In today’s episode, Anna looks at when it’s time to pivot, keep going – or give up altogether.
If things really aren’t working and you’ve really been pouring your time and money into something, you’re feeling miserable in the process or perhaps, if like now, circumstances out of your control suddenly change drastically, then it may just be time to change things up, pivot, and, unfortunately, to maybe abandon what you’ve been building up until now. And that might particularly be the case early on in the business.
*Resources mentioned during the episode*
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Hello there and welcome back to the re imagining success podcast. As we continue to look at some very relevant questions in the context of the COVID-19 situation. However, again, emphasising that these are questions we can and should be asking ourselves all the time and not just during this particular bizarre situation that we’re finding ourselves in. So last week we looked at diversifying our income streams, and this week it’s a related topic, which is how to know when to pivot. Now, if you know me at all, if you’ve been listening to my podcast or been part of my community or even working with me as a client, you’ll know that I’ll talk a lot about having a clear vision of course, re-imagining success, having that clear personal definition of success. That’s also the first pillar of the sustainable escape plan. I also talk about being resilient and persistent and that’s the second pillar of running a sustainable business.
I really strongly believe that the ones who succeed are the ones who just keep at it for longer.
They swallow their egos, they dust themselves off, they pick themselves up and they just keep going. Keep going through the not so sexy times when it’s not as exciting as it is right at the beginning and just keep doing what they’re doing. They know they’re on to something good, working hard, improving, tweaking, learning, getting the help they need and so on. However, sometimes it is just pigheaded to stick to what you’re doing because if things really aren’t working and you’ve really been pouring your time and money into something, you’re feeling miserable in the process. Or perhaps if like now circumstances out of your control suddenly change drastically, then it may just be time to change things up to pivot and unfortunately, to maybe abandon what you’ve been building up until now. And in particular, by the way, that might be the case early on in the business and it might be easier to do so now it’s perhaps harder to pivot early on because you don’t even yet know if your idea is proven.
However, if you are right at the beginning of your idea and you had right now as we’re talking now in April, May, 2020 if you had planned to launch a business around travel, around something that is very much not possible right now during the current situation, then you’re in luck because you do have an opportunity to either delay, but that’s a shame really to lose all that time that you have, and especially if you’re feeling enthusiastic now about this. Or unfortunately, perhaps to pivot, to change, to shift to something else, which hopefully will also tick a lot of the boxes for you in terms of your icky guy, which I talk about. So using the skills, the things that you’re really good at, bringing to life, your passion, letting you do work that you already enjoy, having that connection to a bigger mission, something that the world really needs, you’re making a meaningful contribution and ultimately something you can monetize.
So those are four things. The skills, the enjoyment of what you’re doing, the bigger mission, and the monetization that are already important. So right now, those last two, for example, are really important to consider. So is what you’re doing something that really is something that the world needs right now? Is it giving a meaningful contribution? And maybe it’s not. Likewise, is it something that you can monetize? Is it something that people are willing to pay for right now? Maybe not. But, how can you know when you should be pivoting and when you should stick with something or perhaps when you should give up entirely. So not just pivot, but just go, “You know what? This is not for me; in no shape or form does this ever work.”
So back to the drawing board, because the risk is that you just go from idea to idea, and this is the biggest mistake I see people make because of course you’re so excited and enthusiastic in the beginning. So in my programmes invariably people come and they say, “I’ve got this amazing idea.” And in one call, they’re saying, “Oh my gosh, I made so much progress, it’s amazing.” And the next call, suddenly they’re down. It hasn’t gone as well as they thought and so on. And that’s the reason why a programme can be so helpful, having a coach, having the group support, because that kind of helps you to even out the ups as well as the downs, temper your enthusiasm a little bit while also bringing up your confidence and resilience so that you can smooth out those dips and the inevitable dips because let’s face it, there will always be dips and difficulties along the way. But inevitably every project, every idea becomes a bit more hard work, a bit less fun.
And it’s at that point that it’s really easy to abandon it and leap onto something else.
And by the way, the harder something is, the more satisfying it is and the more successful you’ll be if you manage to get to the other side because the barriers to entry for other people will be higher. So, you’ll be one of the few people who’ve stuck with it, who pushed through it, who’ve actually managed to persist beyond all those difficulties. But again, the risk is that you just go from idea to idea, “Oh my gosh, this isn’t working. I’m just going to try something else.” And then, you end up never actually testing anything, never actually giving anything a chance to work. And that’s true for the overall business idea. It’s also true for specific strategies.
