Successful? It might be time to replace yourself.

A few miles from my house there was a very successful Wal-Mart store.  It was in a great location and the parking lot was always packed. I had heard that this was actually one of the chain’s most successful stores.

So at first, it was surprising when Wal-Mart closed this store at the height of its popularity and opened a bigger store a few miles away. They were abandoning an extremely successful site, but with a very good reason.  They were re-inventing themselves. If they hadn’t opened up a grand new location, their competitors would.  If they hadn’t added new features and services, their competitor would be nipping at their heels with new innovations.

Replace yourself.

I think this is a powerful recipe for success.  While the retail chain might be best known for “every day low prices,” in fact their core competency is relentless and continuous process improvement. They are in a constant state of re-invention. Doesn’t it make sense to “replace yourself” instead of waiting for somebody else to do it?

This is a principle that needs to be applied to every business, both big and small.  Even me.

I have to admit that success had made me become a bit complacent with my business strategy.  When you’re embroiled in the day-to-day hurricane sometimes it’s difficult to think about the big picture and the prospect of re-inventing yourself and your business.

So I’ve been re-evaluating where I am and we’re I’m going.  Here are a few questions to consider in a strategic renewal:

“Only we …”

Can you finish that sentence?  It’s probably the hardest task in business but it’s absolutely essential because it unearths your points of differentiation, the nature of competition, the needs of your customers, and ultimately, your strategy. If you haven’t considered this in a while, has it changed?  Are you sure you are aligned with customer needs?  Are you continually improving and refreshing your core competencies?

Tune-in

If you haven’t spent time considering the changing needs of your customers, it might be time to get out and talk to them or do a survey.  While we’re focused on serving, it is often difficult to see what’s coming next.  In my corporate life, we had a formal “listen to the customer” exercise that helped us discover many new product ideas.

Scan the playing field

Are you watching for changing trends and innovations among your competitors?  Even in the fragmented and highly-competitive field of social media marketing, there are certain over-arching themes emerging. Are you ahead of the curve or behind the curve? Do you even know?

Revenue renewal

My business has changed dramatically int he past three years as evidenced by this comparison:

My work with SMB (small and medium businesses) has nearly come to an end.  This was a difficult transition and I had to make the hard decision to literally give away my valued customers (who have also become my friends) to another consultant.

Instead, I am focusing on enterprise-level customers. This is more in my comfort zone, better utilizes my background in organizational development and is more profitable.

I am also devoting more time to teaching in executive programs at Rutgers University.  This is rewarding work and it is a great experience to to be part of a social media “A Team” that includes CK Kerley, Glen Gilmore, Augustine Fou and many other notable faculty members.

Included in the “content creation” category is Social Media From Scratch Videos, my books, social media speaking engagements and other paid content. This is the fastest-growing area and now I need to figure out if something else has to “give” or if I continue to expand this area.

So I have been aggressively re-inventing my business model, and I’m not sitting still. I’m constantly re-assessing and shedding my business skin.

Application

With the speed of business today, we simply have no choice but to constantly re-invent our businesses and even replace ourselves.  I would be really interested to hear how you’re handling this transition. In the face of a busy work schedule, how do make re-invention a priority?  Is this post going to help give you a kick-start?

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  • Hi Mark, thanks for sharing this post! Your pie charts show something I’ve been more or less aware of as I moved from one job (and employer) to the next… The mix of activities shifts every time depending on what is needed from you. Without someone who basically tells you what’s expected of you, you really need to go out and ask them – be they your manager or your customers! And I have had to tell people in the past that yes, I could do something for them, but that was not where my strengths (or ambitions) lay. So far that hasn’t got me into (big) trouble 🙂

  • radiojaja

    i think this is a fascinating area!

    Like all successful marketing orientated people / businesses you’ve certainly reinvented yourself over the last few years, that’s not in doubt. But what has been the driver?

    Is it your experience and the understanding of the processes and the fundamental principles of marketing? Or is it your natural ability to spot and develop opportunity when it presents itself?

    Then given your understanding of marketing and OD etc,. Are you are able to frame your experiences in these terms, and consequently express and share with people the learns you have taken from your experiences.

    Does the experience and the training and the academic endeavor enable your development, or have you undergone intellectual development to enable your natural talents to emerge?

    Whatever, I am delighted your getting the success your hard work deserves – here’s to another three years of development and growth and another three years and so on!

