’s bright idea. You have every bit of a shot as anyone else. Get advice from people who know what they’re doing. Get a SCORE counselor for free, hire an entreprenologist, get involved in whatever trade organization you need, take classes, read excessively, learn what you need to learn to make sure you line up your necessary resources, and decide if you have what it takes to consistently be entrepreneurial. If you have one good idea, give it someone else to do. If you have a million ideas and endless energy, go do it yourself.
Every day is a new day – people tell us that when we fail at something. You also need to hear that if you succeed at something. If you’re already successful, remember you have to start over every day in order to stay on top. I think it was Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem that called both success and failure and imposter. Don’t be fooled.