Business ideas almost never work right out of the gate. Nevertheless, entrepreneurs put a ton of pressure on themselves to make their idea work.
The truth is, every business goes through natural shifts over time.
It’s true. If you’re building a business, expect to make shifts and tweaks over time… because from our experience it seems that’s just what entrepreneurs do.
We’ve seen this hundreds of times with Fizzle members.
Entrepreneurs come up with an idea, and then they tweak, twist, pivot and adjust over time to see what will work.
We all want a business that’s growing. And we all — every one of us who’s doing the work — knows what it’s like to feel stagnant, motionless for too long.
If you want a growing business, you’re going to need to know how to make little tweaks over time.
“If you want a growing business, you need to learn how to make little tweaks over time.”
Not necessarily a pivot
In startup talk it’s common to use the term “pivot” to describe when a business changes directions.
For example, Slack, which is a huge success story. Before they built Slack, they were a game company. Just a few years ago they were building games when they came up with the idea for a team communication tool. Now Slack is a poster child for startup success.
When you look at that story today, a few years in to Slack being a massive success, it seems like a massive “pivot.” But I wonder how it felt inside the company at the time. Was it just a small project a few of the team members were working on? Was it a “I guess we can allocate some resources that direction and see if anything comes of it” kind of thing?
I want us to think more like that; less like a “pivot” and more like a “tweak” or “adjustment.”
With that in mind, answer this question:
What tweak or adjustment could you make to your current business given recent feedback?
What kind of feedback are you looking for here? There’s a ton of places you could look.
- You could look through emails your customers/audience have sent you recently. What questions are they asking?
- You could look at results of the last several projects/posts/episodes/emails you’ve delivered. Which were the post popular?
- You could utilize the most powerful tool for insight any of us has.
Let’s listen to some real stories
These aren’t gurus or pundits, these are real indie business folks, and each one of them has had to use tweaks and adjustments to make their own success.
I want you to do something. It might not be something you were thinking about doing when you started reading this.
So what? You’re here because you want a growing business; you want results, success and a sense of personal satisfaction.
So, I want you to listen to something… all the way through.
It’s not hard. Just go on a walk or something while you listen. (Besides, walking is a good way to stimulate creativity.)
I want you to listen to this episode because:
- You will hear 3 stories of indie entrepreneurs using tweaks and adjustments to find what works.
- You’ll get a more in-depth understanding of this process than any article on the subject.
- It’s entertaining, honest and enjoyable.
OK, I’ll share more on the other side of this podcast, but first you should listen to this episode.
An in-depth look
Below I share an email recounting all the tweaks and adjustments one entrepreneur couple made to get to where they are now… a thriving business.
In the episode above we tell the stories of John & Dana of Minimalist Baker and Corbett Barr of ThinkTraffic and Fizzle.
Listen to the episode for those stories (because they’re real good!).
I want to focus us here on the third story we told: Chris and Julia of A Bar Above. Here’s the original question I asked Julia:
“We're sharing our stories of how we pivoted or changed biz ideas early on or throughout our businesses. You guys came to mind. A blog promoting a course… later on a tweak towards making, marketing and selling your own bar tools. In your own words, what led to even TRYING to make that shift? And why did you stick with it?”
And here’s what she wrote:
Great question. Our answer isn't very fancy really… we just kept trying stuff that didn't work until we tried something that worked. Chris and I have been using the word "hypothesis" instead of "idea". "Hey, I have a hypothesis: what if we made X for Y person in Z way." Of course that sounds wonderful and great, but it's a whole lot harder when your bank balance is dwindling.
Here's a high level timeline:
- 2005: Chris is a struggling bartender who can't find good info online. He registers abarabove.com (good move honey!)
- 2011: We're married (also a good move! lol.)
- 2012: It's time to really dig in to this business. The plan is to create a DVD set teaching advanced cocktail techniques to bartenders. We would sell it on a landing style webpage. Meanwhile I start listening to online business podcasts.
- Early 2013: We pivot to a content / blog strategy. (Took a lot of persuading… finally got Chris on board to "give info away for free" after he started listening to the same podcasts.) We still wanted to create our course, we would just sell it on a blog.
- Mid 2013: First post is live! Oye this is hard. But rewarding. (Except the YouTube comments, people are mean!)
- Late 2013: We go to a meetup in SF and meet you and Corbett. We feel like we're the only ones there without a product. We decide to pre-launch the course and make it happen.
- 12-31-2013: Course is pre-launched, at 9pm for our list and midnight publicly. We make our first sale at 10pm. I'm crying from happiness at our NYE party. (Awkward, lol.)
