Course Correct is Step Nine of the ten-step Maturepreneurial series How to Start a Business After 40. “Wise up, don’t give up” as you execute, learn, and identify knowledge or experience gaps you must fill in order to move your business forward.
Charting your course
One of my favorite Maturepreneurial quotes is from Nicky Roche.
We always underestimate our own level of competence and I wish we wouldn’t.
One of my personal passions is to try and get people to understand their own belief by just sitting down and putting some effort and thought behind reviewing where they’re at, how they got to where they’re at and quantifying and qualifying their own future. And they’ll realize that they do have the skills.
Because it’s not hard. Business is not hard. Business is just common sense.
We don’t launch a corporate, global company when we launch our own business. We don’t launch an IBM or a Coca-Cola or whatever it might be with these massive structures and complicated strategies. We actually launch our own dream. We launch our own vision and we launch it small.
And it grows and it builds. And as it grows and it builds, so do we. And if we don’t have the knowledge that we need to get it to the next step, we fill that knowledge gap as and when we need it.
So, why do we not allow ourselves to take that next step simply because we don’t think that we’re capable of the bigness of it, when we’re actually going to start small and grow?
This quote speaks directly to launch-anxiety; the fear of getting started. But it also speaks to the incremental, completely manageable nature of building a business. So much distribution and consumption these days is on-demand and just-in-time that I have to ask,
- Why shouldn’t knowledge and skill attainment also be just in time?
- Why shouldn’t we start out expecting to learn from doing?
- Why stop ourselves from starting or from moving forward because we can’t predict every outcome or scenario?
Some knowledge cannot be planned for. Some needs cannot be anticipated. But that doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t be acquired and fulfilled all in good time.
Lise Metzger had been running a successful, profitable photography business for many years when the 2008 financial crisis hit. Coupled with photography’s widespread transformation to digital format during those years, Lise found her business revenue and profits severely curbed. Given these changes and the particular demands of her personal life, it became necessary for her to take a part time job.
Attending a talk about food and the environment around this time, Lise met a woman farmer, Shannon, whom she approached and asked permission to photograph. After a photo shoot at Shannon’s farm, Shannon suggested to Lise that she start a blog. Lise hadn’t seriously considered publicizing the farm photos. They were raw. They were different from the photos she had been taking and selling. But after doing a couple more farm shoots, when Lise showed the new work to a friend, he told her she was on to something. He encouraged her to start a photo project on women farmers.
Passionate about the environment and our food supply, Lise loved the new direction and decided she would follow it. She also knew she wanted to eventually create a book from the farm project. A blog seemed like the best, most immediate way she could start. It would be photographs and long form writing about the lives of women farmers.
In fact, with regard to her maturepreneurial venture, Lise has said that the most successful thing she did for her business was publish her website, Grounded Women. Her learning curve for technology and social media was steep. She had to learn how to use WordPress, design the site, and pull together all the content. And she acknowledges she was scared to begin. Once she did though, she found the response to be very supportive.
Takeaway: Today, Lise’s photography business is busy again. But during the lull, she had the courage to pursue a new and rewarding direction about which she knew nothing but that, today, shows a promising future.
Lyn Slater, too, didn’t know what she was doing before she dove into her blog. She says in her episode, “I had no plan.” What she did have was a lot of research under her belt.
Lyn has been a lifelong learner. She was a college professor, but she saw teaching as a two-way street where she learned as much from her students as they learned from her. As she grew older and became more serious about her interest in fashion, she took courses at the New York Fashion Institute of Technology, including one in social media and one in opening a vintage store. Her professors kept telling her she needed to start a blog, she needed to write about what she was learning, what she was doing, and what she was telling them about fashion.
So, Lyn researched the kind of blogs that targeted older women. In the world of fashion magazines, she felt there were no opportunities for fit, intelligent, culturally-engaged older women who lived in cities to talk about fashion or to think about fashion beyond admiring and consuming clothing.
The online world proved to be no better.
Lyn looked around for a good year at different websites and platforms. She decided what she liked and what she didn’t like; what she felt worked and what didn’t work across a number of fashion blogs. She also investigated different publishing products and eventually built her blog site using Square Space.
Now, Lyn raves about Square Space’s ease of use, but as a sociology professor and a counselor, internet marketing, internet presence and social media were nowhere near her areas of expertise and comfort.
Takeaway: Lyn learned what she need to learn when she needed to learn it, specifically in order to launch her blog.
Last spring, Lyn was signed with the Elite Modeling Agency. Today, she continues to work on taking her business and her brand to the next level.
Failure as success-postponed
Some cases of course correction are about overcoming obstacles that are blocking the course you’re on. This was the case for Connie Inukai, inventor of the Tip and Split ® device.
Connie had created the Tip and Split ® prototype and was ready to have the product manufactured. She says this was the hardest part of her endeavor. She waited a whole year on her first manufacturer, one she sourced through the internet, who finally sent her “a piece of plastic that didn’t do anything,” She had to fire him.
When the second manufacturer she engaged sent her the products, the defective rate was 20%! Since she wanted no returns to result from production, this was unacceptable. She had to fire him too.
The third manufacturer she engaged came recommended by her patent attorney and promised her a 95% guarantee rate on the production of her product. Three manufacturers later, Connie finally had a successful product launch and has already done a product redesign to make slight improvements.
Takeaway: By cutting her losses with the manufacturers who failed to deliver, Connie was able to find the right match for her business. She didn’t give up, but rather she persevered through the obvious setbacks until she was successful.
