One of my favorite things about working with entrepreneurs and small business owners is the origin story. How did you get started with this business? Each story is a little bit unique and shows how the founder managed to take a combination of passion, skill and luck and turn it into a viable business. Each and every small business should be applauded for taking the risk of opening its doors!
We all know the “fairy tale” stories of the now-Big Tech companies that started small just like us. For example, Amazon, Apple, Hewlett-Packard and many others all started in the garage of the founders. Just remember that many of these businesses may have seemed like an overnight success, but it typically takes way longer than that to really take off. So how do you go from start-up to sticking around?
Your Origin Story
Jeff Bezos at Amazon saw an opportunity to make it easier for people to find books that weren’t on the Best Seller lists. At the time, book distributors required you to order 10 books at a time, where he only wanted to order one at a time. So, he found a loophole: you only had to order 10 books, not receive 10. He found an obscure book that was continually out of stock and ordered 9 of those plus the one he wanted. And thus a mega-online retail giant was born.
Most successful entrepreneurs see a need that isn’t being met well, and that is their window of opportunity. In some cases, there is a need because there is more demand for a product or service than there is supply. Voila, instant company. That is a path I’ve seen with many of my small business clients.
And in other cases, there is a need because the current solution just isn’t working. I had the privilege of working with the founder of Peerro, a job search and career building app that helps young adults find a path to their first job and their dream career. They’re not the first job search app, but they stand out with their focus on pathways to a long-term career.
Sometimes your passion drives your business, like my fabulous peer group member and dog trainer extraordinaire, the founder of Embark Dog. If you LOVE working with dogs, then find a way to make money at it.
Or perhaps you have invented something new and fabulous that hasn’t been done before, like the folks I’ve worked with at Solar Forma. Their products are a combination of metal artwork, solar panels, and practical applications.
Many businesses are founded on a unique idea or an innovative product. But at some point, your competitors, your processes, or new technology catch up with you.
The world around us is constantly changing (cough, cough, covid). If you want to stay in business, you need to keep changing with it. Let’s look back at the companies we started with, like Apple. It may have started by building computers in a garage, but it didn’t stop there. Same with Amazon, which is apparently going after world domination after starting with mailing low demand books.
Now I am not typically a fan of the giant tech firms. They seem to be the ones stifling small business innovation these days! But I do have to give them credit for how they got started and the decisions they made to expand.
Think about how those lessons translate to your small business. It’s not safe to just keep doing the same thing year after year, when the world around you is seeing so much volatility and such rapid technology development.
Back when I started my first job out of college, I was so impressed that my department had its own fax machine! We could transfer information so rapidly! (Yup, I’m old)
Even if you don’t sell products that can become obsolete with technology advances (floppy disks, VCRs, print newspapers), your business IS and will continue to be impacted by changing technology.
If you want your business to stick around for the long haul, you should be looking outward to see what is changing in the world around you. And consider how those changes could become either a threat or an opportunity for your business.
Finding Opportunity and Innovating
Not all of us are gifted with the vision of, say, Steve Jobs. We don’t all have a vivid imagination that guides our vision of the future and the role our business will play there. And many small business owners have tunnel vision when it comes to the news they do follow. (Side note: how many of you used to receive your industry news journals in an Inter-Office envelope?)
Think back to your founder story. What motivated you to start your business? Try to put yourself in that mindset again. It’s hard to see what’s around you when you stop looking.
So, start looking for information. Do some environmental scanning of the news outside of your industry (like a PESTLE analysis). Could any of the new developments have an impact on your business, your customers, or your suppliers? Does anything stand out to you that you feel you should be paying more attention to?
For those of you who are old like me, remember how Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith) in the movie Working Girl came up with the idea for the merger between Trask Industries and the local radio station? It came from reading a combination of business news and gossip pages. And that’s how she could prove the idea was hers when her boss tried to steal it away.
I’m not trying to teach you a lesson in ethics or promote my love for classic 80s movies with women wearing suits with giant shoulder pads and sporting ginormous hairdos. My point is you never know what random idea will put your brain in motion. Somehow you read this story and then that one, and something clicks. But that only works if you find the time to do the reading.
Finding Time for Opportunity
“Alright,” you say. “You convinced me that I need to be reading news stories so I don’t become obsolete, or so I can find my perfect merger idea like Tess McGill. But I barely have a minute to spare so how do I find the time to stay up on the news?”
First, if you barely have a minute to spare, I thank you profusely for spending your precious minutes reading this blog post. I hope to return the favor with some time-saving tips.
For those of you who aren’t professional market researchers with subscriptions to dozens of business journals and reference sources, then consider turning to tools and professionals who curate the news for you.
Tools like Feedly and Inoreader allow you to follow news in a nicely summarized and curated way. These tools can summarize news articles, blogs, podcasts, Twitter, Reddit, and email newsletters so you can just scroll through a news feed and only click on the articles that stand out to you.
And there are also lots of email newsletters that summarize the news for you in an easily digestible daily email format. I like Morning Brew (and its additional more specific options like Emerging Tech Brew, Retail Brew, Marketing Brew, HR Brew, etc.).
The Daily Pnut is also a great aggregated news email. And I like 21 Hats, which is focused on entrepreneurs. All these newsletters have a free version.
And of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my own weekly curated news – Five for Friday. Every Friday I seek out five topics that stood out to me in the news I read (which is a lot!) and share a summary video (or paid subscription newsletter). My focus is on looking for signals of change for small business owners. Maybe one of the stories there will trigger your Working Girl moment?
My passion is to help growth-minded entrepreneurs like you find ways to plan for your version of a successful future. I do this through courses, consulting, and a community of like-minded people. Reach out for a free ½ hour conversation if you’re curious to learn more!
Check out a sample and subscribe to my free Five for Friday weekly videos!