Do Olympians quit, work harder or work different?

Over the next several weeks, people will win (or lose) an Olympic medal by a thousandth of a second.

As we’ve discussed earlier this week (re: the coasting swimmer) and in the past (re: the 212th degree, slight edge stuff), what makes a difference between being #1 and #2 is often trivial – if not unnoticed – in the eyes of the typical observer.

Yet to the Olympic athlete, dropping that .10 of a second in the 200 meter backstroke means weeks or months of hard work combined with just the right touch of luck (luck = preparation + opportunity) at the right time.

That same observer might wonder “Why bother?”, because they aren’t an Olympic-class athlete.

As you might expect, the same thing happens in business.

You might fight (figuratively) for years to reach the top 10 in your market, or to reach #1. You might spend a decade at #2, despite blistering rates of growth, you still find that you’re working like a coal miner to get past the competitor at number 1.

You aren’t going to quit simply because you seem to be stuck at #2, are you?

Instead, you might just not worry about your numeric market position and spend your time trying to take better care of your clientele, both product and service-wise. In fact, that just might push your business to #1. Funny how that stuff happens.

Earlier this week, some of you probably thought I was beating up on Amanda for quitting, when the fact of the matter is that I was hoping that she was just taking a temporary break from part of her business for the RIGHT reasons (“right” is relative, in this case).

The point of the discussion was to provoke Amanda (and the rest of you) to think about it a little harder before quitting.

Surely at some peak moment of frustration in the last umpteen years, many of the athletes currently in Beijing considered quitting – even for a brief moment. But they didn’t. The only ones who quit – aren’t in China right now.

As a business owner you’ll face things that just make you nuts and for a brief moment, they’ll make you think “I should just hang it up”.

After hearing a description of Amanda’s detailed, hand-crafted candles, all sorts of ideas were floating around regarding collaboration with party planners and caterers, much less corporate gifts,centerpieces for shower, weddings and corporate events, holiday specialties, and eventually, it made me think of a candle-esque version of Duff Goldman’s cake business (he’s the Ace of Cakes guy from Food Network).

Duff is “just a baker”, like Amanda is “just a candlestick maker”. Positioning is critical.

Those are the kinds of things you need to keep in mind when deciding whether it’s time to quit, or time to look at your business a little differently.

Even if your business isn’t struggling, and new competitors aren’t beating you up, it never hurts to be looking – and thinking – really hard for new niches for your product and new people to show the great value you deliver.

PS: I understand Amanda now has a little help in her corner, so don’t be surprised if she comes out swinging before too long.

Quitting for the wrong reasons

Sometimes, it’s necessary to make the decision to close a business. It isn’t easy and it isn’t something that is done without pain and suffering in some form.

Yesterday in Small Business CEO, I read a story about a small business that was calling it quits due to “high oil prices and the economy” (my paraphrase).

A couple of comments in that blog post really rubbed me the wrong way, mostly because the owner appeared to be stuck in a mental trap about the state of the economy (more on that in a minute) and the economic conditions that she felt forced her to close up shop.

A poisoned mind

The first quote was the most poisoned thing I could think of that a business owner could get stuck in their head:

Small home based businesses like mine really donĂ¢??t stand a chance in the current market.

Horse hockey.

In the Great Depression of the 1930s, more than 25% of Americans were out of work. On the other hand, 75% were employed and continued to buy. While that doesn’t make life easier for the 25%, it does mean that the market didn’t simply disappear, even in times as bad as that.

For every stock broker who leaped from his Wall Street office window, there was at least one who did well, and the same for investors.

The reality is, a lot of businesses got started back then. In the so-called worst of times. In fact many of today’s most successful businesses had their roots in those “bad” days. Krispy Kreme, Saab, T. Rowe Price and many many more local businesses. Try Googling for “founded in 1930”, “founded in 1931” and so on. Tons of new businesses that exist to this day that were started during that period, more than SEVENTY years later.

They didn’t give up or quit because of their state of the economy. They saw opportunity in it.

BUT, thing is, the state of the economy really isn’t the point. Your market, your products, your clients and your prospects are. Your focus, your marketing, your creativity of thought and action. Those are far more important than the state of the market.

Raise prices or quit?

The second quote wasn’t much better, but I do have to admit that I have heard this from other businesses this year – from restaurants to craft-type businesses like this one:

Forced with the decision of either raising my candle prices sky high or temporarily closing, I chose the latter of the two.

The problem with this isn’t a lack of concern for the client, it’s that she is projecting her own mental limitations about her pricing onto her clientele. In other words, she’s saying “No” for them without giving them a chance to consider their purchase.

First of all, everyone understands that prices have gone up with fuel prices, either due to shipping, due to petroleum-based ingredients, or just because those two things roll downhill to the buyer. By making the decision to stop producing items because one of the component prices went up 40% assumes that the clients don’t feel the items are still worth that much without even asking them.

While these are primarily mental issues, there are also practical ones. Because I am tangentially involved in a business that uses beeswax, this isn’t armchair quarterbacking.

Due to Colony Collapse Disorder, I’ve seen 40-50% increases in the price of (among other things) beeswax over the last several years. In fact, prices have done so more than once. What was $3 something a pound is over $5 a pound. Not to mention that beeswax is dense. It’s heavy. Yes, Virginia – it costs a lot to ship.

Yet the clients who buy those beeswax-based products not only haven’t complained, but they’re buying more than ever. We didn’t make the decision for them, we simply raised prices to reflect the economics of the product line and let them decide. They decided to keep buying.

Sometimes quitting is the right thing to do. Just don’t do it for the wrong reasons. Don’t let the pundits, the media and Presidential candidates poison your mind.

Make decisions for the right reasons. I hope she decides to get back in the game for the right reasons as well.