• Lisa DiVirgilio Arnold

Saying yes to everything is killing your small business

As a small business owner or leader, you are constantly inundated with situations that need decisions. Should you carry that new line? Should you advertise there? Should you move your office over there? Should you hire part-time help? Is that vendor really worth the price?

The questions are endless and sometimes they come in at a rate no one can keep up with. I've met owners so overwhelmed with big decisions that small decisions, such as where to have lunch, is what completely broke them down.

When we get into business, we never think of the exterior forces that will drag us. We think of embedding ourselves in an industry we love and doing something with passion for our community.

So, how do we get back to what got us in business in the first place?

The first step is to quiet these questions. When do we consulting, one of the biggest concerns small business owners have is about advertising options. Should you be in newspapers, on billboards, in digital media, active on social media, doing mailings, etc.?

To make matters even more complicated, each person selling these advertising mediums is pretty convincing. And their question always boils down to this: Don't you want to be in front of our audience?

What business owner would say no to that?

When small business owners come to us with this problem, the first thing I ask is: How has it performed for you previously? It's not shocking for an owner to have no idea how that newspaper advertisement performed for them, if they got any business from the $1,500 they put down on a billboard coming into town, or if social media activity is resulting in sales.

Now, don't be fooled: we're in an era in marketing where we are able to measure just about anything - especially digital marketing. Print has a tougher time, but they can at least tell you circulation. And, you can work around this by using coupons or coupon codes in the print advertising or surveys post-sale to get an idea of your return on this investment.

But then, it's up to you to really measure this. At one of our member's businesses, we watched an item literally fly off the shelf the same day she posted it on her Instagram with a call-to-action that it was going fast. She could directly tell that that specific post lead to multiple sales. Win!

Another member put an advertisement in the newspaper with a coupon special for a weekend. He didn't get one coupon redemption, but a few people did come in and mention they saw the ad.

So there we have it: A yes to using social media led to several sales that could be directly tied back. A yes to a newspaper advertisement lead to no sales, but perhaps could be measured in other ways such as branding or name recognition down the line. It all comes down to what your priority is.

While the above examples are pretty black and white, it's not always that easy. And, the results will obviously vary from business to business and industry to industry. But the bottom line is if you can't measure the impact of a 'yes,' then you should always say 'no.'

Regardless of which path you decide or how you measure your results, you should always be saying no more than you're saying yes. Counterintuitive for the growth you want, I know. But controlled growth is sustainable growth. As an small business owner, nothing is more precious than the time you invest into your business and the choices you make (which then lead to more time to monitor the results of).

When you say yes to things you can oversee and control - and most importantly, measure - you'll be able to quickly see what is and isn't working with the money you're spending.

This will also help you make decisions faster in the future. You'll know what past 'yeses' resulted in impactful change in your business and which fizzled out before they started, making decisions easier moving forward. It may be a little more work now, but your future is going to clear up before you know it by measuring and analyzing what you can control now.

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