If you’ve followed my Business Coach blog for awhile, I hope you’ll agree that I’m not given to hyperbole. I’m not much of a fan of sweeping generalizations and statements that can’t be backed up by fact. So if I’m going to come out and say that something is the worst ever, you can bet it’s either really bad or I’m upset about something.
I suppose it’s a little bit of both here. Lately I’ve been dealing with business owners, both photographers and non-photographers alike who seem to have fallen prey to the same bad advice. The more I began to think about it, the more I realized that this advice – really more a way of thinking – is prevalent in the minds of most new business owners. So just what is this insidious mindset that has me so riled up?
“Build it and they will come.”
As you may remember, this line entered the national consciousness with the movie Field of Dreams where the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson tells Kevin Costner’s character that if he builds a baseball field in a corn field, people will come to see these old players play baseball. Build it and they will come has sort of been a mantra ever since.
Forget About Better Mousetraps Too
It made for a good movie and an easy to repeat soundbite that far too many of us have taken to heart. Its cousin is the old saying, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” Basically, both axioms instruct us to build a great product, then sit back to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Both imply that the hard work is done once the product is created and ready for sale.
The reality unfortunately is that there are many dozens of better mousetraps – something like 250 or so on the Home Depot website – but we still all buy the same old mousetrap where you lay down the cheese and set the trap. (Watch your fingers!) A better mousetrap has been built over and over – but few of us are buying it.
It’s not just mousetrap builders that fall into the build-and-they-will-come trap. Just up the road from me is a new restaurant that invested $800,000 in a remodel of their their location – but their tables are empty at lunch and dinnertime. They have a new space and great food; the owners are now wondering – where are are all the people?
I just heard from a new photographer who’s accumulating new gear to start her wedding photography business. Once she has a few more lenses and a website, she’ll be ready for business to start rolling in. Unfortunately, right about the time that she flips the switch on the website, she’ll realize that succeeding in the business requires a lot more than a camera bag filled with gear.
Even an experienced photographer like myself falls victim to this trap. After a website redo and a body of new work, where are all the clients that should come calling on me? (You’re welcome to click over to the latest iteration of the John Mireles Photography website.)
Setting our Sights Short
The “build it and they will come” ethos is born of and reinforces our desire for immediate results. Building the infrastructure for our businesses – buying camera gear and shooting pretty photos – is the easy (and fun) part. When we buy into this idea of “build it and they will come,” what we’re really doing is setting our sights far too short of the finish line.
Let’s stick with that finish line analogy for a moment. Imagine yourself training for a 26.2 kilometer race. You train at increasingly long distances until you’re ready at race day to run the full distance. On race day, you take off and give it your all. You’re doing great and ready to cross the finish line as you come upon the 26th kilometer. You’re sure you’ve got the race in the bag!
But when you get to the 26.2K mark, you find there’s no finish line to mark your triumphant feat. Stunned, you ask a nearby official what’s up? The friendly woman with the yellow shirt gives you a funny a look as she informs you that the finish line is at the 26.2 mile mark, another 16 kilometers up the road. Your head sinks to your chest.
At that point, you’re faced with a choice: give up or somehow limp along to the finish line, neither being the outcome you’d hoped for. Had you known the actual length of the race, you would have trained for it and you’d have run the longer distance. Because you were not prepared however, you got frustrated and and didn’t achieve the finish you’d hoped for.
The reason why “build it and they will come” is the worst advice in my book is because it creates the impression that, much like the runner training for too-short a distance, the work required to be successful is much less than reality actually demands. When we get to what we think should be the finish line, we quickly grow frustrated and wonder what went wrong when success isn’t there waiting for us.
Does that sound familiar? If you’re like me, you’ve at some point set a goal to create something with your business – be it start it up, work at a higher price-point or enter a new market – and then either give up or make a mess of things when events didn’t go according to your timeline. Perhaps you revamped your website with a new template and new images in the hopes of acquiring a higher paying clientele, but, when the phone didn’t ring for a month, you quickly dropped your prices back down. (Meanwhile, you probably complained about how the market was too cheap to support your prices.)
Maybe the market is too cheap, but more likely the problem was that redoing the website was only the start of your efforts. Along with “building it,” you needed to invest time and money into months of serious marketing. It’s not enough to have a great product; the right people need to know about it. The only way that can happen is through extensive and repeated marketing. There are no two ways about it: effective marketing takes effort, money and time to pay off.
In reality, what we should be telling ourselves is “Build it, market the hell out of it – and then they will come.” That extra bit unfortunately doesn’t roll off the tongue so easily. It is however, essential.
So, the next time you’re planning out your business, factor in plenty of extra time and money into your equations. What you thought might take two or three months will likely take a year – or two. Be ready for the long haul. I’ve yet to see any business opportunity that could be won as a sprint. We’re all running a marathon here – one that lasts the full 26.2 miles. Prepare accordingly!