Are you a creative person with bold vision? Or an analytic type, happy to pour over numbers in search of ways to generate greater profits?
If you own a business, you likely lean towards one end of the spectrum or the other. Rare is the entrepreneur who is as good with the creative aspects of marketing as she is with accounting and finance.
But businesses need both to thrive — especially if growth is a goal. Unfortunately, many business people start out focused on what they love while paying too little attention to the aspects of the business that are of less interest (but equal importance).
A few months ago, a client came to me with an idea for a textile business. Her hand-crafted throw pillows and blankets were stunning and well-made; you could imagine them on the shelves of exclusive home goods stores. But when we started discussing pricing, it became clear that she enjoyed the creative part so much that she forgot to factor in the cost of materials or the time she spent on each piece.
At the rate she was going, she would be in the hole from the outset.
“After I timed myself and added in the cost of the materials, I realized I had sharply underpriced my products,” said Astrid Lewis, founder of Sugar Weather Textile. “The math forced me to decide what type of market I was going after and where and how to position myself.”
I have also often heard the opposite story — businesspeople who are great at finding ways to increase their margins but lack interest in branding.
For example, Lila, the owner of a food delivery business, called me complaining that she hated marketing. After plunking down $2,000 for a marketing course, she finally came to terms with the fact that no matter how much she spent, she was not going to do the work.
Being honest with oneself is important. The reality, though, is that honesty is not enough. Both sides of a business need to be tended in order to grow. Without marketing, Lila’s business could not reach its potential any more than Astrid’s could grow without the right pricing structure.
Fortunately, business owners have options to compensate for their weaknesses.
Hiring someone to fill a position is, of course, a good solution. But for many small business owners, the cost may be prohibitive. In that case, business owners can contract with specialty consultants to assist them with challenging aspects.
The key is not just to delegate the responsibility, but to make sure the consultant understands the business and its goals. For example, most web developers can build you a website, but you want to make sure that the one you select has a deep understanding of your aspirations and can provide solutions geared toward achieving them.
Try not to get sucked in by low cost or big promises. Before hiring someone, do a lot of research and vet people offering various options. While it may be tempting to bring on a consultant and then turn your back, you need to manage your consultants, pay close attention, and have clear markers for success.
If hiring and outsourcing do not sound like attractive options, consider a partnership. The trick is to find a partner whose skillset complements your own and who shares your vision. If you are creative, go for someone who loves to build systems and evaluate data, or vice versa. In addition, you should discuss your vision for the type of company and your exit strategy. If one partner wants to go national while the other wants to stay local, it won’t work.
Missy Koo and Stacy Cole are a good example of a beautiful partnership. Missy Koo, a former handbag designer, is a creative mastermind who gets branding. Meanwhile, Stacy, a former CFO of an aerospace company, is a numbers gal with a love of creating systems.
Together, they formed Brooklyn Piggies, a food company that aims to turn everyone’s favorite hors d’oeuvres – pigs in a blanket – into an artisanal snack food.
“We knew we were doing more than making artisanal pigs in a blanket; we knew we wanted to build a national brand,” says Koo. “And we also agreed on our exit strategy – to eventually sell the company. Having a clear goal gave us the focus, clarity, and direction.”
The combination of skills appears to be a recipe for success. Koo used her branding expertise to create a stall at a Brooklyn food fare that within three weeks caught the Oprah folks’ attention and led to a coveted spot on her 2012 favorites list. This drove national demand, putting Coles’ strategic planning skills to the test in building out manufacturing and distribution systems.
Two years later, Brooklyn Piggies can be purchased online, in retail outlets, as well as Madison Square Garden in New York and Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas.
“A partnership gave me the opportunity to share the journey with someone who is equally driven,” says Koo. “We are able to celebrate the successes and manage the challenges together.”
Jennifer Friedlin is owner of Iris7 Marketing, a small venture marketing consultancy, and founder of Small Business, Big Dream™, a 7-step program that helps entrepreneurs get on track for serious growth.