I’ll give you some business advice you probably don’t get a lot: Stop. Stop already! Your business is trying to do too much at once; you’re trying to do too much.
It’s December as I write this. It’s that mystical time when contracts end, leases expire, and a strong wind of change blows us into the freshness of a hopeful new year. To see how the people around me are making changes, I’ve been sampling owners and managers in the business world around me.
One of my contacts has wisely identified that their pet project needs to end. This was a trial concept that they desperately wanted to work on, and as far as I can tell, they did everything right. They gave it a lot of time, support and resources — everything it takes to succeed in a new venture.
But after a couple of years of putting in the work and barely scraping by, they realized that this project would never be what they wanted it to be. And rather than keep pouring their time and effort into the bottomless hole that this venture would become, they had the foresight and the fortitude to finally pull the plug and move on.
Did it hurt to give up on a project that they cared about and really believed in? Of course, it did. But spending another year wasting their time and energy wouldn’t have spared them any pain, and at least now they can look for another project to invest all of those resources.
Most often, people learn this lesson the hard way. Like someone I know in sales who spent two months working around the edges on a concept to push into a new sector. He spent hours putting materials together and generally solidifying the foundation for this new material.
I say generally solidifying because he did forget one crucial step. Early on, I suggested that he take a breath and talk with his market to ensure interest in the new material, but he insisted that he knew what he was doing and didn’t want to break his momentum.
Unfortunately, the tricky thing about momentum is that it can run you straight into a brick wall just as easily as it can send you speeding along the road to success. That’s why it’s a good idea to pump the brakes every now and then.
You can probably guess where this is going. He took his new product to market, and every single person he talked to had not a drop of interest in it.
Stopping is often viewed as a failure or, at the very least, a lack of success. But “not winning right this second” and “losing” are very different things. My friend lost two months of work because he could only see his imminent win. And if you don’t want to find yourself in a similar situation, then I’m challenging you to find something to stop working on.
One of my clients was making his plan for 2023, and he saw some dark clouds on the horizon in his business plan. In peeling things back and re-examining his product lines, we discovered a couple of areas that brought in great top lines. But once we factored in the opportunity cost and shared resource allocations, they were clearly losers.
These were beloved products, things he and the team liked and had done for years, but it was apparent on paper that they weren’t worth what was put into them. And once they realized that they were dragging down the bottom line, my client cut them.
I bet you have similar areas that take up a lot of time without bringing in as much revenue as they should. Whether you’re a thousand-person enterprise or a one-person band, there’s probably something you take to market that isn’t worth investing in.
But how do you tell what’s worth your time? In most cases, it’s pretty simple. Look at what you put into the venture and compare that with what comes back. If this is something you work on personally, look at how much time you put into it, how much you charge for the product or service, and then compare what each aspect costs relative to the whole.
For those who are risk-averse and want to experiment a bit before stopping entirely, that’s fine. Start by identifying a project that takes a lot of your time and only generates so-so results. Then increase the price or pause delivery. If the market decides it still wants what you offer, it will let you know. If not, you know it’s time to stop and reinvest that time elsewhere.
Of course, this begs the question, where do you reallocate that time? I’m so glad you hypothetically asked. That will be my topic of conversation next time!
Doug Phares is the former CEO of the Sandusky News Group. He currently serves as managing director of Silverwind Enterprises, which owns and provides management services to small businesses. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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