How to Pivot Your Business: Part One

Over the next three weeks, I’m going to help you pivot your business.  Make sure you subscribe to get the final two installments!

Week One:  Planning

Let’s start by talking about what it means to pivot a business.  Eric Ries, the author of “The Lean Startup”, says,

“The hardest part of entrepreneurship is to develop the judgment to know when it’s time to change direction and when it’s time to stay the course… One such practice is to pivot from one vision to the next.”

My Pivoting Experience

I had to pivot my business a few years ago, and I did so alone (as I did most things in my early entrepreneurial days and the reason I built this site).  In short, I had too many ventures, which spread my efforts too thin.  By pivoting, I was able to maintain the integrity of the original company, while growing its offerings and customer base.

I also hired employees for the first time, which made the pivot slightly more complicated.  Hiring may sound simple based on what you know, but without any sort of employee handbook or guide, it’s really easy to dilute or lose the vision of your company.  More on that in a future post.

The hardest part of the pivot was the rebranding process.  I chose to rebrand because I were adding so much to what we already did.  I basically doubled my services.  Through that process I worked hard to convey to our clients (leads, current clients, and past clients) that we were the same company that would take care of their needs as if they were our own.  You don’t have to rebrand your business if you pivot, but you do need to ensure your customer base knows that the pivot isn’t changing who you are (see Part Three).

Why do you want to pivot?

The first step in pivoting is becoming clear as to why you want to pivot your business.  If you can’t explain it simply and clearly, your team won’t know how to follow you, and neither will your customers.

A local business in my city pivoted a few years ago.  They chose to stop selling soft products like clothing and instead focus on selling hard products like statuettes and multi-use items.  When asked, they stated they needed to downsize due to rising real estate costs and chose to specialize in the items that sold the best.  As a customer, I was disappointed by the downsize, but I also understood their reasoning and so felt comfortable continuing to purchase from them.

Start by clarifying your why.  Talk to your mentors about it, but also talk to people who know nothing about your business.  While it may be dangerous to ask family for business advice in most situations (they’re probably not entrepreneurs like you), this is a time when you need that general public opinion.  If they’re anything like my family, they don’t ‘get’ what it is to be a business owner, but they do get what it means to be a customer.  If they can’t understand why you’re making a change, you need to think it over.

Finally, get the opinion of your employees.  Do this after you’ve clarified with other parties — your employees need to walk this path with you, and if they feel that you’re just slinging around ideas, they may not trust you to pivot well and start looking for other career options.

Time For Research

You didn’t think I’d let you pivot your business without having done market research, did you?  No way!  Pivoting is already a stressful endeavor, so we need to be sure it’s the right idea before we do anything public.  Not only will research give you more confidence in the move, but it will give your business the best chance at doing it right.

What do I mean by Market Research?  This could mean a lot of things, depending on your business and its current base, but the simplest form is a survey.  The easiest place to start getting answers is the captive audience of an email list (crossing fingers that you have an email list).  These are people who have signed up to stay informed about your business via newsletters, blog updates, coupon alerts, and more.  Personally I feel I get too many emails, but when someone asks for help in the form of my opinion, I’m game – especially if there’s a prize.  My favorite digital survey program is Typeform.  It can be embedded or linked to for ease of sharing.  If you’ve ever worked with me, you’ve probably filled out a Typeform survey.

Another place to gather information is social media, but you’ll probably see a smaller response unless there is a prize or reward.  Social media doesn’t allow us to ask a specific group of people what they think, at least not for free.  When your customers are surfing social media, they probably don’t have the time or attention span to focus on a survey, so cut it down to a couple yes or no answers.  Even better, do a week long campaign of single questions at peak times — one at 8am and one at 6pm.  Yes or no questions are great, “like this if…” questions are even better.

Talking To Strangers Is Ok

If you don’t have an email list and your social media following is either too small or unresponsive, it’s time to talk to strangers.  This is the scariest thing for a lot of us, but if you love your business, you’ll do it.  There are two ways you can do this.

