If you own, have worked for, or worked with a small business, chances are you’re familiar with the pivot. That is, the often-needed, sometimes-dreaded set of drastic changes that can help refine your business and attract new customers. There is a stigma around the pivot, that it’s an act of desperation, a last-ditch effort from a failing business to make things work. I’m hoping that I can string together enough coherent sentences to help convince the readers out there that, in fact, the business pivot is a freeing and liberating metamorphosis to undergo.
When working with our clients over the course of 2017, it became clear to us that those of our customers who were willing to abandon their preconceived notions about marketing and the digital space saw greater benefits, gained new perspectives, and more easily utilized the digital tools we equipped them with. That, in a way, is a pivot. There are many types of pivots, from removing parts of your business, to adding new ones, to even merely being willing to adopt a new outlook. Below we’ll dive into the (very) basic types of pivots a business is likely to see over the course of its life.
It’s about adding
That’s right, sometimes the pivot is the practice of addition. Not every time a business undergoes change does it mean they have cut something from their service offering, or remove one facet of their business model entirely. Often times, a pivot means adding something to your suite that can help refine your offering and meet your customers where they need you.
Take Starbucks, for example. The coffee slinging powerhouse we all know (and love?) today didn’t start out brewing and selling coffee. No, Starbucks actually began in the early ‘70s as a company that bought and sold just the beans themselves, alongside the occasional espresso maker. It wasn’t until the early ‘80s that Starbucks got determined to brew, stew, and sell the beans they bought, and when they did, the coffee giant had officially transformed into the multinational java conglomerate we know today.
The Takeaway: It’s ok to add. The pivot-by-addition is sometimes needed when you’re maybe only halfway to where your customers need you to be. Don’t be afraid to take a look at your business and ask if there are ways you can add to your offering to make your company more competitive.
It’s about subtracting
Just because you’re removing parts of your business, doesn’t mean your business didn’t work. The pivot-by-subtraction is usually the most humbling and liberating way to undergo change. Most often, it’s more than just a needed internal change. It signals a company’s willingness to be better, to abandon their preconceived notions about what should work for them, and instead focus on what will work for them. I personally have the utmost respect for small businesses that are willing to make this type of pivot. Let’s consider Flickr as our next example.
Flickr began in the early 2000s, strangely enough as an online game dubbed “Game Neverending”. In the game, users could traverse a digital map, chat and interact with other players, and build items inside an internal economy. It also included a photo sharing tool that was highly popular inside the game. Co-opting the success of the photo sharing tool, Flickr was born. All it took was subtracting the gamified portions of the application to arrive at an offering that matched their users' interests.
The Takeaway: There’s nothing wrong with subtraction. It means you care about your business, and possibly that you care more about your customers. If you understand that you need to remove parts of your “dream business” to make it more competitive, then you’re already more serious about your success than owners who are unwilling to make needed changes.
Conclusion: It’s about the mindset
Finally, it’s about mindset. Mindset is something we’re constantly trying to improve here at Blastcap. Starting out as a small corporate video production company, we’ve undergone our fair share of pivots over the last two years, ironing out ways we wanted to improve and add to our service offering and figuring out which parts of our old model just had no place in the marketplace. Far too often do business owners get into the mindset of, “it’s my dream, my business, and I’ll run it the way I think is right”. While sometimes that may work out, more often than not they’re a businessperson for the wrong reasons. If a founder is willing to go down with their failing, non-competitive ship, it means they are far more interested in an idea of success than in success itself.
We small business owners have a few things in common, chief of which is our desire to run a successful business. If you’re unwilling to make the pivots needed to make your company successful, then you’re following the wrong path.
Our final takeaway: Pivots are good, don’t be afraid of them. It means you understand what’s working and what’s not. There is more than one way to pivot. What’s important is being serious enough about your own success to see the chances in front of you.