Business Advice Can Take A While To Understand
Not long ago, I was asked, “What is the best piece of business advice you have ever received?”
The funny thing about this, is the advice actually came to me, when I wasn’t yet running a business and probably about fifteen years before I even started one.
I was on an airplane, sitting beside a gentleman who owned a hot air balloon ride company. He was coming back from a huge show in the states. We talked through the flight, and he told me about the work they did and the operation he ran. After asking a lot of questions and listening for quite a while, I finally revealed to him that one day, I also hoped to own a small business.
I remember his response, as if it was yesterday. He said, “I wouldn’t advise it. Starting and running a business is a lot of work; more than you will ever know. You are likely better off where you are, right now. But if you disregard that advice and decide to go into business for yourself, remember business doesn’t happen inside your building. It happens outside it.”
It was a little shocking to hear someone who seemed, at least somewhat successful in what he was doing, tell someone else not to get into business. At the time, I wasn’t really sure what the other advice even meant. My guess is my confusion in that moment is ultimately the reason I remember it so clearly, even until today.
Over the past fourteen years, since starting this business, I have thought about that conversation a number of times. In our first couple of years, it was easy to get the whole, “it is a lot of work” thing because it was, but for a long time the second half of the advice just continued to spin, with nothing coming clear.
About five years ago, I was working with a client who was in the earlier years of her business. She was focused on changing things within the business and with some of the products she intended to offer. We had been discussing change after change, for a number of months when finally, I told her that no matter how much change she made internally, until she got out there and started talking to people and selling, she would never know whether she had found the “secret sauce”.
It was in the conversation I believe I was finally able to unravel the advice given to me, so many years before.
A lot of times, our focus as business owners is about making sure everything is perfect. Afterall, we all take great pride in our businesses…the building, our employees, our processes, our products, our systems. We believe we are being “graded” based on these and they are a reflection of who we are, so it only makes sense to try and build an ideal combination.
But no matter how much focus we put on these things, it is impossible to know how well we have done, until we talk to the market and see if they respond. In some ways building a business or developing a product or service, is like being an artist. The things we put together, is like the paint on a canvas. It speaks to us, because we are the “voice” behind the creation, but the true test comes in whether it engages the viewer or customer. Is it something that speaks to them?
It is easy to get caught in your head, about what can be done to capture customers and to generate revenue, but remember that in order for business to happen, you need to be outside your business; taking to your potential customers, seeking their feedback, marketing and advertising what you do. No one will ever see inside, until you engage them from outside your business.
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