After a lifetime in marketing, I am now sitting on the other side of the table.
Actually, I'm sitting on all sides of the table. In my newest venture it's just me, so I have to do everything. And I don't mind telling you -- I'm overwhelmed. These past few years have given me a whole new appreciation of how damned difficult it is to be a business owner. And my circumstances are probably better than 90% of others out there.
This started as a hobby that, with surprisingly little direction from me, somehow grew into a business. There is no real financial pressure on me. There are no sales numbers I have to hit. I have no investors to answer to. I have no debt to service. My business is very limited in scope.
Still, somehow I feel like I'm drowning. I couldn't imagine doing this if the stakes were higher.
It's Hard to Find the Time to Build a Better Mousetrap
I've always thought the core of a business, and the marketing of that business, should be inseparable. But as I've learned, that's a difficult balancing act to pull off. Marketing is a vast black hole that can suck up all your time. And in any business, there is just a lot of stuff that requires a lot of time to do. It requires even more time if you want to do it well. Something has to give. So what should that something be?
Take me, for example. I decided to offer bike tours. Sound simple enough, right? I had no idea how many permits, licenses and authorizations I needed to have. That all takes time. And it was time I had to spend before I could do anything else.
As I said, doing things well takes time. Businesses naturally have to evolve. Almost none of us gets it right out of the gate. We make mistakes and then have to figure out how not to make those mistakes again.
This is good and natural. I believe a good business has to have a leader that sweats the details, because the details are where shit goes wrong. I'm a big-picture guy -- but I've discovered that big pictures are actually a mosaic of a million little pieces that someone has to pay attention to. And that takes time.
The Fear of Not Doing Everything Right Now
New companies used to have the luxury of time. No one expected them to hit the home run in their first year. Well, Google and Facebook screwed that up for everyone, didn't they? We are now all supposed to operate within some ridiculously compressed timeline for success. Our business lives are all about rushing things to market, rapid iteration, agile development.
And while we're doing all that, we should also be keeping up with our Instagram posts and building a highly engaged online community. If we don’t successfully do all those things, we feel like we’ve failed.
I’m calling bullshit on that. Most studies done on this subject show the odds of survival for a new company lasting five years are somewhere between 40% and 50%. That’s not great, but I have to believe that given the coin-toss survival rate, there are a lot of companies that may not have a fully optimized Facebook business page that have somehow managed to survive bankruptcy. And even the businesses that do wrap it up are not always financial failures. Many times it’s because the founder has just had enough.
I completely understand that. I started this business because I wanted to have fun. And while not many of us give that reason for starting a business, I don't believe I'm the only one. If this isn't fun, why the hell are we doing it? But juggling a zillion balls knowing that I'm guaranteed to drop many of them isn't all that much fun.
Each morning begins with a dropped-ball inventory. It seems that business today is all about reactive triage. What did I do? What didn't I do? What might kill me -- and what's only going to hurt for a while?I’d like to end this column with some advice to deal with the inevitable inundation of stuff that is demanding your time. But I’m still struggling. I think my strategy is hidden somewhere between my two previous points: Deal with what’s potentially fatal, and also try to have some fun. At least, that’s what I’m trying to do.