The difference between a successful small business and a passing fad depends upon your willingness to evolve and explore innovative ways for your business to meet a market need.
In the small business community, we call this concept pivoting.
A pivot [noun] is a person or thing upon which progress depends. To pivot [verb] means to turn and change direction while depending on the central point. As a veteran, this concept is not so different from changing your mission in the military: while the central goal is the same, the tactics you use may change in order to achieve the goal.
Success in business relies on your vision and experience—much like success in the military depends on your training and focus. But the plan you started with doesn’t always work or may need to abruptly change course in order to achieve success. So you pivot. Pivoting is to test your vision continuously, to iterate on your ideas and see what works or what fails. This testing enables you to identify the problems and change direction accordingly. What it means for you as a business owner is holding closely to the virtues of open-mindedness and a willingness to learn.
Pivoting can be applied to any element of your business model, whether its marketing practices, technology, product features, sale channels, or revenue models. Only you know your business inside and out and can best determine how to pivot and when, but here’s a few questions to evaluate if maybe it’s time to adjust your business plan:
1. Are your users unsatisfied with your product or service?
You may think your baby is beautiful, but do your customers? If you’re constantly receiving complaints about your product or service, it might be time to change. Take time to take customer surveys and really listen to what they’re saying. Being passionate about your product is good, but stubbornness to change it when it’s not working for your market is suicide.
2. Does one part of your business work better than the whole?
Is a spin-off version of your product selling better than the original? Are your customers raving about your blog but complain about the main page? It’s a good indicator that you may need to take a step back, look at the whole picture and determine if you should refocus your efforts. This new approach may have greater growth potential than your original plan.
3. Have you lost your focus?
It’s possible you’ve gotten bogged down in the mire of too much going on without enough direction. It’s possible you’re so focused on pivoting that you’re not grounded. It may be time to go back to your vision and see where you’ve gotten off track—in other words, you may need to reverse-pivot.
Pivoting is hard—there’s no easy way around that fact. It means a willingness to hold projects loosely and not cling so tightly to projects or pet ideas. Pivoting means welcoming feedback from customers, employees and investors, even if it’s hard to hear. Pivoting means you’re forced to be humble because you must acknowledge you don’t have it 100% right 100% of the time.
But pivoting is crucial and can save you time, energy and resources in the long haul. Adaptation and dealing with chaos is the key to surviving small business, because both are inevitable. As a veteran you’ve learned how to overcome hostile environments—you fought America's wars that were filled with uncertainty and complexity—just like the business world. Pivoting gives you a competitive edge and the ability to stay relevant despite changing fads in business.
So pivot on, veteran businesses.
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