Christopher O’Byrne stood on the edge of the cliff, looked down, considered jumping and then stepped back. He repeated the process over and over. He would walk away and then back. His mind told him to jump, but his body just wouldn’t do it. Christopher knew he couldn’t take the internal dialogue or the taunts from the onlookers anymore – his time was running out. He had prepared everything, and yet he was hesitating. What was going on?
I recently met with a couple of entrepreneurs who are standing on their own cliff. They have a business that has been running for over a decade and would be considered marginally profitable. They want to take it to the next level. They know that if they want to get investors they need more revenue, more customers and new streams of income.
As we all know, investors want to see that they’re going to be able to get their money back and then some. Without proven products or service revenue streams, ventures are simply too risky for all but a select few, who then demand most of the company in return for capital.
The entrepreneurs I met have identified their target markets and what they have to offer. They’ve invested money and time into building their product, and yet they’re hesitating. It’s almost as if they keep walking to the edge of the cliff, looking over and then walking back. It’s like they have too many options and they don’t know where to jump off.
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This is a common problem with business owners. We often build something we think the market needs, and put much time and effort into making sure it’s just right. We construct the perfect solution to our customer’s problems and the perfect way to take our business to another level. Once that’s done, we step back and wait for things to happen.
The reality is that we’re not finished; we’ve just started because nothing happens without action. We need to jump right in!
In his book The Lean Startup, Eric Ries writes about exactly this problem. His message is that going to the marketplace earlier instead of later – to prove the feasibility of our products and service – increases our chances of success. Instead of waiting for our product offering to be perfect, we need to take our MVP – minimum viable product – out to prospective customers to see if we can sell it. Not only does this enable us to test our theory, our products and our services, but it provides feedback and, more importantly, cash from customers coming into the business.
Many businesses become cash strapped because they don’t go to the marketplace early enough or often enough for feedback and sales. They’re on the edge of the cliff but they’re waiting to make everything just perfect before they jump in.
Without real customer feedback, we can’t verify that we’re on the right track. Without cash, we have a hard time justifying that we need to invest more in the project. But how exactly do we get the cash?
It’s simple enough. When I was going through my training to become a business coach, Jon Denney of the Professional Business Coaches Alliance told me to make my list of prospective clients. Then he said, “Dave, you have to get on the phone and start making calls.” This is the hardest part for most business people. To make things happen, we have to just do it – take the plunge, jump off the cliff.
We’ll get burned a few times. We’ll make mistakes. We’ll get shut down. And that’s hard.
So how much is a business worth?
But unless we get out there and try to sell our products or services, how will we know if we’re on the right track?
When we need cash in our business, we need to get off our butts, get on the phone and start doing the work that really matters. If we’re serious about making a go of our business, we need to go get the sales. We need to put serious resources and time into talking to prospects and closing deals.
Yes, we need to cheer each sale we get. But we can’t stop until we do what we’ve said we’ll do until we’ve hit our targets.
With his knees shaking, Christopher stepped off the cliff and fell down, down, down into the cool crisp water of Horseshoe Lake in Jasper National Park. Christopher went on to use that experience as the theme for his award-winning Toastmasters talk.
The entrepreneurs I met will need to jump sooner than later, too. I know they’ll be successful if they leap off their cliff and start putting serious effort into selling their products and services.
Selling always takes us out of our comfort zone. But the thrill we experience when customers see value in what we do and are willing to pay for that value is well worth it.
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