  • Great insight Claudia. That was one of my biggest learnings as a small business owner — the things I hated to do! : ) Thanks for commenting!

  • No fair asking difficult questions! I would say that becoming a teacher in all I do is the primary driver of change for me. It is what I am meant to do. So that drives the blog, that drives the workshops, that drives the increasing teaching schedule.

    It is also probably what has driven the SMB work going down. If a business simply needs yardsigns or a new website, I’m not the guy. I like to work with businesses who are ready to go deep on the strategy, who are open to evolving in this digital world, and who have the leaders in place to actually execute. Also, I like working with companies who pay their bills on time : ) So working with larger companies seems to be a better fit for me right now because of the opportunities to teach and have an impact on a large scale.

  • Good counsel, and, I think, a good example of the tricky balance in being what you refer to as “authentically helpful. The post manages to both be useful and aspirational to me, your reader, and still throughly about you, the subject leader. It’s a good illustration of why I typically choose to replace the threadbare buzzword “authentic” with more simply descriptive words like “honest,” “straightforward,” and “real.” By being those three things (a trust you’ve built up with me over time via your writings and comment responses) you have the natural occasion to share numerous mentions of and links to your business activities without merely making the rest of us jealous (OK, envy can be a motivator,too).

  • Love this! My business model has remained the same, but the offerings
    have changed in response to client needs (and my own personal ick-factor
    regarding some projects).

    Personally I have become passionate about a few
    things that my current agency simply cannot focus on. So, instead of
    changing the agency direction or business model, I’m entering into a new
    business venture. This way my agency and clients will continue to grow,
    and I personally will grow. I admit – I’m attempting to mitigate the
    risk of satisfying a passion so as not to do it at the expense of
    existing clients, and keeping that revenue stream going … just in case.

    Kudos to you for recognizing where you need to be because it’s a better fit – for you and your clients.

  • Interesting observation Chuck. By keep in mind, i never mentioned if I’m actually making money or not : ) So you don’t know if you should be jealous or throwing me a life raft!

  • Thanks for the great addition to the conversation today Charlene!

  • Gettysburg Gerry

    Excellent message Mark, this goes much further than the “be flexible” thought process. I always take Oct, Nov, & Dec to take stock of where I, and my business is going, where it is changing etc. I like this idea of looking at my business from the vantage point of being an employee in my business. A whole different perspective.
    Nice job, however I don’t know how much longer I can continue to read your blog, all this thinking, work, and growing is really putting me out of my comfort zone.

  • Thank you Mark… Your exciting ‘kick-start” content today has caused me to look at how my business has evolved, and is progressively evolving. This has been, and is an educational, and experiential growth process of building on what is working by constantly making strategic business decisions based on current changes, and available choices!

  • This is an amazing post. Our Business Model changes even if we don’t plan it. I can see this happening right now, heading a bit more into communications, like the chart you made, last year and this year are different, and we are growing.

    The speed of business and the constant change in our different clients and their needs make this happen, we gotta go with the flow, yes. But it is better if we apply a strategy here.

  • Oh yes. I do like to hear that!!! Thanks Gerry!

  • Isn’t that the fun part, though? Trying to figure out how to bob and weave through the business labyrinth? I can also be a little nerve-wracking. For a small business person like me and you, not much room for error!

  • A delicate balance, isn’t it? Making it happen versus “being happened to.” If that makes sense. You said it so much better Luis! Hope things are grand in Montreal. Hope to get up to see you soon!

  • Life, for me, is a series of re-inventions. Cheers! Kaarina

  • Indeed, totally agree!

  • Funny that you, too, should mention this now. It was just yesterday that I read Robert Dempsey’s blog post The Wide Chasm Of Difference Between Freelancer And Entrepreneur coinciding with my own thoughts on where I should go from here. You’re not making it easier, you know… 🙂

  • Loved this post, Mark. Sometimes we as business owners get so stuck in the same model we forget to take time out to reflect and assess where we’ve been and where we could be going. I’ve seen my business transition so much in the last 24 months I would never have believed it. Some of it has come from my own strategy, reacting to the market, but some of it has been customer driven. Be open to requests from customers. Sometimes new areas to develop into are right at th eend of your nose but you’re just not seeing them.

