By Brian Morris
A few years ago, two friends started a small business in my hometown. Like so many local entrepreneurs that came before and after, they failed. Within a year of opening their doors, their business was dead. They listened to business advice from the wrong people, people whose own businesses were struggling, people who kept telling them to be patient, and they were forced to shut their doors.
If you’ve ever researched starting your own business, you know that one of the most discouraging bits of information consistently recycled by small business gurus is that it will take two to three years for your business to be profitable. That’s a kick in the teeth to otherwise-motivated entrepreneurs who don’t have three years of income built up Â or, most of the living universe.
And it’s hogwash. Look, this is the digital age. You can turn a profit today.
Now, I don’t want to oversimplify the process of building a profitable business, and I’m well aware that start-up costs and overhead for, say, a refrigerated trucking company are vast in comparison to, say, a graphic design firm. But the reason I think it takes so many entrepreneurs so long to turn a profit is that they’re trying to be like everyone else.
It all comes down to marketing. You see what the successful businesses are doing, and you try to do it, too. There are three ways people market in my hometown, which boasts a population of around 8,000 people: television, radio and newspaper.
To that I say: expensive, ineffective and wasted effort, respectively. It’s literally been years since I’ve received a direct-mail postcard from a local company, despite the fact that I get postcards every day from national brands. And door hangers? Please…
No one hosts publicity stunts. No one markets effectively on the web. No one posts massive vinyl banners at the busiest intersections, which witness traffic figures easily 10 times the population every single day.
And guess what? Most of our start-ups fail. They blame their failure on so many things: the economy, lack of support for local businesses, the ÂdeathÂ of our downtown, Amazon.com. Few ever blame the real culprits: themselves.
Instead of marketing where everyone else does, try something new. Distribute door hangers door-to-door. Print vinyl banners and place them in high-traffic areas. Brainstorm a fun and engaging publicity stunt, and get awesome PR for it. These are all cheap. These are all highly effective.
What happened to my two friends? Well, one decided to start another business. He opened an office and began to toil, plying his service using the same failed strategies. His mindset, I think, was that the business wasn’t profitable because two people were one too many to get by on their profits.
The other likewise started another business, but adopted a different, more bold marketing strategy. He walked the city with door hangers, began submitting press releases to the local paper, joined networking groups, volunteered in the community, and always has a nice big banner prominently displayed.
Five years later, the friend who opted to keep going down the path of slow and steady lives in an apartment on the wrong side of town. He works out of his rental unit, the downtown studio long gone. The other has bought a new home in a good neighborhood (and I think he’s got at least $30,000 wrapped up in a new addition) and is well-known, respected, and liked throughout the community. His business, it seems, is thriving.
To the best of my knowledge, both of my friends are capable of producing high-quality work, but only one is willing to do what his competitors will not. You hear NFL players talk about playing with a sense of urgency. My friend worked with a sense of urgency Â a do-or-die, now-or-never approach Â and grew his business rapidly.
Go guerrilla. Market aggressively and on the cheap. Be a grassroots business. Push for business growth without wasteful marketing efforts.
Be bold, and do what your competitors will not do. Don’t do what failed businesses have tried.
Stop trying to be like everyone else. Don’t fail by taking the well-worn path. Be new, different, better. Grow your business faster.