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 80%, that's right, four out of five new businesses will fail in their first five years.
After years of building my own companies and consulting 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 their 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 a proud parent, 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." It is in this trap that business owners often create and introduce products that would not test out in the marketplace. There's an attitude of "Hey, it's gotta be great because I thought of it."
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 straight-forward 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 only 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 sell.
• PAPER WEIGHT: 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 paper weight head 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.
Remember, there's an 80% chance that you will not be in business in 5 years. As busy as you are, and successful as you think you are, you must set your ego aside and realize that there are things beyond your control. Successful companies know that the secret to success doesn't lie in knowing everything; it lies in knowing what you don't know, and finding those who do.
I wish you good luck and great success.
Copyright © 2005 Steve Baker
About Steve: Steve Baker is a business advisor who has founded successful start-up companies and specializes in market development. He founded a company that did $500 million the first year and he was sued for $1.4 Billion. He speak on How to be a Successful Failure, and he is the author of the award winning book, PUSHING WATER UPHILL With A Rake; Memoirs of a Successful Failure. He lives in Colorado where he is an avid poor golfer. He can be reached through his website www.PushingWaterUphill.com