  • On second thought, I’d prefer to chalk it up to admiration, rather than jealousy, choosing to project on you an appreciation of success that transcends (but doesn’t ignore) the not-so-almighty dollar. Don’t disappoint me now 🙂

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  • How fitting and timely this article is. There are many people faced with the requirements to change right now due to economy, some people who haven’t experienced change as well. It cannot be easy for all. But the best course of action on this is to embrace change and as you said, understand it and find solutions for it. Even if those aren’t easy tasks, the outcome will inevitably be more favorable if change is accepted. Thank you.

  • radiojaja

    Excellent answer!

    So maybe it is your nature as a teacher, that has driven the nurturing you’ve undertaking to suport it? As well as the rather more pragmatic evolution of your business

    I think lots of ‘great people’ (compliment intended) are one thing to an extreme, and knowing you as I do, ‘teacher’ would certainly be an apt label.

    Its amazing that ‘specialising’ in this way allows for such growth. Your general excellence, and that of others in similar positions is driven by this fundamentally excellent thing about yourself. 🙂

    For instance, and randomly, I love that great sales people can succeed in marketing (or lots of other areas) and great presenters can become radio station executives and great writers and great speakers and as you say, great teachers can all expand outwards through their functional speciality

    loved this post, thanks Mark

  • Mark,

    You’re willingness to give up current revenue with the foresight to understand you can fill that gap and more with preferred revenue sources is a testament to you as a business professional.

    Congrats buddy.

    Hanley

  • It was a tough call giving up customers I love!

  • We must embrace the change … especially in this field!! Thank you very much for commenting Cijaye. I think this is your first time to comment? Welcome!

  • I had an entrepreneur friend tell me that his company changes every three months! When you’re just starting out, even a new customer can change everything, can;t it? Thanks for sharing your wisdom Jon!

  • Basically, my goal in life is make things difficult for you Kimmo! So I love that feedback : )

  • And that is a great life skill my friend!!!

  • My business in mainly around consultancy/training/products in Ireland but I’m transitioning to an international business based around products – information and software.

    Scalability is my favorite word. I want a scalable business not one that is restricted by the amount of hours I have in the day. Prior to Social Media/Digital Marketing I’ve 20 years experience in the software industry so it makes sense to consider both!

    The re-invention is an absolutely priority where I dedicate as much time as possible on a daily basis and I’ve started refusing some work that distracts me from my longer term goals.

    Thought provoking article!

    Ian

  • And as if that wasn’t enough, today I run into Johnny B. Truant’s How Comfort Is Killing You.

    I think all this means something. A little like when you’ve bought a new car, you suddenly start seeing the same make and model everywhere in traffic. Someone’s trying to tell me something.

  • Interesting example about Wal-Shark above. They actually do that as a way to kill off all local businesses. It might look like a great thing to you, but to the communities where they’ve closed 3 smaller stores and opened one large one, the vacant ones sit vacant and cannot be used for anything else – thus, taking up valuable land as well as having already done their job of killing off all local business when they opened and ran for a while. It’s capitalism at its worst.

    Otherwise, great article, thanks. and howdy to my alma mater, Rutgers! A great place.

  • Excellent post, it really is amazing how transition occurs.

    Looking at your pie chart example, the number of customers I now serve has shrunk since 2009. It has become more profitable to work more closely with less customers, both for them and myself.

    While reducing the number of clients being served, may seem to be going backwards, its actually due to a realisation that spreading work over more clients produces OK results, working closely with 3 or 4 produces great results!

    Insightful article, thanks.

    Richard

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  • Thanks for sharing your insights so generously as always Mark.

  • I agree about the importance of re-invention…
    .
    ? Started out as a mechanical engineer, and got concerned w/how often they got laid off
    ? Became a liason between engineering and software dev team to write an app
    ? Got frustrated w/dev team deliverables, so became a software developer
    ? Had one of my enterprise apps get re-dev’d in a toolset I wasn’t interested in learning
    ? Focused on data architecture/modeling
    ? We decided to add business intelligence to our offerings, so I focused on data warehousing, data integration, semantic layer, and data visualization
    ? We decided to use our software dev and BI expertise to write a monitoring/sentiment analysis product…so I became a blogger and monitoring/sentiment analysis champion

    Somewhere along the way, I’ve done my share of business analysis, project management, executive/leadership, and speaking. It has been an *exciting* career! The first line in my LinkedIn profile is “I am what I need to be…”

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  • In the middle of this, to a certain degree. I’ll let you know a year from now, how it’s going. Thanks Mark.

  • I hope you don’t take THAT long to check in! : )

  • Mark this was my very first comment on your site yes. I am glad to see you noticed! 🙂 Impressive.

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