The first is in-person surveys.  The best time for these is on weekends when people are least likely to be rushing to or from work.  Put yourself in a crowded location with a clipboard to record the answers, and tailor your survey to two versions — short and long.  Your opening questions should be the same on each, and the person’s response will tell you if they are willing to talk for more than 30 seconds.  Smile, state right off that you’re not selling something, and let them know that you are looking for their help.  Most people like to ‘help’, most people hate soliciting.

The second survey method is over the phone.  You’ll be surprised how little you’ll be hung up on when you’re not selling something.  Again, most people want to help.  With phone surveys you have to be quick — folks are almost always in the middle of something else and have limited time.  Introduce yourself, say why you’re calling, and dive right into the questions.  Keep a spreadsheet.  Don’t call during dinner.

So what should your survey say?  The basics are this:

  1.  Introduce yourself, your business, and the reason you’re asking questions in one or two sentences.
  2.  After the intro, do not talk about yourself again.  This is the time to ask about THEM.  Your biggest concern is your customers, and people love talking about themselves.
  3.  Keep questions simple.  If you can frame them to accept ‘yes’ or ‘no’, do it.  If not, try to simplify as much as possible.
  4.  Determine what the essentials are — what do you absolutely need to know in order to confidently move forward with your pivot.  If this is a Typeform or other written survey, you may be able to get away with more questions, but don’t overdo it or people will stop halfway through.

Next week, find out about making the pivot happen — all the way through the launch!

Cheap or Free Apps

This is an ongoing repository.  If you have any suggestions for subjects or resources, leave a comment below and I’ll add it!

When starting a new business or venture, your budget is really tight.  The most important thing to know is that you should not feel bad for penny pinching.  I personally feel there is too much pressure to spend in our society, and sometimes it can feel weird to not get the latest and greatest.

I’ve worked hard at discovering hacks so I retain the freedom to grow my business in the right way.  Businesses, like children, take a lot of love and attention – and money.

Below are the hacks that I’ve used, either in the past or currently.  I hope they make growing your business easier!

Surveys & Forms

typeform

Typeform // Free

Typeform is my absolute favorite form and survey builder.  It’s super easy to use, with a drag and drop form builder, and it has a friendly interface for even the most tech illiterate user.  There are some paid options, but 80% of your needs will likely be met with the free app (I haven’t paid for it, yet).

googleforms

Google Forms // Free

If you already love Google, then you’ll love Google Forms.  It’s also very easy to use, easy to share, and comes with a lot of options.  The nice thing is that all your forms will exist in your Google Drive, as will the answers you receive.

Storage Solutions

dropbox

DropBox // Free (up to 3GB)

I love DropBox.  I love that it syncs to all devices, it looks like my other file structures, and I don’t have to worry that it’ll be there.  I also love that it’s free!  If you need to take work with you, or show something off to a client, this is an easy solution.

drive

 

Google Drive // Free (up to 15GB)

Google Drive is also free – yay!  It also provides more storage for its entry level and typically sync’s well across devices.  I sometimes feel its storage structure is clunky, but it could just be me.

evernote

Evernote // Free

Evernote offers storage and documentation options.  It’s a little more complicated than the others because it was developed to ‘save’ rather than ‘store’, so explore it well before you choose to use it in this manner.  The upside is that it is fantastic for note taking and keeping track of tasks, inspiration, and system development.

Accounting

wave

Wave // Free ($15/mo for payroll)

Wave Apps is a great little accounting program.  It’s cloud based, and they have several iOS and Android apps that allow you to manage some (but not all) of your affairs.  It’s structured like Mint, and can send invoices and receive credit card payments.  However, I’ve noticed I have to really stay on top of it for my CPA to find it useful.  I don’t have a lot of time, so I use it mostly for invoicing.

bank

Your Bank // Free

This sounds really obvious, right?  Since Wave got to be a mess for me, I ended up pushing everything in and out of one bank account, then exporting a spreadsheet on a quarterly basis.  I annotate it manually for my CPA, and he is able to use it to run taxes (yay!).  If you’re running a physical business or selling products, you will need balance sheets and profit / loss margins, so Wave will be a better bet.

spreadsheet

The Ol’ Spreadsheet // Free

I’m not numbers minded, so this sounds insane to me.  But if you’re a sole proprietor, you can probably get away with keeping track of things via a spreadsheet.  There are a lot of examples on Google, so I would search for examples before setting yours up.  Oh, and make sure your CPA is ok with this before you make him/her go insane.

