Pivoting On Your Business Model


Hmmm, pivoting on your business model. That sounds like the name of a new band. Does it have videos online? Where’s its ReverbNation page?

Before this fun-loving line of reasoning goes any further, let me bring you back down to reality. Pivoting on your business model is a hot topic in startup circles. It’s what you’re forced to do when your business runs into trouble.

Maybe the customers aren’t buying what you went into business to sell. Or the tastes of the public have changed. What you were offering five years ago just doesn’t have the same appeal. And the result is showing up on your financial statements – in red ink.

Unfortunately, “trouble” is a word that a lot of creative freelancers are dealing with. What happens when your primary income source all but disappears? Happened to me with web design. So, I’ve made the pivot to copywriting, and my business life is a lot better. Here are five lessons learned that can help you make a necessary pivot:

Lesson 1: Yes, it is the economy.

You may notice that new clients are becoming scarce. And your existing clientele isn’t coming through with the amount of work that they once did.

Sorry to say, but that oft-repeated sentence, “It’s the economy!” is true. The global economy is mired in the worst downturn since the Great Depression.

And it’s not just you who’s hurting. Millions, if not billions, of other people are too. As one of my creative colleagues said last winter, “I’d like to see this economic recovery I keep hearing about.”

Lesson 2: The economy stinks, you still have to make a living, but how?

If you find yourself in trouble, there’s the very human need to ask how – and why – it happened.

I spent two thirds of 2012 engaged in this kind of soul-searching. Fortunately, I had a savings cushion to live on, or I would have been on the streets last fall.

Tip: I’m a living example of why those financial gurus advise everyone to have at least a year’s worth of income saved up. Savings are what kept me fed, clothed, and sheltered. So, start saving. Now.

The result of your soul-search may look something like mine. Here’s an excerpt from the Business Problems and Opportunities document I prepared for my accountability partner last October:

Since 1995, I have focused on custom website design. However, business has dropped off considerably. I think some of the decline is due to the economy. The rest can be attributed to three online megatrends:

  1. Large sites like Facebook, Google, and YouTube now account for the majority of Internet traffic.
  2. More development is happening on the mobile web than the desktop.
  3. It wasn’t too long ago when you needed to go to a custom designer if you wanted any sort of web presence. No more. You can buy inexpensive templates and build very impressive sites with them.

If you’re familiar with the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) part of a strategic plan, this excerpt is a description of the Threats facing my business. As for Weaknesses, I’d say that burning through thousands of dollars of savings dwarfs all the rest.

Lesson 3: Your best opportunities are hiding in plain sight.

On the positive side, there’s this thing called Opportunity. Mine came from none other than Envato, the parent company of FreelanceSwitch. In January 2012, Envato’s Rockable Press asked me to write Finance for Freelancers, and I did.

I found that I enjoyed this assignment more than just about any I’d had in years. Perhaps I could be a writer instead of a struggling web designer.

I started writing this book while I was tending to my father, who can’t be left alone. My mother had fallen and broken two bones and had to undergo surgery and rehabilitation.  After Mom came home from rehab and was strong enough to deal with Dad, I came back to Tucson. Envato gave me an April deadline for the Finance for Freelancers manuscript, so I really had to hit that keyboard hard.

I found that I enjoyed this assignment more than just about any I’d had in years. Perhaps I could be a writer instead of a struggling web designer.

But, as any writer quickly learns, there isn’t a whole lot of money in books and articles. The real money is in what’s called copywriting. That’s the creation of sales and marketing copy for businesses, non-profit organizations, academic institutions, and government.

So, meet Martha the copywriter. Turns out that I’ve already been one. Copywriting occupied most of my workday during my last full-time job. So, here we go. Back to the future.

Lesson 4: Don’t throw away the past while you pursue your future.

While pursuing straight copywriting projects, I’m also finding hybrids. As in, copywriting while doing website design and redesign projects. Or, how’s this for a lovely trifecta: Copywriting, website redesign, and photography.

I mentioned inexpensive templates before. And, guess what: I’m using them now. They’re a great way to get copywriting clients –- many of them business startups –- online without their needing to put megabucks into the project. (Few startups have megabucks. But they do need to be online.)

Tip: Have you taken a look at Envato’s ThemeForest? A veritable nirvana of web templates.

Speaking of trifectas, here’s another one: Draw three circles:

  1. What you can do
  2. What you want to do
  3. What the market will pay you to do

The intersection of these three circles is where you’ll find your best business opportunities.

Lesson 5: In unity there is strength.

So far, this article has taken us on a journey through “Something’s wrong. What was working before isn’t working. What should I do? I need to think for a while. Okay, I’m done thinking. It’s time to start doing something new for a living and find the market for it.”

While the above sounds like a solitary journey, it certainly hasn’t been. I mentioned before that I have an accountability partner. We check in with each other on an as-needed basis. I’m also in a business modeling class that will continue as a mastermind group. If you’re not already in a mastermind group, join one. Or start one.

Which brings us to the “S” in “SWOT” – Strength. There is strength in unity. So, don’t pivot alone. It’s so much more interesting -– and rewarding –- to do so with your peers.

Photo credit: Some rights reserved by Laborant_.

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