Thursday, November 8, 2012

Paul Downs stops blaming the economy for his sales downturn

Paul Downs, writing in the New York Times You're The Boss blog, published a series of posts on dealing with a downturn in orders this year. The final post discussed Downs's coming to terms with his responsibility to solve the problem and not blame outside forces. This is the "sense of agency" and it comes up again and again in learning from mistakes (it's a key focus in Chapter 1 of the Mistake Bank book).

Over the last few years, I have made a conscious effort to find ways to get advice from other business owners. Writing this blog was the first thing I did, and I have found the feedback from commenters to be valuable. This year, in an effort to find a more focused set of advisers, I joined a Vistage business group. We meet once a month, and a portion of each meeting is devoted to analysis of business issues that each member presents. When a member of the group presents a problem, the other owners listen, ask questions and then suggest solutions.

Through the spring, I kept the group updated as my sales collapsed, and in May (as I explained in Thursday’s post), I told everyone that I felt like a victim of a bad economy. The thing was, nobody else in the business group was having such a hard time. Many of them felt the economy could be better but that conditions were still favorable. I seemed to be the only one who was suffering and the only one who thought that the problem was out of my control. One of the members told me bluntly: “I don’t want to hear any more about the Euro or health care or whatever excuses you come up with. This is YOUR problem, and YOU have to solve it.”

Excellent advice. Complaining hadn’t helped, upping my ad budget hadn’t worked, so I had to keep trying things until we either recovered or went under. But if it wasn’t an outside problem, then what could it be? It had to be something about my marketing, and that meant the problem was in AdWords. Once I decided the problem had to be there, I started looking at the data again to try to find a solution. But this time I approached my analysis with the conviction that the problem was something I had done — not something that was beyond my control.

Read Downs's post to learn what happened.

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