Phones

fi

Google Fi // $20/mo unlimited talk and text – $10/mo for each GB of Data

This is my current love affair.  I actually sold my iPhone to do this (gasp).  I was really sick of paying $60-90 a month for cell service.  Google Fi utilizes TMobile and Sprint towers (as of now) so you have better coverage.  They also include international data in your plan so you don’t have to buy ‘special’ data.  Calls are made on wifi when possible, and there is no term limit.  It’s just fantastic!

gvoice

Google Voice // Free

Before there was Google Fi, there was Google Voice.  This is akin to an ‘internet phone’ and works through your Gmail account.  You can make calls and text from your computer, have calls forward to a physical phone, and use their app to text.  It’s not a perfect solution, but if you want a separate number for work this definitely is a great first step.

Email

gapps

GSuite // $5/mo./user

GSuite (formerly Google Apps) for business used to be free.  Now it’s not.  Sadface.  But, it’s still extremely affordable.  Why would you use this over a Gmail account?  One reason is the power of managing a team’s set of emails from an easy to use platform.  Beyond that, you can manage your domain through Google Apps.

zohomail

Zoho Mail // Free(ish)

Zoho is a knockoff of Google Apps.  Its email function is free, but some of its other modules are not.  It’s nice to be able to utilize different programs from one place, so it may be worth the extra cost to use them.

CRMs

zohocrm

Zoho CRM // Starts at $15/mo./user

As I alluded to above, you may prefer to use multiple programs curated by one company.  Zoho’s CRM integrates into their email, so you can have everything organized.  And we love organization.

streak

Streak for Gmail // Free(ish)

I use Streak.  It’s a very simple, very configurable CRM that integrates into Gmail.  You can set up pipelines for different organizations, and boxes in those pipelines for different clients.  I have four pipelines, all color coded and organized differently (I meant it when I said ‘serial’ entrepreneur).  There are some things Streak tries to upsell you for, but if you don’t have a large team, they’re not needed.

Share what’s worked for you!

Doers vs. Dreamers

Scroll down for the worksheet.

I sat across from my friend at the trendy hipster coffee shop with white subway tile walls and blonde wood craftsman tables.  I had just vented about being exhausted from working so. damn. hard. all the time.  The treadmill was going round and round and I was at its mercy, juggling everything from finances to implementing new processes.

“Veronica,” he said, “There are Doers, and there are Dreamers.  You need to decide which you are, and play to those strengths.  Find help for the rest.”

I looked at him with my ‘what do you mean I can’t do everything?’ look.  My ideas were mine, my business was mine, my clients were mine.  I’d done it all myself and was damn proud.

And damn exhausted.

I’ve thought a lot about what he said since that day.  Turns out, he was right.  This is what I’ve learned since.

I’m a Dreamer.  A big ideas person.  I want to create and then run with new projects, events, and goals without checking myself.  When I presented a new event idea to the board I serve on, they were stoked, but then began asking questions like “what is the budget?”, “which demographics should we target?”, and “how can we front load the attendees so they know what to expect?”  I didn’t have answers.  I’d done the biggest part — the creation part — and stopped.

On the flip side, my friend is extremely task oriented.  She loves systems.  She would rather stay in the office and make sure all boxes are checked and all ducks are in a row than go meet clients.  She guides her team like a rock star, and everything gets done on time.  She is a Doer.

Doers and Dreamers are both critical to the success of a project, event, or business.  But you MUST know which you are so you can find your opposite to fill in the gaps.  You don’t have to hire someone full time or find a cofounder, but you will need someone.  Dreamers may find help from a Virtual Assistant (my favorite being Fancy Hands) especially useful.  Doers — you may need to find a mentor who can help you ideate when it’s time to pivot or shift your work.