Tom Schwab‘s company, Interview Valet, was actually too successful in one regard: generating business. An abundance of clients were clicking on the website’s Buy Now button, but the company came to realize that there was no discrimination in its prospecting. This allowed many people to become customers whose businesses were not yet set up to successfully leverage the benefits that Interview Valet makes possible: widespread promotion and exposure to targeted audiences through podcast interviews.
After serving its first one hundred customers, the Interview Valet team analyzed why some guests were successful and some were not. They discovered a methodology by which to determine ahead of time whether or not a client had the foundations in place that would turn the exposure from podcast interviews into improved business and revenues.
Takeaway: Just taking any client was not good for the client and it was not good for Interview Valet. The company had been saying “Yes” to the wrong customers and needed to become more discriminating for all parties to be truly successful.
Today, every Interview Valet client is evaluated up front for how likely they are to be successful with the service. And if they aren’t, Interview Valet gives them the knowledge and tools with which to prepare themselves to do so.
Donna Barker had a brilliant idea for a new business and website. Or so she thought. She named it Mem-Wow and the idea was to write memoirs that made people say, “Wow!” She worked on the business for a year before she realized that she was not building capacity and so, the business would never scale. In order to be successful, she alone would have to do all the work, basically nonstop. That’s when she decided to give up the idea entirely.
Later, after she successfully launched both Write Woman, Write and The Creative Women Summit, Donna attributed much of her success to her ability to engage with and involve other stakeholders in her projects, including people who have more knowledge in a given subject than she does; an ability she had not leveraged in her Mem-Wow business model.
Takeaway: By moving on from Mem-Wow to other, better ideas, Donna allowed success to find her where her true strengths lay.
Adam Urbanski had a similar experience to Donna’s. After founding and successfully selling his restaurants, a business notorious for its high rates of failure, Adam decided he could offer consulting services to teach others what he knew. Armed with the right knowledge, his clients could then go on to replicate his success. He named the business Food Business Innovation – FBI for short – and he even created a nice logo that “almost looked like an FBI shield.”
However, having created his offering in a vacuum, with no customer input or feedback, he soon realized that it was doomed to fail. His assumption that if his idea was good enough, people would buy it, was naive and never accounted for the marketplace and what his potential customers wanted or needed.
Takeaway: When Adam abandoned FBI, he created the space for his eventual success with Marketing Mentors, where he also incorporated the valuable lessons he learned about putting customers first when creating and marketing a new business.
Be ready and willing to pivot
Sometimes course correcting isn’t about filling a knowledge or experience gap, it’s about finding an entirely new direction. This is especially true where a business that was successful in the past is no longer successful and needs to be replaced.
In Joleene Moody‘s case, it was the success itself that needed to be replaced because it no longer fulfilled her.
Joleene started her career in television news. After 12 years, although she was successful, she realized that she hated her job and decided to get out. She began to look for and explore opportunities in public speaking. During this same period, she also discovered coaching as a means to supplement her income. Joleene had no experience or education in either of these areas, but within a couple of years, she became a sought-after speaker and coach, earning six figures!
Ironically, she came to realize that while the money was good, her heart just was not in her work or her success, so she decided – once again – to change course.
Joleene chose to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a writer. And although there were tempting distractions, this time she stayed true to her plan. After doing a lot of research and teaching herself what she needed to know in order to successfully market and deliver her services, Joleene once again achieved success. Today she is a prolific ghost writer of books and blogs, which helps her pay the bills.
But she has also created the freedom to pursue her own projects. She has written two television pilots and she is working on a screenplay. She says,
Here’s a 45 year old woman writing scripts; who’s trying to sell them; who goes to television festivals to learn how to pitch – in all these years, I’ve learned how to pitch to other entrepreneurs to try to sell coaching packages or writing a book for them – and now I’m learning how to stand in front of producers and executives and be like,
“So, I’ve got this really great idea…”
Everything falls into play. And it took me – and I want everyone to hear this – all of these years to figure it out and I don’t regret any of it.
Takeaway: You don’t have to settle for success you don’t enjoy. It may take a while and it almost certainly will take a lot of work, but if you don’t like what you’re doing, you can change direction and nothing you’ve learned will be wasted.
Turning the ship around
Chuck Gumbert provides one of the most focused illustrations of course correction. He has devoted his entire maturepreneurial career to turning struggling or failing businesses around to profitability.
Chuck follows a proprietary model to effect successful turnarounds. When he comes in to a new company, his first step is to work through the fundamentals of leadership with the executive team. Next he guides them to develop a vision. Once the vision is understood, he works with them to develop the strategy. After the strategy, they develop aligned actions or tactical plans that support it.
“Only then,” says Chuck, “can you hold people accountable. Once you’ve got those fundamental steps put together, then an organization can actually be successful.”
Chuck has repeatedly demonstrated that correcting course, particularly when it is carefully planned and consistently executed, can ultimately lead to, or lead back to, profitability.
Takeaway: If a company in distress can turnaround, so can yours, whether you’re just starting out or navigating obstacles and knowledge or experience gaps during the normal course of business.
When to Quit
And for those times when you’re wondering how to decide whether to course correct or move on, here’s an excellent episode from The Tim Ferriss Show. It’s called When to Quit – Lessons from World-Class Entrepreneurs, Investors, Authors, and More. Unlike Tim’s traditional interview format, it’s a collection of audio recordings from previous guests: Scott Belsky, Seth Godin, James Altucher, Debbie Millman, Adam Robinson, Chase Jarvis, and Rhonda Patrick that answer Tim’s question(s),
Where’s the line between stubbornly pursuing an idea that isn’t working and the patience and persistence needed to actually make it work? In other words — when should you give up and quit and when should you push on?
It’s never too late to succeed!
All photos sourced from Unsplash.com.