Every year, I update my book(s) ‘It’s Supposed to be Funny’, which is a collection of my columns throughout the years. Every year I have to add that year’s columns to the end of the collection. This year, because it had gotten too large to print in one edition, I had to republish it into two print editions. This forced me to have to go through and look at columns I had written 10, 15, and 20 years ago. While working on this project, I noticed a trend – it used to be more fun running your own business ‘back in the day’.
I’ve written many times before about how different things were in this business before the internet. Back then, you could be mediocre at running a store, and still have a good business. You were mainly competing against others in your market, and you just had to find your niche, and stick to it. And then you just had to do that one thing better than your competitors. Then, when the internet came along, we were suddenly competing with millions of unknown competitors from all across the globe. Many of our new competitors were way better at competing in the online market space than traditional brick and mortar retailers, think Blue Nile.
So this month, I thought I’d take everyone on a ride down memory lane as to how things have changed for many of us over the decades using excerpts from my previous columns through the years.
(Life is Good)
I had an epiphany recently. I realized that my career and life are on auto-pilot. I don’t think I’ve lost my edge or anything, I’ve just found my niche. It was a real eye opener.
I don’t really remember my last crisis or really hard decision I had to make. Since I bring my lunch to work every day, I don’t even have that daily dilemma to worry about. I get up about the same time every day, come into the same shop that I own and built. I do the same job I’ve been doing for 26 years, the last 11 years in my current location, with no plans on changing. I can come into work, flip the open sign and do the work I enjoy for another 20 years and not give it another thought. I’m a craftsman in an industry where demand is constantly going up, and lower paid replacements are virtually nonexistent. I can coast and nobody will even know I’m coasting. What a future!
I hope every person out there can come to this happy place I just realized I’m living in. It’s not a bad place to be.
(My retail location is dying)
Just when you think you’re invincible, BAM, something happens. Just to prove my point, I posted my article from January, 2004 – a mere 27 months ago. Life was good and I was on my way to the top and nothing could stop me – or so I thought. Then the bottom fell out. I continued to follow my previous plans long after it was obvious that those plans were no longer viable. They had gotten me this far, surely they wouldn’t fail me now, would they? Yes they would!
After a year or more of sticking to those plans, I finally had to scrap everything and go an entirely different direction and I’m really glad I did. I developed a new business plan and a new business model that I implemented in 2007.
Yes, I had a business plan, and yes I had a business model. And I had a retail store that was at the center of both of those plans that was failing through no fault of my own. The city was changing and leaving my neighborhood behind. It’s easy writing about your successes. Try letting the world know your business is failing – not so easy. But, if you’re going to be self-employed, you’ve got to understand that sometimes you have a bad day. Sometimes you have a bad month. And something not on that business plan, you have a couple of bad years.
(Competing on the internet in a new location)
It gets harder and harder every day to come up with effective ways to reach customers these days. I remember in the old days if you spent $1,000 on advertising, you’d usually make your $1,000 back plus a thousand or two. Now, I swear if I went out and borrowed $100,000 and dumped it into every media outlet known to man to advertise my business for a month, the only thing certain is at the end of the month I’d owe $100,000. There’s no guarantee that my marketing effort would have generated one dollar of revenue. How do we reach our current and new customers today? Beats me! But, I do know that what worked 20 and 30 years ago doesn’t work today.
(The Great American Recession)
How about 2008? That wasn’t a lot of fun was it? In my three decades in this industry that was probably the hardest year I’ve seen – period.
(How do I attract customers in 2012?)
Just so you know, the title of this month’s column is not a statement, it’s a question. What is the newest thing I have to figure out in order to drive customers to my business?
(Fast forward to today)
Holy smokes. When did it get so hard? Running a business in the current, fast changing environment is like driving through thick fog in your own neighborhood. You kind of know where you are, but still hoping you don’t crash and burn at any moment. This month I’m starting my 4th year in my new location after my previous ‘super-cute’ location was sold and bulldozed. What I thought was going to be a temporary location, I’ve decided to make permanent.
I’ve got a buddy whose store is just a few miles from mine. His shopping center, where he planned to stay for the next 20 years, has just sold as well. Now it looks like the bulldozers are coming for his location like they came after mine. It basically means that all of that planning, promotion, and advertising he did to build his business, is now being tossed away in the same landfill where the shopping center will end up. He will be forced to start over, like so many of us have. I’ve been there, and done that, and I’m seeing this happen all over the country.
But, here is something I’ve learned over the last few years that has been helpful to me in my market, which is one of the fastest growing in the country. As long as you don’t geographically relocate (like to another town), your local customers will follow you. The new customers you are trying to attract won’t necessarily find you because you’re in a crowded shopping center on a busy street. They will find you because they entered ‘jewelry store near me’ into a search engine. Promotion and marketing is good. Search engine optimization is gooder.
Nowadays, your business just needs to show up on the first page of the search results. The GPS on your new prospects’ phones will bring them right to your front door, even if you’re down a side street and around the back side of the building.
In spite of all of the challenges we all face, doing this for a living is still better than having a real job every day of the week! And, if you’d like to check out my books, just go to LuLu.com and put my name in the search engine.
Happy new year to everyone.