It is important to note that, like everything, this is a spectrum.  For example, I enjoy creating systems — just not running them.  Conversely, I’ve seen some Doers come up with amazing ideas for solving problems.

Start by getting your free membership to my Resource Library, where you can download the Doer Vs Dreamer worksheet (and many others)!

My List of Entrepreneur Support Resources

This will be an ongoing compendium.  Stay tuned for more!

This is the start of my official list of favorite Entrepreneur Support Resources.  While it may seem like I’m talking myself out of a job, as an entrepreneur you need all the support you can get.  My job is to work with you on specific pain points or personal blocks, to make you feel empowered and supported so you can be your best business self.  I can teach you to network like a ninja, help find your business blind spot, and bring big level thought to the table, but I can’t offer you community (yet).

Entrepreneur Groups were pivotal to my confidence.  I was too young when I started my business to have many friends doing the same.  I believe in the below groups, and hope you find the support and advice you need to continue your amazing work.

Membership Forums

Fizzle — I discovered Fizzle through its podcast.  Immediately I was amazed at the great content delivered by people who sounded like me.  It wasn’t stingy or straight laced, made me laugh, and gave me great direction for my work.  They offer podcast listeners a 5-week free trial, so I thought “why not?”  I was not prepared for the amount of content provided.

Fizzle offers a compendium of courses akin to the Lynda structure but detailed for entrepreneurs, a forum where you can get questions answered and build community, and a really amazing blog.  It’s worth looking into if you’ve been feeling alone, but be prepared for the time commitment to make the most of the investment.

The Female Entrepreneur Association  Carrie Green runs this show, and offers a good deal of support to her members.  The FEA also features a forum and videos, but is designed specifically for the needs of women entrepreneurs.  The FEA also publishes a monthly online magazine called This Girl Means Business highlighting amazing entrepreneurs and offering instruction and stories.

The cool thing is that the FEA is decidedly international, meaning you may suddenly network all over the world.  You also have access to ‘Ask the Expert’ modules so if you need more detailed help than the forum might provide, you have the chance to get it.  The FEA is competitively priced with Fizzle.

The Rising Tide  A community for designers and creatives.  Great for freelancers especially so you don’t slowly sink into your desk chair and never emerge.

Communities

Tuesdays Together A subset of The Rising Tide which meets locally in each city to instruct and support creatives on a variety of topics.  For example, my local chapter does monthly lectures and biweekly coworking at cafes.

la FEM collectif  A new organization geared toward supporting women’s careers in the film and multimedia industries.

Books

I would be remiss if I left out books… mostly because I am utterly obsessed with them.

#GirlBoss — If you haven’t read this, do so now!!!  About the career of Sophia Amoruso and her skyrocket from rags to riches selling clothes online.

Fascinate  Sally Hogshead has had a fantastic career in brand design and PR.  In this book she shares some of her secrets, advises you how to wrap your noggin around your brand, and generally reminds you that you are a badass just the way you are.

The Success Principles  This is a tome.  While not written by a woman about a woman’s career, this book will help you organize your thoughts and direction.  For someone like me (a serial entrepreneur with all of the ideas), this book is a huge help.  I’ve recommended it to most of my friends (even those who aren’t entrepreneurs) and am sure I’ll be going through it over and over for the rest of my career.  Like I said, tome.

Please comment below if you know of a resource you’d like added to the list!  Include the link and I’ll take a look.  <3 

Focusing on Seeds Instead of Fruit

There once was a young woman who lived in a beautiful and fertile land.  She was a strong woman, someone who wasn’t afraid of adventure.  She loved her land and wanted to call a part of it her own.  When she was 25, she chose to leave her family’s farm and begin cultivating her own plot.

The young woman chose to cultivate fruit trees — they were plants she could climb and she loved the taste of their fruit.  At first, the land gave well.  It easily took the seeds she planted and they quickly sprouted.  The land hadn’t been worked in years and provided plenty of nutrients to her growing trees.

That first year was plentiful, and she had a large cache to store through the winter.  She shared the fruits with her friends and everyone knew she was successful in her venture.  So great was her praise that she soon forgot the hard work she had done to start growing the fruit — she began to rejoice only in the fruit.

