Welcome to Mo’s Letter, a series of essays by Dr Mo on personal growth and professional success in a digital world. Today’s essay is about pivoting.
When I started Grammar & Flow as a business writing company, I had grand ideas about how it was going to revolutionize business writing and language translation in Africa. I made a long, fancy post about the launch on social media and got a ton of likes—gassing me up to believe that the idea was a sound and profitable one. With a year’s worth of social media content ready to go, I set out to prospect for new corporate clients (my target market).
I kept at it, believing that corporate marketing and comms departments just needed to get used to the idea of outsourcing their content writing to an external agency. In hindsight, this was a massive oversight on my part for one simple reason: those who can afford *not* to write and edit their own internal and external documents already have an agency (with numerous copywriters), and those who can’t outsource simply do it themselves. In short, the particular service I was offering was of little use to the target market I had identified.
Meanwhile, I kept getting the same weird requests from individuals (not my target market):
- “Can you edit my CV?”
- “Can you design my company profile?”
- “Can you help me register my business?”
It seemed weird that people kept asking me for a service that I clearly didn’t offer. I considered the services I offered under Grammar & Flow to be above these trivial requests (both time and revenue-wise), and I would politely decline each request. But the projects I wanted still weren’t materializing.
It slowly dawned on me that I was ignoring an actual problem in favour of an imaginary one. I was selling flavoured mascara when people wanted jackets.
As founders, it’s easy to get attached to your baby—to want to stand by it through thick and thin and defend it against naysayers. After all, you made such a big show of launching the service so you can’t afford to just kill it, innit? This shame and guilt force us to remain in abusive relationships with ideas that aren’t working. We believe that people will think less of us if we decide to quit—as if our worth is tied to our business. Nobody wants to be seen as a failed entrepreneur—even though 80% of businesses fail in their first year.
From the same article:
Entrepreneurs are by nature highly confident. Business owners frequently underestimate how much money will be needed to fund operations. At the same time, they can overestimate how quickly their products and services will catch on in the marketplace. — The Motley Fool
Here’s a secret: if your business concept isn’t working, you don’t actually have a business—so there’s nothing for people to laugh at (or for you to feel bad about). You might be precious about your “brand” but if that brand isn’t bringing you any money, it’s worthless. If you binned it and came up with another one, nobody would even notice.
None of this is to say that you should quit whenever you hit a low-revenue period. Just as with investing, the longer you remain in the market the higher your chances of success. Keep testing new offerings, pricing models, markets, and marketing strategies. Repeat what works and bin what doesn’t. But no matter what, stay the course. You don’t disown your child because they failed one test at school.
Since the launch, I’ve expanded my original offering from strictly corporate writing (sniper) to more general writing services (shotgun). This allows me to earn more money, advertise the brand, and gain new clients—which leads to a virtuous cycle of profit that I can use to save up for the sniper I really want.
I’ve also started looking at clients abroad because I realized that the market I was playing in (Nam + SA) doesn’t really have a need for extensive business writing. Most local companies don’t have an active blog. They don’t engage in email marketing (nor see much need for it), and their social media channels remain empty for weeks at a time.
Content marketing is a powerful driver of inbound leads, but the time and energy it would take to educate local clients on its importance is time I could be spending on reaching out to global clients who already understand, appreciate, and have a pressing need for content marketing services. I haven’t yet quit; I’ve simply gone where the money is.
Solve existing problems
Many of us have started businesses based on problems we think people should have. You started a gourmet pizza business in a small city but quickly realized that the local market is just fine with normal (read: cheaper) pizzas. You launched a drone piloting service in your hometown but can count on one hand how many people actually need such services—turns out most of them are just fine with normal photography. Maybe you started a staff training business but are struggling to find clients because the market still isn’t aware of the importance of such training.
Introducing innovation takes time and energy, and you’ll often feel frustrated. To counter this, you have a few options:
- Offer a wider range of goods and services.
- Enter a different market that already needs your services.
- Drop your concept and offer a related or totally new service.
Either way, there is no shame in pivoting. Nobody is paying much attention to your internal business decisions—they only care about whether you deliver. And you won’t be seen as a failure by other entrepreneurs because they understand the struggle, too.
So go ahead and pivot to save your business. Solve real-world problems, not the ones in your head.
Till next week,
In my last post, I touched on connections — why you should put yourself out there if you want new opportunities. Take a look:
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Mohammed Shehu, Ph.D. writes on content and marketing for creators and brands. You can find him online @shehuphd everywhere.