business building puzzle

I have been in the business world a long time. Sometimes working for companies, sometimes running my own venture. But, even when working for someone else I have been employed by smaller and mid-size companies. When you choose this path, you get intimately involved in the future of the organization and its success.

When that happens emotions run high (and low) depending on the many factors that make companies go round. Sometimes you are doing the fist pump like the Royals and Giants, and other times you are wondering how it can get so difficult.

The one factor that does not change when working for yourself, or for other small business owners - most of the future success is reliant on word of mouth advertising and referrals. Few small organizations have the advertising dollars to create impact through advertising like the big players in the market. 

That world belongs to the big players, national companies and multiple-national conglomerates. So, we small businesses rely on the people we know, meet, and do business with to spread the word with us. 

The same applies if you go into a sales role where you are doing a direct sales role either B2B or B2C. You have to talk with people and trust they will tell two people and so on and so on.

And therein lies one of the great mysteries and frustrations of business owners, people working in small business, and sales people alike. Why won't people you know use you?

I was having coffee the other day with another REALTOR® who went through the real estate course with us. He has found relative success in his career to this point, and he was relating his interesting stories thus far. He told of some of his challenges, most of which are a part of any learning curve in any industry. He also told of one of his frustrations - people he knows who didn't refer him or, worse, used someone else themselves.

He was visibly upset at this. I smiled and gave him a knowing smile and told him yes, "I know how you feel. It happens to all of us." After coffee, we parted. But it got me thinking too. Why is that?

When you start in business for yourself you anticipate your sphere of influence (SOI), your family, friends and neighbors will jump on your band wagon, and help you spread the word. Your business will take off, you will become the success you hoped for and life will be good.

The reality is most people you know will not spread the word with you. They will not tell their own separate SOI about you. Rarely will any of them talk you up even when given a 'perfect' opportunity to promote you. 

No. Most will become really good secret agents for your business. What do good secret agents do best? Keep secrets. 

Some will even use the competition, all while telling you how they will support your efforts.

You will get together over a coffee and in the course of conversation, they will tell you about their brother-in-law using a competitor, about their neighbor recently having a bad experience with another brand. Or worse, they will start bragging about their latest purchase - from a rival company.

You smile on the outside and, inside wonder "what the....??" 

You will go back home and wonder what the heck you are doing this all for. If your nearest and dearest won't support you, then how in the world are you going to get strangers to. If those that say they have your back won't help you succeed than how are you going to convince the rest of your market to?

Here is the reality. People who know you best, have also seen you at your worst. Sometimes they can't see past that. They can't visualize you succeeding. This often will come out in later conversations with a quiet whisper to you, "Are you really making a go of this business? How are you really doing? You can be honest with me."

The other fact is that most cannot refer anything that is not rooted in popular opinion. If it is not a national brand, a hit movie, or music that hits the radio waves, they will not refer it to someone they know. They don't want the risk that someone is going to criticize their referral. 

So what can you do when your best friend doesn't speak up for your business when they get the chance? What options do you have when they themselves choose a competitor over you?

Everyone's career path is different. Some choose entrepreneurship and sales while others choose large organizations and corporate structures. The end result in our hopes and dreams are not that dissimilar though. Earn enough income to pay the bills, see our children grow up with opportunity, and create some kind of retirement structure that allows a continued lifestyle.

When you choose to be your own boss, when you opt for a small company over large, when you jump into a sales position touting a product or service, you are choosing risk over security. Therefore you will need to take more risks.  And you will have to develop thicker skin.

Your options are simple. Speak up or toughen up and walk away. If you didn't get the business from a friend or relative who chose a competitor, ask why they didn't give you the opportunity. Be prepared for the answer. It may surprise you and will probably hurt you.

But they should understand, that your hopes and dreams are dependent on the success of your venture. If your service or product is good, stand up for it. Let them understand that your business is dependent upon the referral market and that you expect their support like they expect yours. If they would be there in the middle of the night if you needed them, then they should be there in the middle of the day when your business needs them.

Don't be a secret agent for your own company. 

Ultimately though, you will have to develop the chutzpah to move on and find those who will spread the word of your business. Find clients who will be happy to say what a great experience they received when they purchased something from your company and you will find success. Provide such great service so that those who give you a try, become a new part of your SOI. And prove to your old SOI that they should also use and support you next time they get the chance.

As well, be a good referrer. Support your SOI in their ventures. Give them what you are asking of them. That is how success is built. By people working to support each other in achieving their hopes and dreams.


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