And even now, by the way, in what are very difficult circumstances for many of us, you don’t want to create a self fulfilling prophecy. So we talked about this in one of our group calls in the business accelerator the other day. Please, please, please don’t assume that your clients don’t want to or can’t afford to pay you and work with you right now and pull back. Do not assume, and this is the case again always. So it’s so easy to do this, and I do this too, to make assumptions that, “Oh no, that client can’t afford to work with me.” But again and again, I see people who, on paper, don’t have a lot of money, they don’t have a job right now, they don’t have successful business, and yet they see the value of working with me. They’re willing to pay quite substantial amounts of money knowing that that’s going to pay out. They understand the need to invest in themselves and their business, and they’re really happy to do so. They know that the accountability, the support, the guidance is going to get them that money and loads more things other than money back manyfold.
And there are other people who, on paper, have an incredibly successful corporate job. They have a lot of money, they have a lot of disposable income, and yet they don’t see the value of working with a coach or programme. Right? So never, never assume that a client can or can’t afford to work with you? Let them say yes. Let them say no. And don’t be attached to the answer, but give them the chance to say no to you rather than saying no before they even have a chance to because maybe they’ll say yes.
So again, coming back to this idea of the self fulfilling prophecy, let your clients say no, if they do say no.
Try to understand in the meantime as much as you can about what they’re struggling with, how you can help. Really try to look at things in a different way. See how you can make things work. Can you delay projects? Can you tweak it? Can you package it up differently to make it more effective for the challenges they’re facing right now? Again, using your existing skills, the things that you’re really good at that you really enjoy. But thinking about what does the world need right now? And then, if it doesn’t work, then you can move on. Then you can let it go. But again, don’t put words in their mouth. Don’t assume that people can’t work with you. Let them say no, if indeed, they do say no.
Okay, so when should you pivot?
Well, a few ideas and let’s have a think about this. There might be many more, but just a few that came to mind for me. So, one reason to pivot could of course be in this particular situation that again, your idea’s completely based on physical travel. It’s not possible. International travel, it’s not possible now, or the foreseeable future is going to be drastically affected, reduced. And so that’s maybe not the right thing right now. So, maybe at the moment in this current situation, your idea, your core business, service or proposition, it was all about something that just isn’t possible right now. It could even be, and we talked about this in diversifying last week, that your actual platform, your brand platform, your marketing techniques don’t work right now because you are relying heavily on speaking engagements and events and that kind of thing. And in fact, again, if that’s your product or service, if you’re launching events and workshops, that’s not going to work right now. So that’s one reason why you pivot, because your particular proposition just isn’t what people can even do, let alone what they need right now.
Now another reason might be that the market is really saturated, and you just can’t see a way in which you can stand out. So maybe you thought, “Oh my gosh, this is such a big opportunity. I’ve done my icky guy. I love doing this. I’m really good at it. Yes, the world needs it.” But you suddenly realise actually, or you realise it over time, “You know what? There are so many people offering this.” Now one word of warning here, almost every market is saturated, if you look at it this way. There are so many copywriters, graphic designers, whatever else. It might be, editors, coaches, especially when you such a general term, of course there are so many even career coaches, business coaches, marketing consultants and so on and so forth, so don’t think that just because there are a lot of people out there doing something similar means that you can’t do that.
However, there may be the case that you have been trying for months, years, you’ve had a really clear proposition, you’ve done all the right things, you’ve done the market research and so on, and you’re just one of many fish in a big red sea. You remember that red ocean with the sharks, and you’re just not able to stand out. In that case, one pivot would be to narrow down your niche, to really stand for something specific so that you can be the go-to person who does copywriting for online tutors or online fitness instructors or again, web design. We mentioned this last week for a particular very specific niche. A particular career coach, which is for people who at a particular juncture in their life and so on, so you can narrow, you can go deeper, or you might want to pivot and really changed her different niche entirely.
Another reason to pivot might be that you’ve had a really broad business.
