Today I drove into Chicago to meet two women who run and own a two-year-old-child- development center. For the purposes of this post, they and their business will remain nameless, but the jist of their story I will share because it holds a few really important entrepreneurial lessons…. and a little bit of magic.
First- a little bit of background: My meeting with these women was my first. I was referred to them by another client. They expressed interest in finding a business coach, so I made the trip to meet with them.
What I learned while I was there: These two women have created a center that over the past two years has grown from an idea, into a business plan, to a real physical location that now 100 families 3-5 times a week use weekly for their children to play and learn through arts based experiences.
These ladies are extremely intelligent, well educated, hold advanced degrees, and have had very successful careers. They were inspired to start a business together based of their common interests and past lives where they realized the importance of arts education and what it could bring to a child’s developmental learning through play. Childs Play Touring Theater, which I have written about before, has a similar focus through theater- another extraordinary business in its own right.
But my point in sharing their story with you, is to reveal how close they are to failing in their business. While they bravely and fearlessly invested their time and money for the past two years, and risked their futures while passionately embracing their mission, they are finding themselves feeling uncertain about their future in business mostly because they did not plan for change in their business plan.
Every business plan changes. We start with one on paper and then need to keep revising it as we go. These women wrote their plan and then when it no longer made sense to follow it, stopped using it as a measuring stick.
What I mean by this is that a business plan is written with both intellectual mastery of your venture and emotional mastery of your understanding of what it will take to accomplish. It is written with a certain level of profitability to achieve, sales and specific offerings in mind. When any one of these elements is not being achieved, as a result of economic conditions, clients needs and desires or for any other reason, it is extremely important to revisit both your thinking and emotional understanding of what has changed and why.
This allows you to not only figure out how to get “back on track,” or find an equally new parallel track, but it also educates your “gut” –increasing your awareness– about what it looks and feels like when the sand under your feet is shifting and you need to zig or zag, right then. This awareness becomes critical as your venture grows, and remains critical through out the life of your entire venture.
So, as a result of having distanced themselves emotionally from their plan, and not continuing to revise their course, NOW they have a real problem- their business might not survive.
What created their problem? Where was the zig they missed acting on?
With an extraordinary economic downturn looming unannounced before they opened, plain and simply- their passion lead them to open in a large location and spend more on space than they now can afford. The business did not grow as quickly as they had projected. While they have retained customers through this downturn, they have not added them, as predicted in their plan. Having not taken a salary in two years, they are now weary, their planned savings has run out and their landlord wants his money for rent past due and frankly wants them evicted.
So what would you tell them to do? Pray? Close their doors and run?
Sometimes, in key moments in a venture- when everything can turn to dust ( and everyone has their moments) the chemistry is perfectly ripe for magic to happen. Let me explain.
You see when I was driving down to meet them, I was following the directions my GPS was giving me. As I left the expressway and turned on a major road that intersected with their street, I looked to my left and saw a business that sold kids furniture that had a name that was extremely similar to theirs. At first I thought maybe it was their location. But then I realized, while the name of this business complimented theirs nicely, it was an entirely different business.
Thinking nothing more about it I drove to my meeting. Well, as their stress filled tale unfolded before my eyes, and we began to brainstorm about how they could avoid bankruptcy and closing their doors, I remembered the building with the sign I saw around the corner from them. I quickly asked them if they knew the owner and the business and they said yes. In fact the owner of that business had made a point, on several occasions, of coming to visit and offering advice and encouragement. In turn, they had referred business to him.
It was right then it popped into my head that their business was an excellent marketing opportunity for the owner of this childrens furniture business. His store would benefit from having a play center inside of it. Why? Because nothing but parents walk in and out to pick up their kids. Parents could browse while they wait for classes to finish or as they come and go with their kids.
By pitching the idea of moving their business into his store- which by the way is a huge store with lots of extra space- not only could their synergy help each of them, but potentially these women could negotiate a free place, or almost free place, to run their business because of their ability to bring in clients to the furniture store daily and build traffic and interest for his products. Not to mention the fact that currently the owner is not open Monday through Friday- but only by appointment- and by allowing these woman to run their business in his space, he would have built in store hours and be open for business as these women easily could allow people to browse and set up the owners appointments.
It turns out that this owner is a furniture manufacturer first, and a retail store owner second. He also runs large print advertisement in major publications–the same ones that would help these two women and their business. By encouraging him to include in his advertising that he hosts a learning development/play center for children inside his store, it will only add to the communities positive impression of his business and interest in it.
Seems as though, magically, we might have stumbled into not only a clever marketing proposition for both businesses but also a way for these two women to not close their doors. And the most magical part about it was that for the most part, the idea that held the most promise and quickest fix for them was right there for the taking– if they could have been a little more able to zig and zag.
It just took them inviting a total stranger in to speak with them, with a good mind for out of the box ideas, and a lot of experience “zigging and zagging,” to let them see the connections they already had and could leverage.
Next week these two ladies have asked me to take the lead in negotiating this vision over lunch with the owner of the furniture store. I hope the cosmos keeps the fairy dust sprinkler on until then–when your parched enough to die, a little goes a long way to restoring you to life.