Do you fly or fall into business success?

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Jumping off a cliff can work in business if you know where you want to land.

Julia Neiman writes a blog focused primarily on youth employment through entrepreneurialism. It’s a decent site worth checking out. Whether parents, business owners or mere citizens, developing smart strategies to help graduates survive and thrive through honest endeavors is going to be a major issue in the coming years for all of us. The cogent posts on this site are good for getting the conversation going.

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A recent post suggesting a quick jump into business prompted a lot of comments, with a number noting that merely calling yourself a professional without the qualifications doesn’t make it so. Strategic marketing is more than words.

As one who’s been in the communications industry for more than a couple of decades, I get this reaction. Anyone who’s seasoned in the marketing, copy writing or advertising fields understands there are production precepts that must be followed.

Forget about creative genius for a moment (and even that requires some solid understanding of consumer behavior), simple technical expertise is critical before anyone can rightfully call themselves a professional.

Production is part of the strategic marketing and creative process

Take graphic designers. It doesn’t matter how pretty the solution is, if the client and/or printer can’t read the files, this is a problem.

A number of years ago, I decided to give a friend a chance who claimed to be a professional graphic designer. I knew from past experience it’s a bad idea to test a new vendor’s stated qualifications on a client (I generally have them do a job for my company first), but let a personal desire to help her quickly override smart business sense.

I created the text for a fairly standard 3-fold brochure in a Word file.

She re-keystroked the text sent into a design program no one else in the industry was using then saved the entire document as a graphic image in that software.

The client couldn’t see it, the printer couldn’t open the file and I couldn’t edit to fix thick finger and careless eye typos (which I realized were there after asking for a fax).

Once we were able to get to the document, it became clear she didn’t understand how to render and mark a document with standardized industry tenets, so the printer had no idea how to lay the page.

She required the client prepay for the work then wanted to bill him double for the time it took her to edit her mistakes. I reimbursed the client for designer fees paid, engaged a qualified provider to restart the project and she huffed off with the money angry that we didn’t appreciate her effort.

Skill almost always trumps cheap or enthusiastic. If you’re seeking support for projects that require technical knowledge of industry norms, you’ll usually wind up paying a lot more to fix the deal pricing you initially embraced.

Consider hiring seasoned pro if . . .

Some fields don’t require deep knowledge, so you can learn as you go or do OK with a provider that’s relatively new on the scene. If you’re looking to hire someone to help support your business, though, it usually pays to invest in one who understands the big picture, particularly as it relates to what other project participants need to do their job well with strategic marketing as an aim. It’s worth spending extra time and money to find the right:

  • Writer
  • Graphic designer
  • Marketing consultant
  • Advertising specialist including content creator and media buyer
  • Ghost writer
  • Online specialists
  • Printer (my favorite has more than 100 year history – and the equipment to prove it – if you’re doing any kind of specialty production work, take the time to find a craftsman)
  • Administrative assistant (some need painstaking direction and others operate independently with ease)
  • Photographer (specialization is a consideration but a basic understanding of quality equipment and good composition is always a must)
  • Technical support (the best ones can coach you through what they do so you learn)

Can you jump off a cliff and build a successful business?

Sure you can. I get Julia’s point. She’s advocating for action vs. excuses. Sometimes this works. Usually, it takes a lot of learning and experience to build a company profitable enough to support you comfortably. You can do this after launch or before, just plan on taking the time needed to earn professional status.

Even after expertise and knowledge comes, sometimes you miss. That’s OK too – it’s part of the small business owner’s reality. What’s important is know when to bail.

Small business owners tend to give up too soon. Most start-ups I’ve watched grow take about two years before referral business keeps the company sustainable. It’s amazing how just about the time one is overcome with frustration, strategic marketing efforts and networking connections made months or years earlier start paying off with surprising returns.

How’s a start-up supposed to survive?

  • Plan like any other investment you make.  It takes time to realize returns.
  • People rarely consider their time in the value equation, but it’s the most valuable resource we have – and is something that can’t be replaced.
  • Be smart about how you position your business, including the prospects you identify as ideal.
  • Keep your focus on long-term goals, your energy charged with some mapped out activities and enough variety to keep work exciting, interesting and rewarding. If you figure returns will come in two years and keep marketing, learning, networking and persevering in your quest to get there, you will. Learn from your mistakes, relish constructive feedback from others who have realized success and be determined to keep reaching.
  • Take the pressure off of you and your business by supplementing your income with other activities until the momentum starts. Plan on two years.
  • Pick a field that gives you a lot of joy and satisfaction. You won’t last if you’re just in it for the money.

It’s not so much about whether you fly or fall into business. It’s more in how you handle the challenges, what kind of long-term commitment you’re willing to make to stragegic marketing and continuous learning, whether you’ve taken the time to really visualize where you’re going and committed a plan to paper and if you’ve chosen an activity that you’re truly passionate about.

Young or old, being smart about how you choose and promote your business isn’t tied to intelligence. Determination and commitment can be far more important to success.

