Most small business owners think they have to take giant risks to be successful. They reason that the greater the risk, the bigger the reward. This is common wisdom since when a success story gets publicized, no one hears about all the interim steps that were taken to get to the final result. No one sees the up, down, and sideways paths it took to reach that goal.
Forget the giant risks. It is much safer and ultimately more effective to make a small decision, examine its result, and learn what you can from it. Then make another decision based on that outcome. Think of each small decision as another piece of completing a puzzle. Never pin the future of a company on one decision, action, or resource. “Go big or go home” or “playing for all the marbles” may make a good slogan, but it has no real place in business.
Here is what to do get the most out of each new opportunity:
A huge customer: Downsize expectations. Start with small sales goals. No matter how big the opportunity or how famous the brand, keep the excitement in check. While you may not want to treat them like just another customer, assume sales will build very slowly over a longer period of time.
The next employee: Be realistic. On any team, a new player can have an impact, but typically this takes time. Before hiring, find out if the prospective employee truly has demonstrated what they can do in the job. Having previous experience at a competitor or a large brand-name company may not translate to success at your business.
The next product line: What have the initial customers said about the product? How can it be rolled out to a small release to ensure it works as expected? Have these initial customers paid for the product, and what real results have they accrued as a result? Most products take time to be adapted by the marketplace. This also usually only happens when supported by a substantial marketing budget.
The next consultant: No matter how good their experience is, one person cannot make a huge impact immediately. Start the consultant with a small scoped project with stated goals. At the project’s completion, match the goal against the actual results. If the outcome is positive, do a second project and build scale from there.
The next market change: Test, test, and test. Do this before a large investment is made in project development or a big marketing expense rollout. Have you really identified a pain in the market from people who can pay to fill it? This is only demonstrated by paying repeat customers (and referrals) and not with what prospects say when you survey them. Many people will say yes when surveyed, but few will say yes when you actually ask them for money.
The next competitor: What a customer substitutes for one product is constantly changing, so it’s difficult to keep up. Know everything customers do with the same money they use to buy your products or services. Keep up to date on all these competitors, and track where they are making their largest investments. As Chinese general Sun Tzu said, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”