Sunday, August 31, 2014

The fear of change

Fear. A four letter word that often keeps you from doing things; stops you from branching out and can paralyze the growth that is critical for a small business.

Yet I'm not sure we always identify our stumbling blocks AS fear; perhaps we label it something else or find a way to discount the uncomfortable feeling that surrounds some important decisions. And to an independent that spells death.

Over the last 10 years I've thought several times about changing the store's name and re-branding our image. I didn't want to be perceived forever as an outdated or quaint mom and pop that perhaps had not updated with the times. Everyone knew this shop and that was great, but looking back now I see where they would say oh yes, the one that's been there forever. Now I wonder, did I let fear keep me from striking out and forging a new image for myself and a cool "up with the times" and relevant establishment?

The other half completely disagreed with my thoughts, refusing to consider what a fresh look might bring, very opposed to the idea of taking a step away from what the norm had been. And that input, coupled with my worries, led me to well, nothing. I didn't do it. No name change, no drastic updating and moving ahead into a new time for this business. Oh, at the time I didn't worry too much about it, I took comfort in the fact that as everyone said, "we'd been here forever". Now looking back, I feel that may have kept us from turning into something that may have stayed in tune with the times more.

Fear. That wasn't what kept me from social media, or at least I didn't think so. I was simply busy - didn't have the time to create all these accounts and come up with things to post - I mean, what would I say on there every few days or so? I probably dragged my feet on that too, finally getting a facebook page up and running only about four years ago. I didn't think that was too late to catch up, but then I didn't add Pinterest for another year or two, and finally started using Twitter just last year. Now I look around and see that other small stores have created an online following in the thousands, from launching their place in social media well before I got to it. Looking back, I can see where staying current, visible and fresh wasn't something at the top of my list - and while it didn't NEED to be at the top, it certainly should have been higher on the notepad than where I put it.

Don't let fear stand in your way. It may wear a disguise of being too busy, or "not for you", but you can't afford to miss the boat.
DO carefully weigh something you think you "should" be doing, that's starting to appear mainstream, to consider if it's right for you.
Don't chicken out and drop the ball because you aren't comfortable with something until you've completely explored it and made an informed decision.
DO try new things, in moderation preferably. You don't want to close for three days to paint the store black hoping your customers will love a strange new vibe that you consider trendy. But if you are thinking of re-branding or updating your business image, ask them. Run an online poll, start an in-store contest for a new name, gauge reactions to things you may throw out there.

Again, if you grow and maintain a social presence across a number of different channels and sites, and are willing to ASK, you will likely wind up with a more complete answer to an important question. Had I polled just my regular customers I might not have come up with a well-rounded response. But IF I had been on various social sites, it may have provided a range of feedback and/or presented me and my possible options to a new audience.

I'm not a marketing guru but I can say this: to be perfectly honest, your company is not going to live or die because you failed to set up a Twitter account. But growing and changing, in this case via forms of social media, is much more than that. It's an entire "mode of connection" with people that may not be the ones walking past your shop daily. It's the bigger audience you can reach and the broader scope of customers you can find by utilizing multiple channels.

I didn't skip doing any of these things due to lack of caring or being lazy. Perhaps I didn't realize how important they were and yes, the worry over losing an existing customer base if I changed my name or presented my company poorly under a new name hung over me. As the "wearer of all hats" a sole proprietor is often stressed, busy and sometimes not able to take on something new. But don't let fear be your stopping point; after 19 years, looking back from my vantage point, I can promise you sometimes it's just important to stick your neck out and strive to reach another level. Even if it's not climbing UP, it may be growing SIDEWAYS, and so thus you keep on MOVING. Your small business cannot afford to stand still.

Note: if this post sounds like I'm being a bit harsh on myself, that's totally fine. There is plenty of blame to go around about why small businesses fail, close, disappear. So I'm not JUST using myself as an example of what I see now that might have gone wrong; there are other reasons and I'll share more of them with you.

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  1. Thank You so very much for sharing this touching retrospective on the life of a small business owner… and FEAR. I too know it well. You have inspired me, and Im sure many others to push forward, take risks, and follow our dreams to peruse our goals.
    All my best wishes,
    Small Business Owner

    1. CT Bean, thank you for your comment. I didn't reply right away because to be honest this is still very painful. I am so glad I did the blog because I felt these things needed to be said, and I wish you all the best with your adventure. Good luck.