Over and over again, I’m reminded of The Little Rascals Show when talking to small business owners and founders. Remember when one of the kids would shout, “Let’s start a Circus!” and the next thing you know Petey the dog would be dressed up as an elephant, Darla would be the “Fat Lady”, Spanky would be a clown, Alfalfa would be the ringmaster and on with the show! A circus would ensue. The whole gang would show up and everybody got into the act. What fun.
The problem with many small businesses is that’s a pretty good analogy as to how most of them get started or run their business. “Let’s start a (fill in the blank) business” and off they go. No business plan, no market research, just a “great idea”. And the good news is about 30% or so may even make it in this great country of ours. The bad news is 70% fail. A quick cruise down US 41 with a look at all the “Space Available” signs in strip malls and building for sale signs is stark testimony to many a failed “Circus of Dreams”.
In deference to the movie, “Field of Dreams”, folks, if you build it, they may not come. And it may well be you do have the greatest idea since sliced bread, but when you run out of butter, your business is toast!
There is an ad on TV lately promoting a better mousetrap. Anybody who has had the fun of baiting and setting good old fashioned mousetraps knows it is an unpleasant chore at best. Should you successfully get the thing baited without hurting yourself in the process, you have the lovely task of disposing of Mickey’s cousin’s smashed carcass when the dastardly deed is done. Thus we all know and believe what Emerson said about building better mousetraps and beaten paths to our doors.
So this ad got me thinking, if this new mousetrap is so great, why are they even having to advertise? Shouldn’t the world be just knocking each other over beating paths to their door? When you have a minute, Google “better mousetrap” and you will get an amazing return about the thousands of better mousetraps that have been built. I’m not kidding, there are thousands, from humane traps to electrical zappers, sticky traps, multi mouse family traps, and even one that will gas the little buggers and email you that your little rodent irritant has peacefully met his earthly demise!
The point is, you can build all you want and if you don’t have a good handle on who the heck “they” are, “they” in all likelihood ain’t coming, let alone beating any paths to your door. And furthermore, even if you know who your target market is, do they know who you are and what you have to offer?
The best definition of Marketing I’ve heard is short, sweet, and simple….Find a need and fill it. Having found the need and the means to fill it, the best definition of Sales is also simple…matching the needs with the needy.
The problem with simple definitions is that solving a problem or meeting a need can be a whole lot harder to accomplish than to define. The act of “finding a need” may be as easy as needing something yourself and saying “I wish they would make a something or other that would fix that hickey” and meeting you own need. Or it could entail market research, testing, sampling, surveying, analysis, and so on. Let’s be honest, the world is functioning daily on trial and error. Now if you have a “Sugar Daddy” on hand to bail you out if you screw up or you are cash fat and can afford it, no problem. On the other hand, if your livelihood, reputation, or future is dependent on success you may want to have some research to back you up and a pretty decent handle on who needs what you have to offer.
Yet, a day doesn’t go by that well meaning folks don’t “start a circus”. They set up the tent, max out their MasterCard, put the gang in costume, and let the show begin and wonder where the crowds are they were sure would be beating paths to their tent flap. The show fails, the tent folds, and the gang all marches down to Wal-Mart to sit in the lobby and fill out the computer job applications. Your great ideas march off to the land of forgotten toys and you are now in debt up to your eyeballs. And it gets worse! Some joker comes along, buys your old tent for a song, does some market research, finds a unique selling proposition, does a business and marketing plan with a financial plan to match, plans their work and works their plan and voila not only puts on a great well received show but opens new and improved tents all over the place.
Please don’t get me wrong, I love small business, it is the backbone of our Country. I want to see everyone with a great dream succeed. But honestly, it really isn’t rocket science, and there is a formula, there is a pattern for success. There is no guarantee but you can improve your odds.
Keeping it simple, the best program for success I’ve heard is this:
1. Decide what you want.
2. Decide what you are willing to give up to get it.
3. Associate with people who can help you get what you want.
4. Plan your work and work your plan.
So you know what you want to do and you are willing to put in the blood, sweat, tears, time, and money to make it happen. Now what? Here are a few quick suggestions. Check out websites of competitors, industry and professional associations, heck just Google your ideas and see what comes up. And here’s a novel idea (pun intended) check out your local Library. Join your local Chamber(s) of Commerce and participate. Develop a business and marketing plan including a budget. Need help? Call SCORE and ask for help (it’s free) or go online and check out www.score.org.
R. Mickey Gorman is President of Creativity in Action, Inc. a marketing and management consulting firm helping not-for-profit organizations and businesses succeed in reaching their organizational goals. He is also a SCORE volunteer and active participant in several Chambers of Commerce.