Four Essential Business Lessons

We recently completed our first $100 competition here at SmallBizBee.com, and while giving out money is fun, I think what we can all learn from the exercise and then apply to our businesses is even more valuable.

The rules were simple, submit one 500 word (or more) article that was related in some way to small business or entrepreneurship, we run it on the site for 24 hours, and whoever got the most page views in that time wins. What could we possibly learn about business from a competition so remedial?  Actually, quite a lot!


 

Business Skills Learned from our $100 Competition

1.  You have to grab it if you want it

Essentially this competition was a marketing competition.  While the quality of content provided was quite good, it was not a factor used in deciding who the winner was.  As long as your content was on target for subject matter, you were entered, and stood just as good of chance of winning as any other entrant. Since the competition was decided by who got the most page views, how you marketed your content  made all the difference.  In essence all you had to do to win our $100 was to grab it…if you really wanted the money, you just had to take it by using every outlet available to get people to our web site and click on your article.  Leveraging all of your social networks, and driving them to our website could have made you $100 richer. What wasn’t going to make you richer was hoping you had done enough to get people to our website and click your article. The same holds true in business.  If you want customers, you have to grab them. You need to use all advertising and marketing outlets available to you to get customers to do what you want them to do. It’s not enough to create a great product, or launch a great service and then sit back and hope that customers will come. Real life is nothing like the movie “Field of Dreams”, if you build it there is nothing to guarantee they will come.

2. Don’t set parameters for yourself that don’t actually exist

Our lives are naturally filled with structure and parameters so it’s no wonder that thinking trickles over to our businesses.  The same held true in this contest, and let me give you an example. In the competition we gave no parameters for how you could market your content, yet when I asked one entrant if they had sent anything out to their Twitter followers letting them know their article was live they first responded with “I didn’t know you could do that”.  We had never said they couldn’t yet they automatically put parameters around what was an okay method of getting the word out.They were not alone, I think a few of our entrants felt the same way and as such didn’t market their article to the fullest because they had set parameters for themselves as to what was acceptable that we had never considered. When you set artificial parameters for yourself in business it could end up costing you a lot more than $100. Some parameters are naturally set in stone such as legal or moral constraints, but outside of that don’t automatically assume you cannot do something until you’ve investigated whether or not you can or can’t. I’ll give you another example.  When myself and a business partner were promoting an event last year I wanted to had out informational fliers during a festival downtown that was advertising our event.  I wasn’t planning on setting up a booth, just milling around with the crowd, handing out information, and talking to as many people as I could. My business partner immediately started in with “I don’t think we can hand out fliers there, the organizers would frown on that since they would probably want us paying for a both at the event. It might even be trespassing or something…” He went on, and on explaining why we couldn’t market in that fashion without ever checking into it.  Long story short, I called the organizers, told them what we were up to, and they had absolutely no problems with it. We made some great contacts that day, and it would have never happened had I let my partner’s imaginary parameters become reality.

3. Always analyze the value exchange

In our contest, as well as in business, there was a value exchange.  What were you being asked to give, and what were you getting in return? Being able to analyze the value exchange quickly and efficiently is a critical skill, albeit a learned one, that will help you make value added decisions for your business. Basically we were offering $100 for only 500 words. Anyone who writes content for a living knows that’s a pretty good deal (works out to .20 per word), and should be able to figure out the value exchange is in their favor quite quickly.  Another way to look at it was, how quickly can you write a 500 word article? If it takes you 1/2 hour and you win, we’ve just paid you $200 per hour for your time. Again, most of us would be willing to work for $200 per hour.  In these examples the value exchange was easily analyzed and it was apparent that it was in favor of the author. Where the value exchange gets muddier is when you begin to look at the opportunity cost of writing the article versus what you could have been doing instead. Let’s say you would have needed to take an hour of your day to write our article and that time could have spent with a client instead. They pay you $100 per hour, so by writing our article you stand to gain $100 but you loose the $100 you would have billed out. It should only take you a second to figure out a guaranteed $100 from the client is much better than a chance at $100 by working with us.  Getting good, and quick, at analyzing value exchanges is a principle you’d be wise to learn, as you and your business are faced with these decisions countless times a day.

4. Don’t let yourself stand in your way

This dovetails somewhat with #2, but  deals more with what you think yourself capable of.  Six people in total submitted articles to this competition, which means off the top each had a 16% chance at $100. If you were given a free spin on a  wheel for a $100 and you had a 1 in 6 chance of winning, would you?  I think all of us would jump at that chance, yet what held most people back in this competition was not the odds of winning it was what they thought they were capable of. It was as if they didn’t think they had the strength to spin the wheel.  From those that didn’t enter I heard comments such as “I was going to enter, but I don’t think I’d win”, or “I’m not a very good writer so I didn’t submit anything”.  We already determined this was a marketing competition more than a writing competition, so the(perceived) skill as a writer shouldn’t have held anyone back.  The number one reason that people didn’t enter this contest was due to what they thought they were capable of, more than anything based in reality.  Even in a medium as anonymous as the Internet the fear of failing, not winning a competition that they didn’t pay any money to enter, and being “judged” by people they’d never meet, made not trying at all seem like the viable road to take. Make sense? It doesn’t to me, and it shouldn’t to you, especially if you want to run a successful business.  Get out of your own way, ignore all the prejudices you have against yourself, and remove thoughts from your head about what you are capable of if you want to start and grow a business in a big time way. 

 


Summary

We ran a very simple contest, and the above business lessons we learned are themselves worth the $100 we gave away. What we hope to illustrate in this post is not only what the key lessons were from our little competition, but that you can learn a lot about yourself and become better in business by analyzing and reviewing the endeavors you choose to participate in and those that you don’t. We’ll run many more competitions here at Smallbizbee.com, and each will have a focus that will lead the participants to success. The strategy with this one happened to be marketing and networking in order to drive behavior, and we promise the others will be as straightforward.  What we won’t do is lead you to the right (winning) strategy, but we will be sharing the business lessons learned after the fact, which should prepare you not only to win the next competition but to be a better business owner as well. 

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