9 responses to “Do you fly or fall into business success?”

  1. Brilliant post, Nanette. And dead right. For professional results you need professionals.

    Interesting debate that Julia’s raised … and you probably saw that my initial reaction was fairly negative, but I think we need to distinguish between those starting out in a relatively low-skilled area – there’s lots of scope for that – and those that aim to make a mark in a professional arena.

    In both cases, it’s good to jump, after making sure you’ve packed the parachute and the first-aid kit, but we ought not to be giving people completely unrealistic expectations. (I’ve suddenly remembered a conversation I must have had in the early 1970s when someone just back from Libya was telling me that Gaddafi insisted that anyone could be a brain-surgeon.)

    We’ve been talking about a group of professional support businesses helping start-out entrepreneurs. I still think that’s a good idea, if we could find the right mechanism. A single coach won’t usually be enough.

    • Good points, Alan. Frankly, I fell (vs. flew) into the marketing/PR business, but did so with partners that served as super mentors (twice) to help me do what I did well (writing) with the support of a team that had deep industry knowledge. I was fortunate to have seasoned and respected pros covering my back. These partner arrangements also provided wonderful educational opportunities that allowed for learning on the job. I was lucky to have people recognize my talents and willing to coach and support me in ways that shored up my gaps. Not everyone is so fortunate, but if you can leap with a net, that’s the best way to go.

  2. I’m so happy to have written a post that keeps on giving.

    As Alan points out, there is a different message directed to youth who are relatively low-skilled and the businesses that require excellent skills.

    I’d like to offer an example that illustrates my point. Someone I was doing business with has two teen age sons. They love to skate and one day complained to their dad about a part they wished someone would develop that would enhance the experience. Their dad challenged them to develop this part. He asked them what this part would look like and how would it fit on the skate?

    They took up the challenge and together came up with the idea and a rough drawing. Their dad had someone make a prototype and it was exactly what they envisioned. They marketed to local sporting goods businesses and then skating rink, and then started marketing on line and soon their mom quit her job to stay home and run that business while the boys were in school.

    They jumped into that business with no particular skills, just a good idea which ended up working for the entire family.

    This is what I was writing about.

    I’m humbled to have inspired so many comments and blog posts this week. Thank you Nanette.

    • Thank you, Julia :-). You bring up a great point with this story. The kids had a mentor willing to help provide inroads to resources to make it so. Assembling the right team is so important when you leap. Sometimes this involves paid vendors and other times generous acquaintances. No matter how you gather this support, it can be critical in realizing success. It’s amazing how kind people can be if you come to them asking for help with clear requests and an inquisitive mind. Maybe that’s a great subject for a future blog post for you?

  3. Not only a meaty and well-thought out post but I love the dialogue. I have such mixedf feelings. As a seasoned business owner who also leaped without looking in the beginning, I have made so many mistakes and had great mentors. I would do things differently now but I sure learned a lot fast. One thing I learned was to seek out experts but also to always get a couple of referrals. On the parenting side I want my kids to leap and try and fail! So much food for thought.

    • It’s an interesting question, isn’t it, Minette? Yes, some of my more important lessons have been learned from failing (you sure remember those, don’t you?). I agree that mentors are critical. It’s wonderful that you are encouraging your kids to explore while they have the safety net of home.

  4. I could have sworn I commented yesterday! I only read Julia’s post from the link here, and wow did it cause some feedback. Yet I found myself nodding along because that is exactly what I did – no major planning just a leap off the cliff and hope. Trust me, when you jump with no parachute you learn to grow wings fast.

    Looking back, if I had planned more I wouldn’t have jumped at all. If I had realised then just how much I didn’t know, I wouldn’t be doing what I do now. I’ve made so many mistakes and most are down to lack of planning, mis-judging returns on what I did plan and pushing away support at the beginning.

    I’m one of those people who will cheer on someone who has an idea, a skill or a talent to make the leap. Take the leap with support, preferably a safety net and planning.

    Professionals? These things aren’t usually life or death.

    I spent years studying and have more pieces of paper than I can count to be a Health, Safety and Environment Officer – and only 2 things mattered. The willingness to learn and keep up with current standards/legislation and hands on experience. You don’t get experience without doing the job.

    Of course there are people who set up shop and misrepresent what they can (or cannot) do. You get that in every field and the net makes it extremely easy to do it. I’ve been burnt and out of pocket more than once – a learning experience!

    Fly or fall into business – but do it with support and plan your leap 🙂

    • So glad to hear your strategy worked for you, Jan. It’s funny, the longer I’ve been in business the more I’ve learned how critical it is to get the right vendors in place. Perhaps professional isn’t always the right term, but understanding what happens in the process (this is particularly relevant to printed material) before and after you handle a job makes everyone’s life a lot easier. If you get someone in the stream who has no concept of printing – or coding for that matter – and their job is design, it can get very expensive to render fixes. I’ve learned to ask questions that include discovering such things before work starts.

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