I’m going to tell you a story — one that may already be familiar to you . . .
The faint glow from the street light outside made it easy for Amanda to make her way through the kitchen to the refrigerator. Pushing aside her feelings of guilt, she opened the door and took out the piece of peach pie hidden behind the carton of milk. Hidden because she had known she would be here searching for a snack tonight, just as she had had been for the past several nights.
“Just one tiny scoop of ice cream would be perfect,” she told herself but pushed the thought aside as instead she poured a glass of skim milk.
“Why am I doing this?” she asked, knowing the answer before the question had even popped into her head.
She knew she had better find some answers soon before Mark discovered what was happening in her business or before the bathroom scales crumbled beneath those added pounds resulting from these late night snacks as she struggled to find answers.
Only when she was seated at the table did she turn on the light and take out the folder of papers that she had looked at every night for the past week. Nights just like this one, when she slipped out of bed, leaving Mark snoring softly, and crept downstairs to the kitchen.
She knew she had to do something, but what?
She looked down at the income and expenses for the past month and shuddered.
What should she do? She wasn’t bringing in enough income to quit her part-time job, particularly now that Mark’s commissions had dropped so drastically and she definitely couldn’t invest much more money in her business.
But, dang it, it had potential. She knew it. She could feel it in her gut. She just had to take it in the right direction.
She knew she had to do something, but what?
Without even thinking about what she was doing, Amanda ate the last bite of pie, put the dishes in the sink, the business papers back in the drawer, and started back up the stairs to bed.
The answers just weren’t there. Maybe tomorrow, she would find them.
Does some of this sound familiar to you?
If we’re truly honest with ourselves, we can probably all admit that, like Amanda, we’ve struggled with what direction to take our business in at one time or another.
So what do you do at those times when, like Amanda, you’re at that crossroads, unsure of what to do to save your business or who to turn to for help?
Our industry has been proclaimed as one that anyone can start with no experience and little money. As a result, there are thousands of gift related businesses that go through that revolving door during the first two years. There are many reasons for business failure. A lack of money, an inability to market, life itself or simply giving up too soon.
It’s all too easy to get overwhelmed, not knowing which way to turn or what to do next. Suddenly that business we were once so excited about is transformed from a dream come true into a nightmare.
Many gift basket company owners are a lot like Alice, wandering around aimlessly in Wonderland. Encountering the Cheshire cat, she asked, “Can you tell me, please, which way I should go from here?”
The cat replied, “ That depends on which way you want to go.”
The same answer is true for us as well. Without knowing where we want to go, we wander from one idea to another with little success. We hear “Try this!” or “Try that.”
But nothing seems to work.
That’s the point when so many potentially profitable business owners throw up their hands in desperation and just quit.
We’re all different. We all make decisions in different ways. Some just push the fears and warnings aside and struggle onward, doing the same things the same way, towards what is probable disaster while others grab onto the closing door, determined to make the necessary changes and decisions to keep it open.
I’m not going to attempt to tell you what decisions to make or how to make them. What works for me may not work for you.
But I am going to tell you that, if you really want to turn your business around, the time is NOW!
Not tomorrow. Not next week. But this very minute.
When you first began your business, you jumped into a pot of boiling water filled with a mixture of past experiences, new-found knowledge, and the excitement of a new adventure. But the joys of creating a successful business were tempered by frequent frustrations at how to combine all this into one profitable business.
Think back to those early days when you first planned and began your business. You had a vision and planned for the future — even if it was only in your head. Dreams suddenly became reality and you planned some more. You were enthusiastic about the potential of this new and exciting venture, telling everyone you met about it, and felt there were no limits to what was possible.
Gradually you may have discovered that it wasn’t as easy as you perhaps thought it might be, that business can be boring as you do the same things day after day, that you don’t like marketing and perhaps don’t even understand how to do it. Perhaps the economic climate changed and your hoard of customers drifted away as they tightened their belts and you weren’t sure how to replace them.
So what did we have back then that is missing now?
The answer is easy.
We were an enthusiastic beginner. Regardless of how long we’ve been in business, how successful we are at what we do, or how knowledgeable we think we are, if we are to prevent our business from growing stagnant, and gradually dying, we must always remain “a beginner at heart.”