Spring returned, and it was time to return to the soil.  Her neighbors began tilling their land to plant new seeds and carefully checked last years surviving crop to understand what was needed to keep the adult trees healthy.

But the young woman had forgotten how to do this early stage work.  Instead, she focused only on the trees that grew the year before, and only on the work she did in the fall to prepare the trees for winter.

As summer progressed, the young woman despaired.  There were no blossoms forming on the trees,  none of the signs of coming fruit.  With the advent of fall, the young woman could only weep, as there was no fruit.  Her stores from last year’s harvest hand worn thin, and she was starving.  What had happened to her beautiful fruit?


Are you able to relate to this story?  I am, because this happened to me in one of my ventures.  I started focusing only on the revenue of my business and forgot how to generate leads.  I forgot to plant seeds.

Every business is different so seeds for me means networking, being a member of local associations (or maybe national ones), giving back in some way (sponsorships, teaching), and encouraging referrals.  Can you think of seeds that are unique to your business?  What might they be?

Let’s start a conversation in the comments below about where your seeds may lie — you never know what ideas you’ll discover!

Stop Comparing Yourself to Older Businesses

This is something I continue to struggle with.  Yep, after four years of being an entrepreneur, I still have to step back and remember who and where I am.  Unfortunately, this is one of the easiest ways to sabotage one’s work.

Comparing yourself to others, in my opinion, is a human handicap.  In doing so, we discount our hard work and negatively pressure ourselves to be ‘more’.  Not only can it make you quite unhappy, it often comes from a place of dissatisfaction.  When I’m most dissatisfied with my business is when I most compare it to others — and quickly become even more dissatisfied.  It’s a problematic loop we have all been in.

Why You Should Stop

First of all, your business will always be different from any other venture.  That’s because it’s run by YOU.  You are made of experiences that no one else has had.  It’s what makes you uniquely good at that special thread that runs through your business.

What do I mean by a special thread?  Reminds you of Harry Potter’s wand, doesn’t it?  What I mean to say is that there is a reason you chose to go into business for yourself.  And there is a reason you chose a certain focus area.  Even within that focus area, you have a particular approach that no one else has.

Here is a first hand example.  My work with women entrepreneurs means a lot to me.  It’s pure passion, which means I work fiercely toward the growth of my clients and peers.  But I’m not the only “empowerer of women entrepreneurs” ever to grace the Earth.  In fact, I take strength from the existence of others.  But at low points, I may also compare myself to them.

In particular, Carrie Green.  She is leaps and bounds ahead of my work.  I sit and puzzle how she gained thousands of followers, garnered immense publicity, and a solid foundation of work.  From the outside it’s easy to envy.

But let’s take a step back — I said “she is leaps and bounds ahead of my work”.  That’s the key.  She has been working with women entrepreneurs since 2011.  I didn’t even start my entrepreneurial career until the end of 2012.  But the human psyche is build to make comparisons so we understand our pecking order and place in the universe.  It’s how we have survived for millennia.

Compare Your Work To … Your Work

While it may seem natural to compare your work to others’ in order to find mistakes or generate new ideas, the only true comparison you should be making is to yourself.  As sentient beings, we are constantly changing and evolving.  This makes us excellent subjects for comparison.

In fact, this is a critical step in goal setting.  The best entrepreneurs are those who reflect on their accomplishments, but also their failures, and learn from both.  The only way to do this is to compare yourself to your past self and mark progress.

I do this by using the Passion Planner, which I discussed in my post about goal setting.  At the end of each month I’m prompted to look back on what I’ve accomplished, but also on what I see myself repeatedly and unnecessarily doing.  By highlighting and putting it into writing, I’m able to take steps toward change — and to celebrate my achievements.

No one else’s work is comparable to yours.  It’s important to set goals, but do so within the realm of who you are and what you hope to become.  You’ll progress faster than if you try to be someone else.

What’s your comparison story?  Share it below.

