Monday, April 05, 2010

4 Questions That Will Help You Reinvent Your Business

4 Questions That Will Help You Reinvent Your Business

Q: Steve – I saw you on TV discussing how a woman who owned a cookie business reinvented it by tapping the wholesale market. In this economy, I bet there are a lot of people who would like to reinvent their business, but going wholesale is not a viable option. I am a lawyer for instance. So how do the rest of us reinvent our business? – William

A: I bet that if you think about it, the business you have today is different than the business you thought you would start or the business you actually started. When I began my law firm back in the day, I only had a vague idea about the sort of law I would practice. Wills & Trusts maybe, personal injury perhaps. I knew that helping people start businesses – incorporation and the like – was certainly on the menu, but beyond that I was not sure.

Then one day, about a month after I started, the manager of the classified section of the local paper (back when papers had classified sections!) changed my life. Our conversation went something like this:
He: "Would you like to place an ad in the classified service directory?"

Me: "Sure, I guess. But I am not sure what sort."

He: "If you want the phone to ring, place a bankruptcy ad."

Me: "Um, well. OK. .. sure!"

With a new business to launch and a family to feed, getting the phone to ring was paramount. The ad manager was right and bankruptcy became about half of my practice after that.
The point is this: In the start-up phase of a business, entrepreneurs are more apt to be flexible, try new things, adapt, and go with the flow. What I would like to suggest today is that, in this economy, that attitude just might need to be revisited.

Here's a more famous example: Apple Computers used to just make computers, right? But then in 2003 it introduced the iPod and the iTunes store. Suddenly, Apple was no longer simply in the computer business. By reinventing itself and going into the music business, Apple's market capitalization went from $1 billion in 2003 to more than 100 times that by the end of the decade.
Similarly, back in the 1990s, Volkswagen was a fairly stagnant business, but two of their design engineers had an idea that they thought could revive the company's fortunes. Working secretly and with a secret budget, they re-imagined the legendary Beetle, a car that had been out of production for over a decade. VW eventually bought in even though it was a risk: Would it seem as if they were looking backwards and nor forwards? Volkswagen introduced the car in 1998, it was a runaway hit, and in the process, reinvented itself as a hip harbinger of retro chic. Sales soared.

In the TV spot the reader asked about, the cookie maker started courting wholesale customers when the economy hit choppy waters. Personally, I think the fact that she went into wholesale was almost beside the point; the important thing is that she was willing to reinvent her business and go after the money.

Any business can do that.

It could be that the money is in selling your stuff to the government. Maybe it is offering your wares to corporate clients. Maybe the green market would be more lucrative for you. The thing is, that creative spark you had when you were just starting out should be nurtured and fostered. Take a smart, prudent risk.

Your own reinvention can yield your own business homerun. These questions will help you figure it out:
1.What if I was just starting out? Pretend you are just starting in business again. What sorts of ideas might you try?

2.What would be fun and exciting? Successful business reinvention usually occurs when the entrepreneur taps a new idea that gets the creative juices flowing.

3.Where is the opportunity? You know your industry as good as anyone. Where is it being underserved? Can you fill that gap? Gap fillers are money makers.

4.What can I offer that is different? You don't have to be an innovator to be a successful re-inventor but it doesn't hurt.

Today's tip: Think you have a great business? Then you might want to enter the Eighth Annual American Business Awards. There are all sorts of categories of awards, and small businesses (companies with fewer than 100 employees) have their own – best company, most innovative, etc. The 2010 entry deadline is March 31.

Ask an Expert appears Mondays. You can e-mail Steve Strauss at: And you can click here to see previous columns. Steven D. Strauss is a lawyer, author and speaker who specializes in small business and entrepreneurship. His latest book is The Small Business Bible. You can sign up for his free newsletter, "Small Business Success Secrets!" at his website —

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