Beginners realize that the time to try new things is “NOW!” Everything is new to them. They jump on the bandwagon of the tried and true while they experiment with new techniques and new products. They reach out to others in the industry in anticipation of absorbing something that will help them succeed.
When we’ve been around for awhile, it’s all too easy to become bored with doing the same things over and over with the same techniques and the same products. We are the bandwagon and forget that there are still techniques to be learned and products to be discovered or even to be created.
Beginners start at the bottom and strive for the best. Even though they learn from us, it’s all too easy for one of those beginners to surprise us and suddenly become the premier company in our own area of expertise.
Success is possible regardless of how small or inexperienced we are when that first seed of desire is planted. So think back to what it was like to be a beginner and put some of those thoughts, feelings, desires, and enthusiasm to work for you today.
Regardless of how long you’ve been in business and how far you have come, one sure way to enjoy the rest of the journey is to remind yourself to always be a “beginner at heart.”
And the very best time to begin is NOW!
Don’t put it off another day. Pull out those accounting records and review them carefully. Sometimes it helps to have someone else go over them with you. If your business income has declined, determine where your original business concept went astray and do the necessary research to make the decisions to take it in a new direction.
When we’re discouraged and depressed because things aren’t going as we had planned, it’s all too easy to pull our heads back into our shell and lock others out.
But that’s a major mistake.
There are many out there who have been where you are today and survived. Just like the days when you first began your business, find yourself a mentor or, better yet, several mentors. Take advantage of their expertise. They can help you look at your problems with new eyes.
Knowledge is power.
If you need to learn something new, learn it. Read a book. Search the internet. Take a class. If you need to reach out to a different target market, go to those who are part of that market and ask them how to reach it.
Life and business are both all about connections.
Connections with local friends, customers, and even competitors. Connections with our peers online. Connections with teachers, experts in all areas—not just our own, and with those who have been there and done that and are willing to help you avoid the potholes.
In our own industry, those connections have become fragmented as member of the industry have divided into different camps. Others have become so disgusted with the whole situation that they have broken all connections determined to remain self-sufficient.
Both decisions are a mistake. There are no anointed gurus in this or any other industry. Everyone in this industry has his or her own unique set of experiences, knowledge, and abilities. It’s up to all of us — me, you, and everyone else — to share what we know, what we’ve learned and to learn from each other.
It has been said that in life there are two types of people — those who look at the glass as half empty and those who see it as half full.
Many folks in our industry are a lot like Alice and that grinning Cheshire cat, looking at the glass as half empty. Without knowing where we want to go, we wander from one fragmented division to another — taking sides and changing allegiances as something annoys us or strikes our fancy.
The wise ones have chosen to look at the glass as half full, to maintain friendships and connections and to take advantage of the
opportunities that are available with all the different camps.
No one can really foretell the future. Eventually, either the divisions will dissolve and the industry will join forces once again or it may remain divided for years to come. If we’re serious about this business, we can’t wait for that to happen and we can’t let it interfere with what we need to do to grow our individual businesses.
This is not a new industry. Those of us who have been around for many years have seen this fragmentation happen before — several times. History has shown that itusually corrects itself.
My advice to everyone, whether vendor or gift company owner, is to ignore the divisions. Take advantage of what each camp has to offer. Each is different. Each has strengths and weaknesses. Rebuild the connections that you’ve broken. Ignore the desire to drive further nails into that fence dividing us and instead use every opportunity to tear it down.
Our industry began as a small one, filled with women (and a very few men) filled with enthusiasm and a desire to help each other build a successful business and together to build a powerful industry. In those old days, that I remember so well, of Prodigy and AOL bulletin boards, we shared our experiences and our ideas, we cried together as we had failures, and we became more than just peers. We became friends.
Although we have strayed far from those early days, that kind of relationship within our industry is possible even today. It all depends on our answer to Alice’s Cheshire cat, “Which way do you want to go?”
And the only way to get there is to remind ourselves of those early days when we were beginners, when we were enthusiastic to learn and to share, and to make sure that we always remain a “beginner at heart!”