A few years ago, I met up with my mentor at a small game lodge in Mpumalanga to spend time working on my business. The weekend’s agenda included reflecting on the last year, and finalising my strategy for the year ahead.
Business had been great and I was confident that my competitors were still lagging far behind us. However, to maintain that position, I’d also gone into ‘protective’ mode.
Going into protective mode
As your business grows, you will experience higher levels of competition, both directly and indirectly. When this happens, most entrepreneurs, including myself, inadvertently put their businesses into ‘protective mode’ and defend their position through the likes of exclusivity agreements, trademarks, patents etc.
If your business stays in protective mode, one of two things will happen. Either your competition will slowly eat away at you, one nibble at a time, until they are strong enough to be able to challenge you.
Or, after spending time hunkered down in a protected position, you’ll eventually look over the perimeter wall, only to find that the whole market has changed, your business is no longer relevant, and your customers have gone to your competitors who have moved with the times.
By remaining too focused on defending yourself, you will miss the changing context.
A sign of survival
“If you want to survive, you’ve got to keep bleeding at the right pace and depth,” my mentor said.
“Your business will only survive in an ever-changing business environment if you are continually trying new things. Sometimes as a result of not getting these things quite right, you must be prepared to lose money, resources, or even confidence in order to survive in the long term.”
It’s a natural instinct to cushion yourself with protective padding so that you don’t feel pain. The downside to this is that your business will stagnate and cease to be relevant.
The right pace and depth
The trick to trying new things is to not get cut too deeply. In other words, make sure that the size of the risk that you are taking is not potentially fatal to the business if it doesn’t work out.
You also need to manage the pace at which you are trying new things, so that you don’t bleed to death from too many ‘paper cuts’ at once.
Getting it wrong is okay
It’s okay to make mistakes along the way, as long as you are learning from them. When you launch a new product and it doesn’t work according to plan, listen to the feedback, finesse your product or service, and then reintroduce it back into the market.
Repeat this process until you have either created a product that the market actually wants, or if you are unable to meet those needs profitably, scrap the idea.
When your business starts doing well, be honest with yourself as to whether your business is still ‘bleeding’ at the right pace and depth. If it’s not, start experimenting again and bleed a little.
Your shift questions
The secret to shifting your mindset and therefore your business, is asking yourself the following questions, and answering them honestly:
- Are you stuck in ‘protective mode’?
- Are you prepared to ‘bleed’?