Change, Acceptance, and Knowledge

The old saying, “God give me the ability to change what I can, accept what I can't, and the wisdom to know the difference” should be engraved in the mirror of every business leader. How many times have we raced down blind alleys or driven to the airport just when our ship is coming in?

Let's be honest: “business owner” is a euphemism for “control freak.” Those of us who like being in charge are white-knuckling it during these times of extreme uncertainty, when:

  • Business failures are as common as start-ups;
  • The stock market won't get off its roller coaster ride; and
  • Only psychics know when the “last” recession ended and the “next” recovery began.

Yet, we must keep making decisions. Business goes on.

When time, money, and energy are scarce, you must concentrate on two fundamental functions to drive growth:

  • Predicting and closing sales from customers and prospects.
  • Producing and delivering the right products or services in the right quantities at the right time in the right place.

In each of these areas, you need to know which mountains are moveable and which won't budge. In sales and marketing, you can’t easily change:

  • What your customers need.
  • What your customers will buy.
  • How much they will buy.
  • When they will buy.

As a small business owner, you can't control what the market dictates. Power players like AT&T can move sales by slashing prices temporarily, but a self-employed plumber, a family dry-cleaning business, or even a local manufacturer can't dramatically change customer demand. For one thing, a smaller company doesn't have the market reach to get the message out, and it probably lacks the resources to sacrifice profit for increased sales.

In operations, delivery, and fulfillment, you can’t easily change:

  • What it costs you to buy, make, and deliver existing products and services.
  • The capacity, output, or behaviors of most machines, facilities, or staff.

Short of putting your banker in a stranglehold, you can't dramatically reduce your cost of borrowing, and you can't hire and keep quality staff, or purchase quality supplies, for half of what your competitors are paying.

So, where should you focus your efforts? In sales and marketing, you can change:

  • Which customer needs you address.
  • Who you sell to.
  • How you package and position what you sell.
  • How you price, distribute, and promote what you sell.
  • How you express your value, expertise, and service.

Be creative! For example, a business specializing in snow removal can attract year-round revenue by offering customers 12-months of property enhancement services. A local computer store—unable to compete online and large computer stores on price alone—can bundle training, support, and repair services with each sale. A family-owned travel agency can woo customers with unique packaged tours, complete with limo service to the airport and other perks, to distinguish itself from Internet brands like Expedia.com that focus on price alone.

In operations, delivery and fulfillment, you can change:

  • Who, where, and how you make what you make.
  • Where, how, and through whom you distribute and fulfill what you make.

An assembler can't get his widget supplier to cut prices, but he can choose to buy widgets from Far East suppliers. A carpenter, who sells two lines of furniture, one finished and one unfinished, can eliminate the unfinished line if it is unprofitable. In other words, you can’t control the market—but you don’t have to let it control you.

As a small business owner with little control over supply and demand and limited influence on vendors, customers, or competition, you can exercise clout in the way you choose to respond. The key is to pick the battles you can win.

Several years ago, the world was treated to a powerful example of an individual who showed grace and resilience in responding to events beyond his control. At the 23rd mile of the Olympic men's marathon, a fanatic tackled Vanderlei de Lima of Brazil. Thrown off course and visibly shaken, he lost the lead. Few would have blamed him had he quit the race, but instead he entered the Olympic stadium in third place, holding off both the World Champion as well as the World record holder. As the crowd roared, he made light of his predicament by holding his hands out like a wounded airplane sputtering home on one engine. By making the best of adversity, he received not only the Olympic bronze but also a special medal for sportsmanship, the respect of the world, and commercial endorsements worth far more than even the winner received.

Running your business is a marathon. You may be tackled and thrown off course, but by knowing how to adjust your stride you can avoid wasting energy running into obstacles that just won’t move. With discipline and adaptability, you can choose your responses to chaos and create new and better opportunities.

Articles by Birol Growth Consulting are © copyrighted and all rights are reserved. However, articles may be reprinted with prior written consent if attribution is included as follows:

© Copyrighted by Andrew J. Birol, President of Birol Growth Consulting, who helps owners grow their businesses by growing their Best and Highest Use ®. Andy can be reached at (412) 973-2080, by email at abirol@andybirol.com, or on the web at www.andybirol.com.


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