Don’t Forget Your Online Following

Something I find easy to do, but in bad practice, is to stop posting for a while to the blog and social media.  There are so many things that seem more important – client relations, consultations, project management, quarterly taxes, invoicing, and more.  These are things that are in my face begging for attention each day.  Content creation, not so much.

While it can be frustrating to live in a digital age where everyone seems to be banging their own drum, it’s necessary to building your business as an authority in its field.  Not only is a solid online presence expected of businesses, it helps aid find-ability, credibility, and shows potential clients and customers that your company is trustworthy.

Thank Goodness for Scheduling

The best way to work around the issue of ignoring your online presence is to schedule it.  Many of my clients have told me they set aside a single day of the week for writing — I do the same.  While I choose Wednesdays, Mondays are a crowd favorite.  The week hasn’t grabbed your attention quite yet, and your mind is still clear from the weekend’s relaxation (hopefully).  Thanks to scheduling on nearly every social platform and CMS, you can take a half day to create a blog post and the week’s calendar of social media blasts, then schedule them to go out on various days and times.  I recommend WordPress for blogging and Hootsuite for Social Media Management.

Let’s not forget eBlasts.  Email marketing is a great way to reach your client base and market new products, but it can be just as time consuming as blogging.  Shaping the message so the subject line spurs engagement, and links inspire clicks, can take a lot of brain power.  I suggest adding this into your Monday morning routine as well.  CRMs like MailChimp can also schedule their eBlasts, making your marketing campaign simpler.

I understand that some weeks there just isn’t the time to make this happen.  Monday mornings are often victim to a hectic catch up after a vacation, conference, or email build up.  By putting it on the calendar, however, nine times out of ten you’ll get an update out and feel that much better the rest of the week.

P.S. – I scheduled this post last night!

Narrow Your Target Market

How many times have I felt the pressure to take on clients outside my target market?  Too many to count.  The business is alluring, and it’s easy to fall into the ‘how can I run a business by turning away business’ mentality.  But that mentality will eventually add stress to your work.  In this post, we’re going to work it out so you and your business always operate at optimum performance (sounds like sports shoes).

Aren’t I Giving Up Business?

No!!!

Now that my enthusiasm is out of the way, let me explain.  It’s really easy to get caught in the ‘take everything’ mentality.  It’s how I started my first business, and it was really hard on me.  I ended up working for several clients who didn’t understand the value of my work because I charged too little and took on projects that were too small for my business goals.  While taking on whatever came my way was at first great for gathering data about the market at large, I didn’t narrow soon enough and ended up with a big headache and small return for my effort.

Here are the three reasons a “take everything” approach is wrong:

  1. You will wear yourself out.
  2. People won’t know how to refer you.
  3. Your promotions will fall short.

Let’s unpack these, shall we?

Running Around in Circles

Being an entrepreneur means you’re already juggling a lot of balls – things like finance, business planning & projections, goal setting, customer service, digital presence upkeep… Why in the world would you add more to that list?

Working with customers and clients that aren’t in your target market means you will be doing extra work just to make them fit your model.  This means mental work to understand a demographic that you don’t identify with, or systems work to be able to handle their request.  If you have employees you may find yourself working extra hard to bridge the gap between their usual scope of work, too.  All this to say you’ll be stretched thin.

To add to this, your confidence will probably go down because you’ll constantly feel like you’re falling just below the standard you like to reach.  When you work within your target market, it’s easy to nail expectations.  But when you’re reaching outside that market, it can be a challenge due to too many unknowns.  The quality of your work will be sacrificed to all the time you’re spending fitting a square peg into a round hole, and that is a horrible feeling.  By specializing, you only get clients like your very best client.

How Do I Describe You?

The second issue with working with clients or customers outside your target market is a lack of clarity for what you do.  That is, your company’s mission and values will get lost, which means both the client and others who view your work later will be unsure of how to refer (or describe) you and your business.  Further, if you are asked by someone in your network if you will take a project and you say yes despite its scope, you are saying yes to all future projects in the same vein.  Suddenly your public business image is murky.

So what should you do?  Say no.  That’s right, I’m asking you to turn down business.  Sounds scary, right?  But this is the best thing you could ever do for yourself and your business.

