When is a business not a business?

I recently went to a business event, where the speaker boldly proclaimed: ‘Let’s face it, unless you’ve built a business that you can walk away from for 6 months and it …

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15th June 2007 at 11:19 am

I recently went to a business event, where the speaker boldly proclaimed: ‘Let’s face it, unless you’ve built a business that you can walk away from for 6 months and it will still run without your day-to-day input, you haven’t got a business. . . you’ve got a job!’

I suppose for plenty of people in the first throes of building an infant business this might sound overly blasé. Plenty of business people who consider themselves successful, never attain the idyll of cultivating an operation that ‘runs itself’.

Nevertheless, the statement hit a nerve for me. I’ve met loads of people who proudly introduce themselves as ‘running their own business’. In fact I’ve been one of them! But scratch the surface and you’ll discover that they are simply working for themselves. Self employed. Otherwise known as ‘freelance’.

There’s a big distinction here. For me (and for plenty of others), there’s a giant leap between having a business with yourself as a sole trader, and getting into a situation where your business involves more work than you, alone can deliver. Cross this important line and you either get into shaky co-operative or partnership arrangements, or you bite the bullet and start to act like a real business – employing others.

But what I really want to talk about is how a marketing mindset plays a part of this distinction. When your ‘business’ is just you, it’s completely natural to feel ambivalent about your marketing. After all, marketing takes a tonne of effort and involves activities, such as planning, networking, writing and cold calling, that a lot of us don’t feel entirely comfortable doing. And of course doing all of this stuff takes your focus away from the ‘real’ doing – the raison d’être of your business. Add in the extra complication – do too well in your marketing and you’ll end up with too many customers. You won’t be able to fulfil all their needs. You’ll let em down. Or (god forbid), you’ll have to think about employing someone!!! Gulp!!

It’s an interesting conundrum. A lot of very small businesses want customers, yes. But they only want a nice, steady manageable stream of customers who ask for stuff, at the right time. Marketing can play a vital role in moving past this milestone – for those who are really in the business of building a business. For the others (and good luck to them – there’s nothing wrong with the idea of an idea of an easy life, even if the reality is probably far from easy), marketing will probably remain a grumbling devil on their shoulder, or a frequent feature on a long ‘to do’ list – an unwelcome distraction from their real ‘job’.

The moral? Marketing is a fundamental business activity, not an optional extra! Real entrepreneurs don’t put an immediate cap on their own imagined success. They will push through the pain barrier and put themselves in uncomfortable situations, if it means getting the customers that spell success for their business. And importantly they do tend to have ‘big picture’ plans. This may not include building their business to such a point that they can happily walk away from it for long periods at a time, but it will most probably involve a vision that sees them ‘running their business’, rather than their business running them!

Sara Scott

Sara is a marketing specialist with a wealth of on-line and traditional experience. With award winning credentials as an advertising writer, her career also spans the disciplines of planning and strategy for both B2B and consumer clients. Having worked for one of the the UK's biggest non-London agencies, Sara now works on a consultancy basis for clients large and small. http://www.smallbizpod.co.uk/blog

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