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!

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  1. […] is the second installment in a three-part series to help you pivot your business.  Check out the first article on planning, the second on launching, and subscribe to get more great articles like […]

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