February 1, 2022

Adapting Your Business Idea… Nobody Gets It Right From The Start

The catchword for adapting your business idea is “pivot”. I sort of hated this word years ago because I interpreted it as bending to whichever way the business-winds were blowing. I actually have grown to like it though, but the pivot has to be within reason. The idea here is that you come to market with an idea/business, but, when necessary, you pivot (adapt) the idea so it fits into the vision and market you are either trying to create or compete in. Some pivots can be small tweaks, while others can be profound. Be careful of the profound changes. Here’s why:

When you adapt/pivot the idea, make sure you are still doing what you love, and that it still holds excitement for you. If it is, keep going! If it differs a lot, then you need to make sure you still want to do it. An easy analogy would be that if you started out to launch a high-end butcher business, but somehow end up becoming a vegetable stand with a few hamburger patties, you had better make sure you are OK with that. You may also realize that what you really loved was providing food (meat, veggies, et cetera) to customers, and it was not really about strictly high-end meats.

I’ll provide an analogy closer to home for me. Back in the early days of my original startup I had the opportunity to pivot from my original idea of a membership-based benchmark business (clients sign up for one- and two-year memberships worth $75,000 per contract) into a project-based consulting business with the potential for 7-figure projects. After some thinking and soul-searching about the pivot, I decided to stick with a membership business, and stuck with smaller contracts in favor of a more stable, predictable, and enjoyable business. If I went with the 7-figure consulting business I would have hated it and failed at it! I wanted to develop a complex, information-based business model in which I would work with clients over many years and really get to know them deeply, and thus provide ongoing advice and help. I was not interested in, or good at, one-and-done projects with clients – even if they would have been multi-million-dollar projects. I had been in consulting models before in which we would do a large, expensive project and move on, and I did not like it at all. Some pivots are not good ideas because they take you away from what you love.

To summarize, always consider adapting, but don’t ever ditch the core ideals of your business and what you love to do. And to help, here are some keys to adapting/pivoting when you are still early in the business:

Listen, listen, listen (to prospects and clients … and some outside advisors as well). Listening is the hardest thing to do sometimes. Let’s face it: you are proud of your idea, and you’re dying to tell people about it. You’re dying to get it all out on the table, cutting them off (hopefully politely) when they interrupt with objections. Resist the tendency to defend the idea when it feels like it is coming under attack. Resist the “solve-and-sell” reflex, where you try and answer every objection by trying to force the idea.

Instead, listen to the objections, and ask good, open-ended questions. I personally also like to ask people to numerically rate things (1 being crappy and 10 being unbelievably good) so that it forces them into a definitive position. This also forces me to hear the number, versus me selectively hearing good or bad things. There have been times when I thought I was getting good feedback, asked for a rating, received a 3, and said, “Oh, my, I thought this was good, but it wasn’t.”

Here are some open-ended questions to ask, and as described, I would ask for a numerical rating to enhance your feedback and potentially advance/pivot your idea:

  • How would you rate the idea?
  • Would you invest in this if you were a judge on Shark Tank?
  • Have you seen anyone else try this? Who/which company?
  • What works about it? What does not?
  • What is the worst thing about this idea?
  • Does this compete with anything you are aware of?
  • If you could change a few things about it to make it better, what would you do?
  • What is the best thing about this idea?

Another good mindset to have in this phase is to stay problem focused (versus solution focused). As long as you can, when you are in the “adapting” mode (which might last for a while), and while you are finding/creating your market, stay focused on the client’s business gaps and problems, and continue to ask a lot of questions. You can always design how to fix it, but you only get a few chances to really listen and focus on the problem.

The last thing worth mentioning is to try and get some advice from thoughtful, honest advisors. By taking the time to speak with people on the outside looking in, you will often get a few pearls of wisdom that will help you advance the idea.

First featured on Forbes.com