You’ve had a lot of maybe the opposite of last week, that you have two diverse income streams. You do all things with everybody and maybe none or maybe one only or two of your service actually generate money. That’s again an opportunity to narrow down. If you’ve ever heard of the Pareto principle, 80/20, the idea that 20% of your clients and projects and income streams of your business will be generating 80% actually of your income. So if you can find those 20%, maybe the one programme, the one service that actually is generating money, then maybe that’s the opportunity to niche into that. Or maybe the breadth of the business that you have isn’t quite right, but you’re seeing that there’s quite a lot of traction in a particular direction that is very related to what you’re doing, and you could then tweak what you’re doing just to put that difference bit on it to make it really relevant.
And that’s another reason why you might want to pivot if you’re getting feedback from existing clients, or from prospects through the market research you’re doing, either the theoretical research that you’re doing at the beginning or the really practical research that happens when you’re actually running your business, i.e., if nobody’s actually buying your products and services, if you have no response at all, it might be that you’re just not solving an urgent problem. People aren’t willing to pay for what you’re offering or maybe your particular target can’t afford to pay for it. They’d love to, but they’re just not in a place where they can pay for it. And in that case, you might want to pivot your target audience. So, maybe there’s another target that would be really willing and able to pay for what you have to offer. Or, maybe you need to tweak the service again, maybe pivot it in a direction that it’s going to based on the response, the feedback that you have from prospects and clients. Be able to really meet the urgent need that they do have.
And again, in the current situation, it might be that things have changed a little bit, and they suddenly have more burning needs than what you happen to be working with before. And then finally, another reason for pivoting would be if you don’t feel aligned and passionate. And again, if you know me at all, you’ll know that that is really the core reason why I believe you should be setting up or why you might want to set up a business and work for yourself. Really finding your personal definition of success, designing that business around you. Icky guy feeling excited, passionate, driven, committed to this idea. So maybe your perspective has changed. Your values have changed, your personal goals, your personal situation has changed and this idea that you initially thought was amazing just doesn’t fit your current life circumstances or your current sort of vision for the future. Maybe you’ve met someone, maybe you’ve divorced, maybe you’ve had children, maybe you’ve got a dog, you’ve moved, whatever it might be. So this is really important. Don’t feel wedded to a particular definition of success that you came up with.
Now, I talk about that in the context of leaving your corporate job and identifying yourself as a corporate super employee, and that’s the definition of success.
That conveyor belt of getting promotions and salary increases and so on, and breaking away from that definition of success. But likewise, that doesn’t mean you should be wedded to the particular vision that you happen to have at the beginning. I can’t tell you how many times, in fact, I’m sure I have told you how my business has evolved since I left my job in 2013, and I’m sure it will evolve again. So, as you inevitably evolve and shift and your personal professional situation changes, you probably will feel less aligned to certain elements and clients and more so to others. And that’s absolutely fine. So that’s a really important reason to pivot as well. But you know it’s financially successful. But I’m in a situation where that’s not my main motivation. I’m okay financially, and I would like to really find something for the longer term that I’m going to be more passionate about.
Most importantly, you need to make a choice. So either do what you’re doing now wholeheartedly. Put all your effort into making it work. Try everything, stick with it. Be persistent. Swallow your ego when you get those nos. Keep going until you get you a yes. So either do it completely wholeheartedly, or stop now. What you don’t want to do is do it halfheartedly, and then get halfhearted half assed, excuse the language, results. So, years ago… Years ago, not that long ago. My colleague and I were working in business idea, which we thought made so much sense on paper. We saw so much positive feedback from potential clients and from colleagues and so on, and yet neither us, we realised over time, was completely, or even particularly aligned to this. It was more sort of where we were coming from rather than where we were going to. And so I knew that I wasn’t actually executing the strategy we had. If I had, I was very confident that we would have actually got a response, but I wasn’t sending messages. I wasn’t showing up. I just didn’t feel there was this misalignment between and what I thought we were working towards, what we said we were working towards and what I was actually doing.
So that’s what you don’t want to be doing, because you’re really shooting yourself in the foot there. You’re again, creating a self fulfilling prophecy of killing off your business because you’re not even taking action. So either do it wholeheartedly, go full engines, all systems go, whatever the expression is, or stop now and then pivot to something else. And it’s important to realise that yes, it’s going to be painful. It’s going to be a lot of effort. You might have to scrap some things. You might feel like you’re taking a step back now, but taking that step back now, having that pain right now is going to prevent a whole lot more pain and misery later.
