Michael Gerber is one of my favorite authors. In his E-Myth series, he explains that there are a number of “myths” about entrepreneurship. Foremost, is the idea that small businesses are started by people deciding to risk capital to make a profit. It is about someone “finding a need” and delivering a solution. It all sounds very calculated and wall-street-esque.
That’s not what happened when I opened a small web design firm in Houston back in the early 2000’s. Yes, I definitely thought it was going to be big. Yes, I put together a budget and analyzed my competition. But in reality, I didn’t start that company because I was looking to maximize ROI on uninvested capital. I started that business because I loved technology and building websites was fun and I was good at it. And that very fact, that I was so good at building websites, was probably the single biggest hurdle I had to overcome.
The problem is that an owner is really just a hat rack for all the responsibilities that must be owned in a small business. That means that an owner with an amazing talent in their line of work may very well be missing the most important ability of all: knowing when to let go. In the first 6 months of my fledgling website company, I had to find customers, rent office space, decide on advertising, start networking, hire artists, manage projects, attend to billing, and, oh yeah, occasionally sling some code to build the site itself.
That is what the E-Myth is all about. Knowing that you have to build your business, not just work in it. Instead of just helping a single customer, you have to look at how can you prevent the issue from occurring in the first place. Instead of spending all your time cooking, coding, advising, accounting, cleaning, or whatever it is your business does, you need to think about what does your business need most, how that should be done and, most importantly, can you get someone else to do it?
The easiest step is to look at things that are common business practices and just take something off the shelf. We were a technology company and could build a home grown solution for credit cards that had tons of fancy features. But, the fact was, In the first 6 months after opening my company, I had no less than 8 credit card companies trying to get my business. With one of them, I was up and running in about a week with almost no effort on my part. Some things are pretty obvious to outsource. Filing taxes, designing signs, taking credit cards, and a whole long list of activities have well known specialists who can take all the burden off you, so that you can focus on what makes your company different.
When it comes to marketing however, many business owners feel that this is one of the few things that makes their business different and is where they need to stay highly involved. But working “on” your marketing doesn’t mean it is out of your control. It simply means that you spend your time on the most important aspect of it. Defining your brand is uniquely the job of the owner. Others can help you, they can give suggestions until it feels just right, and they can help you steer clear of well know traps. However, in the end, the owner must take a stand and declare what their business is about.
Delivering that brand message, on the other hand, is a very, very, very common business activity. There are over 13,000 agencies in the US alone. That should tell you that delivering a message may be more of a commodity than an art. For traditional advertising, this wasn’t as much a problem for the business owner since most had no access to the medium without an intermediary. What company printed its own newspapers, door hangers, or mailers? Yet, along comes digital advertising with the promise that anyone with a keyboard can bang out a great, viral post in three clicks and get ready to sell out of everything.
The truth is that most of the time, especially for a small business, letting people know that you are there for them at just the right time is the single biggest factor in acquiring new sales. When your dry cleaner breaks a button for the fourth time, seeing an ad for the competition with a $10 off coupon is all it takes for you to try it out. Hungry, there’s an ad for that Mexican restaurant down the street. Did your hair stylist confuse Michelle WIlliams the singer instead of the actress? There an ad for a salon just down the way.
So, if delivering messages is just a common business practice, why do owners spend so much time trying to do it themselves?