It may seem that landing that New York Times interview, getting featured on the front page of AOL or winning a $135,000 business contest means that, as a business owner, you are set for life. In truth, it’s just the beginning.
As business owners and entrepreneurs, we’re all working toward that big break but rarely stop to think … what comes next? While getting your moment in the spotlight is an amazing opportunity for a business currently struggling for clients, visibility or cash flow, what you don’t read in the news or hear about in that 2-minute TV spot is the very real struggle entrepreneurs face to capitalize on the attention those opportunities bring.
When your business receives a publicity boost, here are some simple steps you can take to maximize the advantage.
Lesson 1: Stay focused on the goal (and know what it is in the first place).
Understanding what your business needs most is an on-going question, but you must have clarity about the outcome you desire before a breakthrough happens.
When Rapid Ramen cooker creator Chris Johnson applied to be showcased on the TV show “Shark Tank,” he had already learned a product fulfillment lesson the hard way.
Though it was Johnson’s goal to see his product sold throughout the country, he wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of orders when local KCRA-TV coverage went viral on AOL, resulting in 3,000 sales — at Christmas. In fact, he was so ill-prepared that he ended up having to manually enter credit card numbers for over 3,000 purchases.
Fulfillment was a problem too. “While we had the inventory, it was my wife standing in line at the post office with bags full of cookers to get them shipped in time,” Johnson says.
Likewise, Andy Paul of Andy’s Candy didn’t know what to expect when, in spring of 2013, he submitted his application for the inaugural Calling All Dreamers contest in Sacramento.
“There were so many unknowns at the time, since we were a brand new business with no retail space or access to business support services,” he says.
Without ever having occupied a retail space, stocking the store for popular holidays was a complete unknown for Paul.
“While we talked to other stores and their insight was helpful, we simply didn’t know how much stock was needed until we opened, and we’re still learning,” he says.
It’s hard to hit a moving target without clarity, so whether you are seeking sales, new long-term clients, a sponsorship or investors, get crystal clear on the logistics so you can accept the opportunities that align with your goals.
How to keep the clock ticking: When your goal is sales, getting your moment in the spotlight can highlight inventory management problems or gaps in your sales process. If fulfillment is a concern for your business, try this simple exercise: Pretend 10,000 new orders come in today. Where do you need the most support to deliver to your customers?
Lesson 2: Don’t ride the wave of success, paddle through it.
It’s tempting to sit back and think, “Wow, I’ve made it!” But if you need to work just as hard to capitalize on the big break you have because another one is not guaranteed to be sitting around the corner.
Even in the midst of the “enormous headache” of opening a retail store and managing construction, building codes and a budget, Paul kept saying yes to publicity.
“Every time we got a call to do radio or TV spots we’d say yes, recognizing that it’s not going to go on forever,” he says. “This was one of the smartest things we did, and that free advertising is still valuable. Shoppers come into the store up to six months after seeing us in those spots, so we know they make an impression.”
The Rapid Ramen team knew that being featured on “Shark Tank,” the popular show that pairs up-and-coming entrepreneurs with potential investors, would be a boon — and possibly just the beginning. They prepared by stocking up inventory, creating new sales systems and maxing out their website’s bandwidth. To avoid bottlenecking at the post office, they hired a fulfillment partner, and it all paid off.
While the initial success was great — to the tune of 40 orders a minute when the show aired — it’s been the agreements with retailers such as Wal-Mart, Target and CVS that have propelled Johnson’s new goal of “a Rapid Ramen cooker in the hands of every ramen noodle consumer worldwide.”
How to keep the clock ticking: Look back and learn from past mistakes — but don’t forget to look forward and align your goals. It’s not uncommon to receive thousands of requests, so developing criteria for the opportunities you will accept can save lots of time.
Lesson 3: Stay grateful and gracious.
Realizing the dreams you have for your business are coming true can bring elation and, unfortunately, haters and naysayers. Public opinion can quickly turn from “good for her” to “look who’s too big for his britches” in short order.
It’s a tricky balance to celebrate the success while working toward goals and staying grounded and humble. Negative feedback can make an already turbulent time harder to manage.
Johnson remembers clearly the first email he received, from “anonymous,” after the local news story aired on KCRA. “It said, ‘This is the stupidest thing ever, and you’ll never make a dime!’ Those words rocked me emotionally,” he says.
While some people will always hate your idea, service or product, knowing that they are in the minority doesn’t make it easier to handle.
I clearly remember picking up the New York Times on Labor Day weekend in 2012 to find a story about my company was on the front page of the business section. While surreal, you’d think such a feature would translate into a congratulatory celebration, accolades galore or a boon in clients.
Instead, the interview and photo shoot was barely a blip on the radar of my business, and reactions were mixed at best. While some colleagues and customers were happily supportive, the green-eyed monster appeared on a few occasions. The article featured a local client of mine, and others asked me more than once why they had not been included as well.
More so than outright hostility, often the aftermath of a big success is disappointment. At times, even quiet gratitude feels like you’re talking to an empty room, where no one cares or wants to share in your achievement. Snide remarks like, “Well that’s nice, I guess,” or “It’s not that big of a deal” can be cutting.
How to keep the clock ticking: If you stay focused on your goals, maintain a willingness to work and gracious humility, your big break doesn’t have to include a breakdown. Learn how to filter through the noise and take only constructive criticism seriously. Use that to build on your success and make your business or product better.
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