I’ve many times, I’m sure, quoted Stephen Covey, who wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, that it doesn’t matter how fast you’re going, if you’re heading in the wrong direction. So however successful your business is going to be, and it probably won’t be successful if you’re not particularly excited about it, and if it’s not the right business. There’s no point in having such a successful business if it’s not aligned to the way you want to live your life, if you’re not happy with it. And again, of course, if it’s not actually successful even financially. So, take the pain now to avoid a whole lot more pain later.
Now, I do also want to say, of course there is sort of a scenario where I guess you really want to pull the plug, so not pivot, not shift, not narrow, not evolve, but actually just go, “You know what? This is just not something I wanted to do at all.” And it could be that you’ve put in the time you’ve done the research, you’ve worked with a coach, you’ve done the pivoting and you’re still not making money, and that could be well, “You know what? There’s just something about this. The world isn’t ready for my genius or you know, there’s something about the market that just isn’t working.” Unfortunately, you draw a line under it and move on.
Or again, from a personal perspective, it’s really dragging you down and you just don’t feel again aligned to at all. And importantly you have something else that you know will be better. You’re excited about [inaudible 00:15:59], by the way again watching out for that sort of bouncing from idea to idea, but if this really is something that for months, you know, for a long time you’ve really felt clearly that, “No, I know this is not something I want to be doing. I have this other idea.” That’s also an opportunity to go, “You know what? This is gone. Delete. Start again.”
And then just finally a few thoughts on how to pivot effectively, which I guess is a whole episode in itself as ever. But a few things to think about of course, is making sure that you do the research, so make sure it is right and it’s not just a whim. So both for your own internal icky guy, you know the fact that yes, this really does fit with my personal definition of success. It does fit with my personal vision of how I want to live my life. Think about the pillar of five, as well, the work life integration. Is this type of client profile, this kind of product, service or delivery, is that going to fit around my life the way I want it to be? Can I be location independent? Can I work from home? Can I travel? Can I work X, Y, Z hours and so on? So, make sure it’s right for you.
And also of course, make sure that it’s not all these things that we’ve just pivoted away from. So it’s not an overly saturated market where you can’t stand out. It’s not really broad where you just have no sort of specific focus. You need to really do that work to narrow down your niche and understand who you’re going to work with, what’s your USP and how are you going to stand out. And you’ve got a really positive and ideally practical monetary response from prospects and clients and that you feel really aligned or passionate about. So make sure you do your research, make sure it’s right and it’s not just a whim.
Usually you already have. So unless you’re going to do something absolutely crazy, different use definitely the credibility. So people often ask me, “You know, can I use testimonials from this business when I’m launching ~this business?” Yes, of course. If there are… First of all, testimonials are about you as a person, so that gives your business credibility. You can extract the bits that are most relevant for you, maybe you were speaking before totally different topic, but that means that you’re a good speaker and it’s still very much relevant to the future business as well.
So, use what you already have in terms of testimonials, software strategies, all sorts, right? So try not to scrap everything and then finally make sure you’re not killing off an existing income stream that works before you have that new one.
So it could be such relief to, “Oh this isn’t working, boom.” And if it really isn’t working, of course you can kill it off easily, but if it is still contributing substantial amounts of income to your bank account, then you don’t want to kill that off before you have a new one. So you might need to temporarily juggle the two. You might need to sort of keep doing that, maybe less proactively. Stop getting new clients, but perhaps still… Well definitely keep delivering to the existing clients you do have. Keep doing a great job while you’re then building this new business because that takes time, all the things we always talk about about building the audience and building that credibility in the new area and so on is going to take time.
So yes, I know you’re impatient maybe to go off in this new direction, but as long as you still have money and still have clients, still have a network in this old area, then do keep that alive while you work on your new business as well. So that balance of course is tricky, but you just want to make sure looking at your week, and we’re going to be talking a lot about this work life integration in a few weeks time. But really look at how you’re structuring a week to make sure that you’re spending the right amount of time on both of those projects, both the existing income stream, which in a way should be a priority. And then, the new one as well that you’re gradually going to be pivoting towards. So, those are a few thoughts on how to know when to pivot in your business. I’d love to hear your thoughts and as ever, I’d love to invite you as well to a call if you’d like to discuss how you might be able to pivot your products and services, your niche to perhaps be more aligned with what you want to be doing and to have more meaningful success, more financial success as well. Thanks so much for listening and I’ll see you next week. Bye for now.
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