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Being True to Yourself and Your Vision

Aislyn Bryan - Sunday, August 27, 2006

When you begin to think about starting a business, you have a vision of what it will be. That vision evolves and deepens as you ponder the idea and begin to make plans. As the idea takes shape, your enthusiasm is boundless and the possibilities are infinite.

When you begin to take practical steps toward manifesting the idea into reality, such as buying supplies, acquiring new skills and designing your packaging, you begin to hit obstacles. Maybe things cost more than you thought they would and when you start working out your pricing, you might realize that what you were planning to do isn't so practical and you won't make any real profit unless you scale back your plans, maybe even drastically.

This is the point at which compromises begin. Instead of using the best materials, you might decide to settle for cheaper but almost as good. Instead of that beautiful packaging you'd planned, you might settle for packaging that's more practical and good enough. To save money, maybe you decide to design your own website and make your own business cards even though you might not be all that skilled in those areas. Make enough of these compromises and you'll end up with a business that bears little resemblance to your original idea but bears a great deal of resemblance to a thousand other businesses. Then you're going to start wondering how to distinguish yourself from those thousand other businesses. That leads to spending a lot of time looking at what everyone else is doing, trying to figure out ways to be better than the competition and an overall feeling of anxiety. That's not good. Anxiety is a form of fear and good decisions are never based in fear.

It doesn't have to be that way and, if your business success is going to be based on anything other than having the lowest prices, it can't be that way. Assuming you didn't just start making jewelry yesterday, chances are pretty good that your original vision was, in fact, original. By that I mean that you probably wouldn't have been so excited about your idea if it wasn't special and different in some significant ways from everything else you've seen out there. Chances are that the reason it's not so special anymore is because it got dumbed down to ordinary by all the compromises.

Evaluating the Vision

So let's back up to the original vision and see if it's workable, then we'll talk about how to manifest it. The very best business ideas come as a result of unmet needs; trying to find something that you want to buy and not being able to find it anywhere. No one is an island; chances are, if you're looking for it, other people are looking for it, too. If you go into business making that thing, all those other people will buy it from you and -- this is really important -- you will have no competition for that market, because you already know that item is nowhere to be found. Competition will come because nothing truly good goes uncopied but you'll get an incubator period in which to become established... and that can make all the difference. The other great benefit of starting a business this way is that, because you were trying to buy the thing you're now selling, you are your own target market. Nothing makes marketing easier than being your own model customer. I know this very well because it's exactly how Urban Maille came to be and I am our model customer. *s*

The second best kind of business is founded on the idea of doing it better; a business in which the market is occupied but the customers are unhappy. If you want to buy a widget and there's only one place to buy them but their widgets are crappy and their customer service is terrible and no one wants to buy there but they have no choice... you can be the choice. In a case like that, you can smoke your competition because they're complacent as a result of feeling that they own the market.

The worst thing to do is try to sell into a market that's occupied by an established business that's doing a great job and really pleasing their customers. If you try to start a 'Me Too' business going head to head with a business that already has name recognition and an established, happy customer base, your only real opportunity to compete is on price. Low prices will attract customers but you're also very likely to lock yourself into the bad situation discussed in Begin as You Mean to Go On, in which you aren't making enough money to invest in your future infrastructure. That means that when your business grows enough that your workload is running you into the ground and you need to hire people to meet the demand, you won't have the money to do it because your pricing has been too close to the edge all along. That will leave you no choice but to raise prices in a last minute attempt to correct your course and, since your business was built on the fact that your prices are low, you'll lose your entire customer base when you do it. It's a bad situation to be in, so just don't go there. Avoid a Me Too business scenario at all costs.

So if the business you envision meets unmet needs, get busy meeting them before someone else does. If the business you envision is about doing it better, be very clear in your mind what you're going to do better and how you're going to do it better and emphasize that difference in every way you can. If the business you're planning is a Me Too, spend your time collecting the skills you'll need for business and save money while you wait for a better idea to come along. It will. *s*

Manifesting the Vision

If your vision is workable it has a good chance to succeed, so now we'll talk about why the most important thing you can do to assure the success of your business is to be absolutely and unequivocally true to yourself and your vision, without compromise, no matter what. Sometimes that will seem to fly in the face of all practicality and good business sense. But it only seems to, it doesn't really. Your challenge is to find the way to make it work without compromise.

I have an example for you that will seem unrelated at first, but trust me, it'll all come together in the end. *s* When Gary and I were househunting here, we gave the realtor the standard list of searchable terms for what we wanted; how much land, how many bedrooms, how many bathrooms, etc. Then we spent days getting discouraged while we looked at houses we didn't like. One night in the midst of that, we started talking about what we *really* wanted. We didn't actually need a certain amount of land, we just wanted privacy, a place that was tucked away a bit. Sure, acreage is a way to get that, but it's not the only way. We worked our way down the list of requirements, replacing searchable terms with what we really wanted. The next day we gave our realtor a list that included such things as privacy, trees, big windows and a cozy fireplace or stove. She read the list, nodded and took us straight to our new house. *s*

When we were first planning the kits, I planned to package them in wooden boxes. There were problems, though. Wooden boxes are heavy and bulky, expensive to make, both difficult and expensive to brand with our name and expensive to ship. They would significantly increase the price of the kits and they would add to the shipping costs our customers would have to pay, especially our international customers. In other words, they flew in the face of all practicality. But I could not bring myself to use paper or plastic or anything that any practical business person would have told me to use. I searched and floundered and searched some more... and then I remembered the lesson of the house. So I made a list of what I *really* wanted. Of course I wanted to protect the kit contents but I also wanted the packaging to be something people would keep and use, not trash to be discarded. I wanted our packaging to be beautiful and substantial and natural. With all that in mind, I started searching again... and found our beautiful tins. They're everything I wanted our packaging to be but they're also incredibly practical because they're lightweight, easy to brand and inexpensive to ship. And the bonus is that people love tins; even more than wooden boxes. *s* In using them, we didn't compromise anything I wanted, yet they're perfectly practical.

The packaging saga might seem like a small thing but it's analogous of everything in the way we run our business. The biggest challenge is remaining absolutely true to yourself and your vision of what you want your product to be, what you want your business to be, what you want your life to be, despite the obstacles. If you aren't really happy with any of the available options, don't choose the best of the lot and resign yourself to it. Instead, find more options. Don't stop until you find one that's just right. You'll know when you have because it will be better even than you envisioned.



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sadface :( Love!



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