So the other day I saw an enormous “going out of business” sign on the window of a neighborhood store. Oh. Sad face.
“Due to the current state of the economy, we are unable to continue ….”
I didn’t even need to read the rest.
But you know what?
Let’s talk about this.
Okay. I’ve walked past this very storefront at least twice a day — every single day — for the past year. And never noticed it.
Seriously. I could not, for the life of me, have told you anything about it. Nothing. What it is, what it sells, or even what it’s called.
Hmmm. And now they’re going out of business.
It must be the economy.
So I spent about ten minutes in the store. Talked to the owner. Poked around. And realized that I loved this place. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t known about it, because it was my kind of thing. I even bought something.
And I still don’t know what they’re called.
That’s how bad the economy is.
A name that’s not memorable — or located anywhere you could read it. A store that’s invisible. But it’s the economy.
I asked what the rent was, because I’m Israeli and don’t have problems doing things like that. Turns out that it’s just over $1200 a month.
On a street with an insane amount of foot traffic. A street that supports yarn stores and hipster cafés.
In fact, the café I sat in — on the same block — was packed. As were most of them.
You know, because the economy is so crappy.
Yes, the economy is crappy. You know what’s really crappy though?
That otherwise smart, goodhearted, well-meaning people start a business out of a labor of love, and no one tells them about the part where you have to learn how to run a business.
Which includes stuff like being visible. Telling me what’s special about you. Being as you as you can be — out loud — so that your Right People (hello, I’m one of them!) can tell people about you.
The fact that these wonderful people who start businesses don’t know how to do that is understandable. I mean, argh, it’s not as though someone sits down and explains it to you when you start your business.
So yeah, I get that there are a lot of us out there who don’t yet know how to tell the people who might be our Right People about how our businesses can give them what they want and need.
But to go and pin the failure of that invisible business on the economy … that doesn’t help anyone.
Not me. Not the rest of the people who would love to end up being your customers and clients. Not the economy. Not you.
I’m just going to go ahead and say it.
Even in the worst of economic times, there are thousands and thousands of businesses — large and small, in physical spaces and on the internets — which absolutely thrive.
You know I don’t go in much for the tough love approach here, but if we’re talking about businesses that thrive, I really have to say this:
If yours isn’t one of them, this is the time to figure out what’s not working.
Aside from the economy.
Because even though sometimes that’s a good enough reason? It’s not a good enough reason until you’ve been daring. Until you’ve tried some hard-core “let’s mix it up and change what we’re doing” stuff. This is the time to do stuff differently.
As Bill Clinton would have said if he were me, “It’s not the economy, stupid.”
If you want to open a shop in, say, Manhattan, you pretty much have to start with huge piles of money and have the best business plan in the world.
In way-lower-rent Portland, you can pretty much be all “hey, man, let’s open a store… it’ll be awesome.”
In times when money is flowing freely, that can totally work. There used to be so much money on the street that people were supporting this store despite its invisibility.
The good economy was camouflaging everything that they weren’t doing.
But in a tighter, more challenging economy, you absolutely have to pick up some basic biggification skills, or — you know what? It just isn’t going to happen.
A little story.
A couple of years ago I hired a business coach. Except that I didn’t call him a business coach because the word “coach” gets on my nerves, so he kindly agreed to be my mentor.
(Yes, I have issues.)
It was scary and wonderful and expensive. Did I mention scary? And wonderful. Because, among other things, he didn’t let me get away with stuff like blaming external forces for things not going right in my business. Which drove me crazy.
Resistance to this concept? Oh yes, I had it.
For example, I was selling DVDs that teach you how to do the wacky yoga brain training technique that is basically the thing that gets credit for most of my smartnesses.
When I say that I was “selling” them, that’s not really accurate. I had a website. Where you could buy them. Theoretically. If I sold one a month, that was doing well.
Me: “No one is interested in wacky yoga brain training stuff. Period. It’s not accessible. It’s too alternative. Also, people suck.”
My business mentor: “Before we go there, do you want to rewrite the copy?”
My business mentor: “Well, we could work on getting more traffic to the site, too, but you’re probably not going to get a huge upswing — at least not without a ton of work. But we could definitely do more to get the people who are showing up to know if they want to buy it or not.”
Last month I sold 55 copies of “that DVD that nobody wants”.
And not by trying to.
I don’t advertise. I don’t push. In fact, I hardly even mention them at all.
Is traffic higher? A little bit. But mostly people are buying now because I’ve done a better job telling them what it is, and who it’s for. People who would have shrugged and clicked away now get that this is the thing that is going to make a difference for them.
And that’s because I rewrote the copy. And rewrote some more. I’m not so madly in love with it that I don’t think it could still use some tweaking — but it works.
The thing I desperately wish people knew.
No, it’s not “learn how to write copy!” Though that is pretty good advice.
It’s “try stuff”.
You know what’s really tragic? The woman who opened that store is going to get a “real job”. Her words. The kind of job that has a boss, regular hours, and comes with a cubicle. She’s devastated. Understandably.
She’s finished trying to do the thing she thought she wanted to do — because of the economy.
But here’s the thing. By assuming she’d done all she could, she missed that fact that no one could see her store.
I don’t want to turn this into a “here’s 20 things to do” post, though we could do that sometime.
The point is this: TRY STUFF before assigning blame to the most convenient target. I know that the economy is scary. Just make your peace with the fact that hey, you haven’t tried everything yet.
There are so many tiny little things that you can tweak, alter and play with. This is true in a physical location and it’s true online … there are so many things to shift and change, and each one can have an insanely huge impact.
Tweak. Document. Repeat.
Some of the changes are soft changes. Mental and emotional shifts.
Like figuring out what part of you thinks that all marketing is sleazy and gross (because most of us have that), and doing some healing there.
Some of the changes have to do with things that are literally getting in the way.
LIke adding one sweet, quirky “Hi, I’m a real human being” line to the contact page on your website. Walking across the street to see if the name of your store is readable.
Point is: commit to doing stuff differently. As a general life practice.
Even one change to start with. Any change. Just make it. Small shifts. Medium sized ones. Write one blog post. Call one person.
And then the rest of it is about paying attention. Noticing what parts still need love.
I don’t mean to imply that it’s easy. Clearly it’s not. Also, it’s okay that you don’t know what to do yet. No one expects you to know what to do. And it really is that much harder right now.
So yes, you’re absolutely entitled to have a good cry and to ask for a hug or whatever else you need. And of course a long whine about how incredibly frustrating it all is. Completely legitimate.
And then it’s time to sit down and figure things out what would help your right people feel safe saying yes to you.
And what’s stopping them.
I’ll give you a hint. It probably isn’t because of the economy.