I don’t just mean that your calendar will be more open for the right projects, but also that the requester will want to know why you said “no”, at which point you get to affirm your business model and mission.  That person will then think of you when something more appropriate comes across their desk.

Are You For Me?

In a similar vein, you will eventually want to run ads for your business.  More often than not, you will be doing so on platforms like Facebook or Google.  If your target market is too broad, you won’t know where to start — and neither will the platform you choose.

Platforms like Google and Facebook don’t offer much in the way of targeting your ads.  That is 90% up to you.  Once you know your target, these platforms will help you the final 10% of the way by providing keyword and phrasing suggestions, but the suggestions will be totally off if you don’t know your target.  You will ultimately end up wasting your money on ads that don’t work.

Ads that don’t convert aren’t just detrimental to your wallet – they also can hurt your company image.  If I see an ad that I can’t immediately say “yes” or “no” to, I start to wonder what the heck the company is all about, and why they’re running such a generic or wishy-washy ad.  That starts your public image down a slippery slope toward losing future business.  How?  I may not need your services, now, but someday things may change.  If you get an automatic “no” from me, that means I quickly understood what you were about and may remember you in the future.  Catchy language that builds on your targeting ensures my memory is hooked.

Case Study Time

Here is an excellent example of this in action.  I network my butt off (stay tuned for a Network Like A Ninja article), and so I meet a lot of other entrepreneurs in my community.  Last week I met an entrepreneur who owns a moving company.  His company only does small to medium sized moves, and describe themselves as being in direct competition with Two Men and a Truck.  He doesn’t want to do big moves.  He could, and he could make a lot more money from one move, but his system isn’t set up optimally for such a move and it’s not the market he wants to serve.  Essentially, he wants to move families in order to make an often stressful event simpler and calmer.

Two days later I was talking to a friend who is planning a move.  Immediately, my new contact came to mind.  Not only had I just talked with him, but his very specific target market made it easy for me to know when I encountered a ‘perfect customer’.  I could just as easily have recommended Two Men and a Truck based on past personal experience, but myself and my friend value local companies, and my new contact’s stood out.  I immediately made the recommendation, likely garnering him a new customer.

How to Narrow Your Target Market

One of my favorite entrepreneur help forums is Fizzle.  They publish a weekly podcast, blog, resources, and curate a membership forum for entrepreneurs of all walks.  Their article entitled “5 Questions to Narrow Your Target Market” is a great starting point if you think it’s time to get specific about your work.

Help other women entrepreneurs by telling them how you knew it was time to narrow in the comments below.

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What To Do When CoFounder Conflict Arises

Starting a small business or startup will dredge up a lot of emotion.  It’s exciting, scary, empowering, and thrilling, usually all in the same day.  The moment you have your first win – a new partnership, a great deal from a supplier, your first customer – is one of the most memorable moments in any entrepreneur’s life.

Working with a cofounder can help hedge bets, bring in valuable skills and insight, and add overall strength to the venture.  But what happens when your cofounder(s) stop playing nice and you just can’t agree?  Stop pulling out your hair and read further for some things to try based on my own experience and stories that I’ve gathered on my podcast.

Find a Mediator

Depending on the stage of the argument and the nature of the conflict, you may need a mediator.  After my cofounder chose to leave my startup, he refused to  sign non-compete papers.  Myself and my remaining cofounder didn’t have the legal knowledge it would take to convince him, so we asked our lawyer to mediate.  Our lawyer had been walking through the startup process with us from the beginning, so by this time he was trusted by all three of us.  He was able to act neutrally and explain why it was in everyone’s best interest to move forward with the non-compete.

If you have a neutral party involved, especially one of authority, their mediation can be invaluable to resolving conflict between founders.  I also suggest hosting the meeting at a mutually neutral location so no one feels threatened.

Divide Labor

Conflict can often arise when two parties disagree on how to handle overlapping tasks.  While you may believe two heads are better than one, it may be time to create a hard line between duties.  If the conflict doesn’t run too deep, this may resolve the issue – but make sure you stick to it!  Even if you have an opinion about the way your partner is running your social media, don’t step in.  Voice your concern and then leave them to it.

