The Lure of Transformation

Allen Toussaint wrote one of my favorite songs: “Everything I Do Gohn Be Funky (From Now On).” If you haven’t heard it, I suggest that you Google Lee Dorsey’s original version from 1969. It is an ode to transformation; you can hear the swagger of someone who has thrown off some old way of doing things, an old way of thinking, and has stepped into the world as a completely new person. It details not the transformation process itself, but the euphoric feeling and crystal clear vision that comes on the other side of such a change. It feels good.

So often when I am working with small businesses I see the glimmer of excitement at the prospect of a change in their business that will result in a similar transformation; and I mention this song here because, while the prospect of a complete transformation feels good for the soul, it can be a dangerous path for a small business for two reasons:

  1. It can lead entrepreneurs to change directions too often, never giving an idea long enough to gain traction in the marketplace.
  2. It discourages digging into all of the ways a business could be run more efficiently within the current business model. I get it: New is exciting and fun, old is clunky and boring, especially when old isn’t working optimally.

To point number one, in an ideal world, a business would have plenty of capital (and thus plenty of time) to explore a business idea fully, until they can be sure that the market has spoken. In the real world, however, we all know that this set up is rare. Businesses make a new idea happen the best that they can, given the very real constraints that most of them face. Further complicating matters, it is rare for an idea to land in the marketplace to immediate embrace; many ideas take a slower path to fruition. A new business idea will have fits and starts of success, punctuated with bouts of failure. That is the ebb and flow of a new idea. The reward for persistence is giving an idea enough time to get some traction and prove itself.

To point number two, one can grow a business by simply adding more stuff, but business owners would do well to maximize the potential of each offering before adding more things to the “menu.” This ensures not only adequate financial and marketing support, but it also allows owners to keep their focus within reasonable bounds.

Preparing to launch a new idea within an existing business involves a similar scope of preparations to launching a new business, and should be treated with a commensurate level of seriousness. There is financial preparation (in the form of either borrowing new funds, or designating existing funds for a new purpose), marketing preparation (planning for how a new product integrates with an existing brand), and personnel preparation (are all of your employees ready to embrace this new venture?), to name a few. I am not suggesting “analysis paralysis,” but work done on the front end minimizes the adjustments that need to be made during the process, where adjustments can be more painful. To the many business owners who have told me: “I wish I had written a business plan when I started,” expansion is your chance!

In short, good planning ensures that a new offering has a solid chance for success. And on the rare occasion that the new idea is truly transformative, you will be prepared for that too!

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