SelfInformed

September 2011


Change Is Good

Friday, September 02, 2011


4 Tips To Help You Move Your Business In A New Direction

By Kim O’Connor

The economic slump has caused an existential crisis for many small-business owners who are struggling to redefine themselves according to the whims of a volatile market.

Some businesses have scrambled to prove their relevance to consumers through the downturn,
when it seems like everyone is cutting back on spending. Others have been threatened with extinction by new technology that makes old business models obsolete almost overnight.

The stakes are high: Businesses that can’t find ways to evolve probably won’t survive for long.

Even business owners who are lucky enough to enjoy financial security aren’t immune to the forces of change.
Some professionals find themselves searching for ways to make their work more meaningful. Other people feel overworked and out of balance, unhappy with the direction in which they find themselves moving.

Those stakes are high, too: Business owners who can’t make a change are likely to burn out or fade away.

Marlys Thompson, a personal business coach who has worked in the industry for more than 20 years, has observed such forces at work in her client base. In the early years, she was frequently approached by clients who were itching to make professional changes for personal reasons. Increasingly, she has been hired by more people who are being forced to consider change for financial reasons.

“Some of the people I work with have their own internal sense to create a shift,” she explains. “Others need to change in order to survive. But the same tools apply in both of those situations.”

The key to taking your business in new directions is to respond to changes in your internal and external landscapes. Whether you need to expand (or contract) your business, shift your focus, or reinvent yourself, here are important tips for making it happen.


1. Listen To Your Gut

Susan Rueppel, a business intuition expert in Sacramento, Calif., has an unusual job: She helps people turn hunches into business strategies.

“Often I find people may remember to use their intuition in their personal life, but they forget it’s an invaluable
business resource,” she says. “We’re all born intuitive; sometimes we just forget. Ask questions of your intuition
and really stop and pay attention to the answers.”

You can use gut feelings in many ways to guide professional change.

Rueppel recommends starting by considering the things that you like most and least about your business. Those powerful emotions—happiness and unhappiness—can often be traced to specific causes, which will then drive the changes you make.

For example, people who feel overworked might decide to drop or delegate whatever portion of the business is making them anxious. People who derive great joy from a particular area of their business might expand that segment. Someone who feels stuck in a rut might decide to take the plunge and try something new.

If you’re skeptical about how much your personal happiness should matter when it comes to making business decisions, think again.

“You can’t really separate work life and outside-of-work life, especially for people who are entrepreneurs or have their own small business,” Rueppel points out. “That balance is a critically important part of being a business owner. It’s all part of who we are.”


2. Solicit Feedback

Another great resource you can tap as you think about ways to change the direction of your business is client feedback.

Your clients are a priceless source of information about what you do best and what you could do better. They can also help you think about new services and products your business could offer.

You can go about collecting good ideas from your clients in a number of different ways.

“It’s important to ask in a variety of ways,” says Rueppel, who recommends using informal chats and Web-based survey tools such as SurveyMonkey.com. “And it’s important to keep asking because people’s needs change over time.”

Barbara Lopez, a networking trainer, recommends analyzing your customers’ feedback to get a better sense of how people use your products and services.

“A lot of times we think, ‘I’m solving a problem for my customer by doing X,’” Lopez explains. “But in the process of delivering X, you may be doing other things for them that you might not be aware of. A lot of things might bubble up.”

Examining your business from someone else’s perspective can help you spot opportunities you might miss on your own.

Lopez also recommends keeping your ear to the ground by staying abreast of your industry and your competitors—something that all small-business owners should always do, whether or not they’re contemplating a change.

The key is not just to listen, but also to act.

“We get information from everywhere,” Lopez says. “We’re constantly thinking, ‘That’s a great idea,’ or ‘I should look into that,’ but then we just let it go because we’re so busy.”


3. Don’t Be Afraid

An important step toward evolving your business is to recognize that change is a natural consequence of doing business in today’s fast-paced world.

“As the world changes, we really need to change with it,” says business intuition expert Rueppel. “Your business is a living, breathing entity rather than a static thing.”

The good news is that, as a self-employed person, you’re in an excellent position to effect that change.

Many people have a natural resistance to change because they fear the unknown. Yet one of the benefits of owning a small business is having the power to implement changes quickly. That agility is a competitive advantage that can help prevent wasting time, energy and resources on aspects of your business that just aren’t working.

“When you look from the broader perspective, change is a part of our life,” says business coach Thompson. “We change the oil in our car. We change diapers. We change the bedding. Everything in nature either grows or it atrophies.”

Those are your choices as a business owner: grow or atrophy. Looked at from that perspective, it’s much more frightening not to change.


4. Move Forward With Confidence

Once you’re ready to move forward with a change, be bold and decisive.

Turn your ideas into actionable steps and handle the work just like any other project. Tell your clients, colleagues and other people in your network about your new direction.

As you spread the word, try not to worry about how you’re being perceived.

“People get nervous when they’re doing something new,” Lopez observes. “There’s more pressure to be self-conscious because of the economy. There’s a tendency to have a little fear of rejection.”

Lopez’s own networking training business, Brightfarm, has had several iterations since it was founded in 2003, so she has experienced that fear of rejection firsthand. She stresses the importance of fighting any feelings of insecurity. Instead, concentrate on how your new direction will better serve you and your clients.

“Focus on educating people about the problem you solve,” she says. “Basically, that’s what people want to know anyway: how you can serve them.”


Kim O’Connor, a freelance writer in Chicago, likes trying new things.


The NASE Can Help

Your NASE Membership gives you access to professional small-business consultants who can help you implement new business ideas.

These business strategy experts will answer your business questions confidentially and at no charge. Plus, you have unlimited access to these consultants:
  • Business law experts
    To help you understand contracts, decide on the best legal entity and sort out other complex legal issues your business faces
  • Business 101 experts
    To help you plan marketing strategies, streamline your business operations and address other business issues
  • Financial experts
    To help you reduce your taxes, improve your profitability and understand your accounting needs
  • Health experts
    To help you understand health care policies for your small business and focus on wellness issues for you and your employees
  • Retirement experts
    To help you understand wills, estate planning and other retirement needs

Get A Grant To Grow

An NASE Growth Grant™ could help you move your micro-business in a new direction.

These $5,000 grants from the NASE can be used for marketing, hiring employees, expanding facilities and to meet other specific business needs.

To be eligible for an NASE grant, you must:
  • Be an NASE Member in good standing 
  • Demonstrate a business need that could be fulfilled by the grant 
  • Provide a detailed explanation of how you will use the grant proceeds 
  • Show how the grant will improve your business growth and success 
  • Offer supporting documentation such as a résumé and business plan 
NASE Growth Grants are awarded at the sole discretion of the NASE. Unfortunately, not everyone who applies will receive a grant. Decisions of the selection committee are final and are not subject to appeal. No application feedback will be given.

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