Get Skin in the Game

This is more of a preventative measure, but it could also be useful if you start seeing an imbalance arise between partners.  If one or more founders don’t have any financial investment in the company, they may not feel the same urgency for success as those that do.  This is a fast track to resentment.  While at the start, an idea may not seem serious enough for everyone to back it, the day will come when they need to.  Start the conversation with the premise that you have reached that benchmark, and that everyone needs to invest in order to continue.

Backtrack

It may be hard to remember why in the world you started a business with this person.  Take a moment to backtrack to the day you made the decision.  What were their winning qualities?  What made them seem like they would be a valuable asset?  Compare what you thought to what you know today:  Has something changed, or were you simply misinformed?  If something about them has changed, this may be the best place to start a conversation.  A death in the family could mean they’re hanging on by the skin of their teeth because they feel obligated, but your blessing is what they need to let go.  If you were misinformed, the conversation gets harder but no less important.  Ask if the cofounder is really up to the task, and be sympathetic.  Admit that you thought things might go a different way, and ask for their input on next steps.  Hopefully you can find a new place to meet in the middle.

Rethink the Split

Two founders, 50 / 50 split; three founders, 33 / 33 / 33 split, right?  Maybe not…

If your conflict is arising from time put in not equaling equity split, but you don’t want to boot your cofounder, it may be time for a change.  It’s easy to get the feeling that you are carrying the bulk of the weight on your shoulders, even if the quantity of the tasks is equal to the others.  Reevaluate just how much time each founder is able to contribute, to what areas of expertise, and how valuable each is.  Maybe your cofounder only has time to manage the finances – well, that’s a pretty big significant item.  It may be equal to the worth of several smaller tasks.  Work together to list the major tasks of the business, and add weight to each one.  From there you’ll be able to make distribution choices based on numbers rather than emotion.

The Anti-Scale

The startup is going great, and it’s growing.  You’ve brought on new people, but it seems like your co-founder has reached a bottle neck.  S/he isn’t juggling the work load, or isn’t thinking big enough.  Regardless, you’ve reached a difficulty in scaling.  As I’m sure you know, scaling is critical to a startup’s growth – in fact, it’s one of the defining factors, especially when investors are involved.  So what do you do?

Talk to your co-founder.  Avoid getting angry or pressuring them.  Remind your co-founder of the original idea, the reason you got into it in the first place, and the vision you both had for the future.  Your future vision was probably aligned at the beginning, at least to some respect.  If your co-founder still seems to be unreceptive, offer the opportunity for an out.  Ask if where the company is going isn’t what they had envisioned, if what you’re doing is working, and if it’s the best thing for the both of you and the company.  Sometimes a person in a leadership role doesn’t know how to get out, especially when it feels like they made a commitment at the beginning of something big.  Or your cofounder simply didn’t sign on for the new direction, and a change is necessary.

When All Else Fails

It sucks to have to part ways, but if your cofounder is being stubborn and can’t seem to work with the team in spite of your attempts, it may well be time for a split.  Try to look for the best option for you both.  If you want to continue the business, you will have to buy your cofounder out.  Allow for time for this decision on both sides – you need to decide what is fair for the business, just as your cofounder needs to decide what is fair for them.  At this point, you’ll have to get separate lawyers so each party’s needs are covered.  This sounds scary, but lawyers are a much better option over doing it yourself and getting it way wrong.  They will help avoid a fight and close the deal in an orderly fashion.

Did I miss anything?  I’m happy to do a follow up if you’re experiencing something I haven’t covered.  Please comment below.

Goals Aren’t Just for High School

We did a lot of goals work during my gradeschool years.  There was a disconnect during the instruction process, and it seemed to me that this was a tool for school only.  They lost their context once I received my diploma, and the concept didn’t exactly come with me to University.  I did set goals, but they were more like “don’t fail this paper”, rather than “create X career”.  They were almost never written down, so I would usually forget any that I set and flew by the seat of my pants.  Read more