Two Stories (Issue 1110)

In which we are reminded that outward focus, a little diversification, and agility are critical in unsettled times.

Last week, I participated as a judge in a business pitch contest. Eight businesses, sales less than $1 million, participated; the winner received a grant of capital from the pitch contest sponsor.  As context for the eight presentations, the sponsors asked me to share some perspective on the small business environment.

I started with a wide lens: “The small business picture is mixed to negative at this point. Nationally, consumer demand has remained very strong through the first eight months of the year. At the same time, there are many challenges including inflation, interest rates, regulatory compliance, unsettled politics, continued supply chain challenges, and the labor market. Only 5% of businesses surveyed by the National Federation of Independent Business expect better conditions in the months ahead, and 48% expect worse conditions.  Clearly not an expansion.  Possibly, the expected recession. But that doesn’t necessarily seal your fate.”

And then I shared, “I started, Clarity, my firm, in the middle of a recession. And there were two experiences at that time that guided me as I developed the business through that recession and to what we have today.”

“The first was something a friend told me at a time when I was concerned about our survival. She said, ‘Nick, when you turn to the world and open your arms, it will welcome you.’ And from time to time, when our business fluttered, I followed her guidance – turn to the world, open your arms, and it will welcome you.”

“The second was an experience I had with another business owner, a farming family in England, west of London. Edward and Lynda. I was attracted to their farm by their bed and breakfast offer. Grand house, beautifully appointed, and Lynda provided spectacular breakfasts. We stayed a couple of days. As I got a chance to talk to Edward, I asked him how things were going with the farm.”

“’Very difficult, at the moment,’ he said.  He told me that farmers in the European Union were being subsidized to the extent that British agricultural products were a disadvantage.  So, I asked, ‘How are you dealing with that?’”

“Well,” he replied, “we raise grain, we have an orchard, we raise hogs and sell the bacon and other cuts of pork through a butcher shop in town, and we have a crafts business.”

He paused for a moment, then said, “When the horse is blind, sell the strength.”

“When the horse is blind, sell the strength. Don’t bet the farm on one product and, if the story you are telling isn’t selling, either change the emphasis in the story or find audiences that like the strength that you are selling.  Again, from time to time during the course of our business, I’ve  thought about all possible meanings of,  “when the horse is blind, sell the strength.”

So I wished them well, these eight entrepreneurs. “Again and again, turn to the world, open your arms, find people who want to hear the story you’re telling, and sell the strength.”

Nick Miller is President of Clarity Advantage based in Concord, MA. He assists banks and credit unions to generate more and more profitable relationships, faster, with business clients, their owners, and their employees through better sales strategies and execution. Additional articles on Clarity’s web site.

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