Here’s the thing about running a business. You’re going to be wrong most of the time. My experience is that somewhere between 50-80% of the decisions you make won’t work out like you think they will. I don’t have scientific backing for that statement… but my experience working in and running businesses make me comfortable throwing it out there. Regardless of the numbers, you will constantly be surprised by what happens. What you thought was going to be brilliant will end up not being brilliant. Sometimes you’ll end up being dead wrong.
At first this may sound like a pessimistic statement. However, I find that the one thing successful business owners all learn is that you can’t eliminate that risk. You can only manage it. Starting a business is inherently risky. So the best you can do is to make the best decision you know how with the information you have at the time. The good news is that can be enough to keep your business successful.
The key is to stay focused and continue taking action. While taking any action is better than doing nothing, intentional action is your golden ticket. I see many businesses flailing around and trying anything that looks like it might bring in more customers. I know that feeling, I’ve experienced it first hand. The feeling that you don’t know what to do to get customers in the door can throw you into a panic state. That’s when anything can look like a life preserver.
It’s important to resist just trying anything though. One of the main reasons is that if you are not sure why you are doing what you’re doing, you will not be able to figure out how to replicate it if it works. You need to be able to track what you’re doing so you can evaluate what works and what doesn’t. If you try something and it works, you need to be able to do it again. That can help you gain back a feeling of control too. So you want to have a good reason for trying something new, even if it feels risky at first.
This is the concept behind A/B testing in on-line marketing. This is a common practice that entails creating two versions of a web page with some sort of call to action and tracking which works better. A common pattern is to send 50% of the visitors to page A and 50% of the visitors to page B. Then you track the traffic and see which page performs better. Then to refine performance even more the ‘winning’ page is then altered slightly and replaces the losing page in the test. If page B does better initially the original A page is dropped and a modified version of page A is then tested. In this manner web marketers can determine fairly quickly what colors, elements, wording and images get the best response.
You can do similar things in other aspects of your business. All it takes is some courage to try something different and a way to track results. Seth Godin often talks about the idea of risk in today’s business world. The idea that playing is safe is actually the most risky thing you can do hits this nail right on the head. You can try things. Innovate small parts of your process, or try communicating a different way with your clients. Then track the results and see what happens. If it creates a positive reaction do it some more. If it doesn’t then don’t. But either way track what happened. This will help you make decisions about what to do, and what might work, in the future. This also has the advantage of keeping you from trying too many things at once… which can prevent you from evaluating the results effectively.
Being wrong and taking risks are part of being an entrepreneur. So embrace those ideas. Make them work for you. Learn new skills that stretch your comfort zone and help you take new risks. Discover what other people are doing and try something that you think might work for you. Don’t just try anything… give it some thought. Ask yourself how it might affect your business before you jump, certainly. But don’t stop there. Embrace the risk and make it your friend. It just might enable you to find the four leaf clover that opens up your market like never before.
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