By Amy Calfee, Chief Listening Officer, Temerity Creative, LLC
I’m a providential entrepreneur. After two layoffs early in my career, I was literally pushed into the life of entrepreneurship. I’ve been “working in my bunny slippers” for decades, helping other entrepreneurs, small business owners, and organizations market their benefits. I’ve listened and learned, advised and consulted, cheered and applauded.
These hundreds of individuals have taught me about intention, motivation, purpose, and vision. Just like me, starting their business was the easy part. Like a new relationship, everything was shiny, full of potential, and energy was abundant—even if we didn’t know exactly where we were headed.
Working the business day-to-day becomes like a dance. I call it the “3-2 Cha Cha.” As your business becomes known, it pumps up confidence and a predictable cash flow: three steps forward. A focus on working in the business tactics versus working on the business strategy usually leads to longer sales cycles, more no’s than yes’s, or worse, saying yes to the wrong customer because cash flow is no longer as predictable: two steps back.
We’ve learned to be champion problem solvers. Resolve the dispute. Renegotiate the contract. Cover the phones. Close the deal. Make the customer happy—whatever it takes. There’s not much about our business that we don’t know. Yet, over time, original intention can be misplaced; isolation threatens motivation; clarity of purpose is replaced by “why am I doing this?” and vision–big picture thinking–lives in a secret notebook entitled “how am I going to get out of this?”
The business owner—you, me, and the guy faking the big smile next to you at last week’s networking event—can become T.R.A.P.P.E.D. by the business. For some, this condition is fleeting. For others, it can feel like a recurring roller coaster ride. Ignoring symptoms have produced a chronic condition. The cure begins with acknowledging what is, and then acting on what you know. Let me give you some examples of what I mean by T.R.A.P.P.E.D.
Tactical (vs. Strategic): Being strategic about marketing begins with a plan. The process requires you to “walk outside your own store” in order to see yourself through the eyes of your customer. Then you’ll know what they want, when they want it, and how they prefer to find out about it. One of the best examples of tactical thinking is buying just one ad with a weak offer in a discounted media outlet. This may sound silly, but business owners do this all the time “just to see what they’ll get.” They always get an invoice for the ad, that’s for sure.
Resistant (vs. Understood): Change can be difficult, especially when change happens to you. Some personalities thrive in ambiguity and are able to adapt on the fly. Others resist change because it requires more mental agility. An example would be the business owner who expects his/her sales team to make cold calls because a cloud-based CRM (customer relationship management) system is “too complicated.” Ironically, poor productivity is more comfortable than changing processes and procedures for technology one doesn’t understand. Maybe it’s time to embrace change by learning something new and then leveraging the benefits.
Aimless (vs. Clarity): What you think about, you bring about. So decide where you want to go and set a course to reach just beyond your destination. Write it down. Make it measurable and specific. Be accountable to your team. Keep track of your progress and report it often. In a recent survey of participants in my marketing planning program, every respondent said that committing to a goal was one of their most empowering and clarifying decisions.
Prideful (vs. Confident): Allow me to step on my own toes here as a reminder. We don’t have to be the smartest person in the room. In the world of business, especially high-end and technical services, we often conflate knowledge with leadership, projecting a false sense of pride and calling it confidence. Yes, we like to do business with confident people and visa versa. But my assertion is that for many business owners, saying “I don’t know” doesn’t make you weak (to your team or your customers), it makes you honest. People like, trust, and admire honesty.
Possessive (vs. Engaged): A bumper sticker comes to mind: “If your competition doesn’t know what you do, neither do your prospects.” I’ve noticed how business owners often hide their greatest advantages for fear their competitors will copy them. In a recent conversation with a local landscaper, he discussed with me his special method of trimming flowerbeds. He knew none of his competitors were achieving the same results. He carefully trains his crew, and actively promotes this difference to prospects. Guess what? He retains nearly all of his customers.
Excuses (vs. Sustained): After back surgery last year, my doctor released me to swim. I joined a local masters’ swimming program that meets three days a week, 5:30 – 6:30 a.m. I eventually trained my way up to 3600 yards per week. Yet, after four months, I quit because I became “self-distractive” with no plan to keep the work (and the early morning motivation) fresh and relevant. Thinking strategically helps us create processes and systems that can be integrated throughout our day-to-day operations. Consider an incremental approach to implementing your marketing strategy. Train yourself up.
Debt (vs. Systems): When you started your business, were you thinking about how you were going to get out of it? Why would you? This was something about you, your passion, big idea, or expertise. Now what? If you relegate the marketing function to the expense column, without a strategic system to back it up, you could be missing opportunities, or worse, accumulating debt. Consider marketing as an investment to be monitored and measured, to add real value to your brand and eventual selling price. Marketing is an integral part of your exit strategy or succession plan. Steven Covey called it “starting with the end in mind.” You can start today.
So whether you’ve recently jumped into the entrepreneurial sand box with the rest of us kids, or have grown your small business to a multi-million dollar enterprise, you can avoid and even escape being T.R.A.P.P.E.D. by your business. Listen carefully to your customers and act on what you learn. You may even need to exercise a little courage. Your next bold move doesn’t have to be big and audacious, it just has to be the next, best step.
Amy is Founder and CLO (Chief Listening Officer) of Temerity Creative, LLC, a marketing coaching and consulting practice for entrepreneurs and small business owners who are ready to be bold, be themselves, and build a meaningful brand.
You can request a connection with Amy on Linked In: www.linkedin.com/in/amylynncalfee. Include “business advantage” in your message.