Friday, November 08, 2013

How to make your business viable

Over the past few days I have enjoyed conversations with business owners from across Canada and further afield.

But no matter where you live or what business you are in – the challenges seem to be the same.  Some may be sprinkled with some local issues such as the violence in Brazil and the gender roles and expectations in that country, but basically there is little difference, whether you are in Vancouver, Sao Paulo or London, England.

The key question I kept hearing was how do I make this business viable?  So many are doing what they love, and are hoping the book Do what you love and the money will follow is right.  But what we all want to know, is when?

What is it that you have to do in order to bring in a decent revenue so you can pay yourself?  My first suggestion is to track where it comes from – what’s your most popular source of income, but you also have to look at how much time you have to spend in order to get there.  If the project is labour-intensive, then you may want to rethink if this is the best revenue stream for you.

After ten years of hosting a Christmas Show, for example, I decided not to do one this year.  Why?  Because at the end of the day, when I added up all the hours I would spend both organizing it and being at the event, I barely broke even and even more telling, I was exhausted.  It would take me days to physically recover.  So I decided it wasn’t worth it.

While most of us probably have a good sense of where we make our most money, sometimes when you actually sit down and total up the costs and revenue, there are some surprises. 

And then there’s the programs/services that we love to offer, that truly get us excited, but don’t bring in much money.  Here you have to weigh it up because if all you are doing are these types of projects, it is going to be hard to make ends meet.  You have to develop revenue streams that are more profitable, so that you can then afford to basically “volunteer” your time.

For example I love working with “newbies” - women who are starting out, but as one consultant reminded me “There’s no money honey.”  And of course she was right.  That doesn’t mean I don’t do that work, it just has to be tempered with projects that generate more income.

Much is said about finding your niche, and moving away from being a generalist, and that may be true, but when you are starting out, you can’t afford to be such a purist.  You also don’t really know which aspect of your business will take off, and even then, it can change, so keeping your options open is not a bad idea.

And talking of ideas, brainstorming with others from the same sector, can help you zero in on where you fit in the spectrum of services and what you can offer and where you need to direct your energies.  When you take an abundance approach and share ideas with your peers, you can in fact end up further ahead.

After you’ve looked at your finances, you may want to do the Stop, Start, and Continue exercise where you take a hard look at what you do and what’s working for you.  We do that at the end of a major event, for example, while it is still fresh in our minds.

Bottom line, you need to decide whether you want a business or a hobby.  Either is fine if that is the direction you want to go in.  But if after all this analysis you determine that you have a hobby, when you really want a business, you will have to change what you are doing to get the business in gear.

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