- Early 2014: We get the course launched and nearly kill ourselves in the process. It was way too big for the time allotted but we got it done. Sales are OK but not great
- July 2014: We both quit our jobs. Lots of reasons here, but we want to dig in and go full time. We have a year of savings and lots of ideas
- Fall 2014: We launch a "Cocktail Menu Service" to provide seasonal menu updates to subscribed bars / restaurants. Lots of effort… Zero sales 🙁
- Jan 2015: Chris gets a job as a bar consultant. Phew. Money is no longer an issue.
- 2015: Julia figures out how to run A Bar Above while Chris works full time. Julia tries to sell advertising on the blog, but it's slow going. We eventually find a media agent to sell advertising for us (for a commission.) That works better, but it's still not a ton of money.
- Early 2016: I launched the Craft Bartender Summit, looking for sponsors for each of 6 seminars that will be free for bartenders to watch. We sold 2 at full price, 2 at a reduced price and didn't sell 2. Profit ~$ 6k after FB ads. But we added 8k people to our list. The summit itself was good but people couldn't sit still for 8 hours (esp bartenders, lol.) The effort was unsustainable for how much money we made. ($ 6k isnt enough for 3 months of work!)
- Mid 2016: Tired of linking to sub par bar products on our website because that's all there is on Amazon. Work with fellow fizzler Rich Kibble to start selling our ideal cocktail shaker on Amazon. We order 1,000.
- Mid/Late 2016: I'm 36 weeks pregnant and Chris' job ends. This Amazon thing better work or we're both getting jobs…
- Shakers come in and they sell out in 6 weeks. FINALLY we have a win. MY GOD FINALLY.
- Mid 2016-2017: We also work with a few brands to do one-off sponsored seminars for our audience. Brands love it but the process is a struggle and I feel like it's too hard to keep them educational (more than promotional.) Not sure we're going to continue these.
- Late 2017: Mini management course will be launched. (Hypothesis: bar management / owners will buy mini courses with a very specific "win" at the end.)
- 2018 + Still not sure what our sponsorship offerings are going to look like, but we will definitely keep promoting our own bar products on the blog. Hypothesis is to use ABA to build Chris' reputation as an influencer and see what opportunities arise.
So much for a brief timeline… but I hope the above illustrates the point. We tried a lot of stuff and failed before we found something that worked. I don't think you can really call it a "pivot" because that makes it sound like it was well thought out, strategic, etc. I'd really just say we kept trying stuff until we found something that worked well. I know it's not as glamorous but that's the truth… for us at least!
As far as advice goes… obviously I'd love to go back and tell myself not to do all of the things that didn't work… but on the other hand I think they were important experiences that taught us about our audience. I guess I would tell our past selves to just stick with it. We have always cared deeply about our audience and tried to find ways to serve them. Eventually we found something that serves them and supports us.
It totally sucks in the middle part, when money is dwindling and you feel like a huge failure. It's easy to wonder if your idea is just different from all those gurus. But we knew we were doing something important because we got emails all the time from people who said we helped them. I think maybe it was a matter of just trying lots of stuff until we found something that would support us AND serve them. (But again…SO easy to say in retrospect…)
Hot damn. I don’t know if you guys know but that is a KILLER look into how REAL entrepreneurs troubleshoot and tweak over time… even when — especially when — the bank account is dwindling.
Here’s a list of all those tweaks/attempts they made:
- Planning on a DVD training course
- Switched to a blog/content route
- Added an online course to the mix
- Cocktail menu service… doesn’t fly.
- Chris gets a job
- Try to sell advertising on the blog
- Launch an online summit
- Work with Fizzler to create ideal cocktail shaker… holy crap we sold out!
- One-off sponsored seminars… not sure if these are worth it.
- Mini management course being created
“Holy crap: here’s how real entrepreneurs troubleshoot their business.”
So, what’s the takeaway here?
We all want a growing business, but almost none of us get that result right out of the gate. So, we identify and execute tweaks to our business; small, measurable changes to find what works.
The key here is that you are trying stuff. Sure, we all want clarity and certainty before we get started, but that’s not often how it works. You have to TRY things, commit to projects, execute and measure results of things.
So, what are you going to do?
- Can you identify a tweak you can make to your business right now?
- Can you look at the feedback channels I listed for you earlier on in this article for some insight?
- Can you commit to a deadline on when you’ll implement this tweak?
If you want to talk it over, you should know about the community of entrepreneurs that won’t let you quit, because we’re having real conversations like these inside Fizzle all the time.
Break a leg, out there, you guys. Nobody can build your business for you, and no entrepreneur hits a home run on their first attempt.