In the seaside resort of Old Orchard Beach, Maine, there is a wonderful old-world amusement park, Palace Playland, that has operated since 1902. I remember among the roller coasters and carousels, there was an older gentleman who had a booth where he offered enticing prizes to anyone who could simply drive a nail into a piece of wood with one strike of the hammer.
Being fairly handy with a hammer, I felt that this would be easy for me, but I never could drive that nail it with one blow. And very few people could. What was the secret? The gentleman running the booth started each nail at a slightly crooked angle, making it almost impossible to drive the nail the rest of the way in with just one blow.
Make the good decisions right from the start
This is a great analogy for so many, if not most people who run a small business. Around the time of starting their business, entrepreneurs often make a crucial wrong decision or two that will dramatically dampen the success potential of the business for years to come, no matter how hard they work and whatever subsequent decisions they make over the years. The situation is also akin to building a house on a weak foundation.
Which business should you go into?
What are these critical decisions that are often flawed? The first one is choosing which business to go into. So many people never make a specific hard decision to go into a particular business; they tend to drift into a business. Yet some businesses are much easier to succeed in than others. The business that you choose to go into will have a huge impact on how successful you are. Choose it carefully. Weigh options. Talk with people currently running similar businesses.
Related to the choice of business to go into is that many people starting a small business would be better off if they chose a smaller or more specific niche. Again and again, I have launched businesses that I assumed were fairly specialized only to discover later all kinds of competitors. "If only I had specialized more when I first went into the business," I would tell myself, "then I would not have had to compete head to head against all the other players."
Position yourself carefully
When you have chosen a good business and an attractive market niche, you still have the choice of how to position your products or services. Especially when you are a new business, you have the advantage of seeing how all the existing players have positioned their products and services. As the new player, you can carefully choose to position your products and services so they don't compete directly with the existing players.
Once you have nailed down the market niche you are focusing on and how you are going to position your products, then you can develop more recognition for your company by developing your brand. Brands are not just for big companies with national advertising budgets. They are for small businesses, too. Even for solo freelancers. What does your company stand for? How do you stand out from your competitors? What are the one or two things that you want me to remember about your company?
Do your homework
If you are building a new business, you have a great opportunity to make excellent choices on these careful decisions. Don't rush it! Do your research. Be thoughtful. Weigh your options. Make your choice.
If you have an existing business, it is not too late to go back and change some of these basic concepts about what your business is all about. It is more difficult to change for a business that is up and running. But if you come up with a detailed written plan, get your employees on board and clearly communicate your vision, change is possible.
Often building a solid foundation for a business involves either starting your business or taking your business in a direction that you did not envision and that you might not be totally comfortable with at first. It is not easy to do. But the effort of building a solid, highly distinctive foundation for your business will pay off for years to come.