Get Out of Your Cave

One of the biggest challenges for any business is keeping up with what is going on in the marketplace. It’s especially difficult for sole practitioners or small business owners who perform much of the work themselves. You get so caught up in the day-to-day demands of running a business, designing and managing projects, and dealing with clients, suppliers and service people that it’s hard to find time to lift your head up and take a look around at what’s happening out there in your community or in your field. Hard, yes; but for a business it can be fatal.

I am thinking especially of those designers who have seen their clientele dwindle in recent years and yet want to place the blame on the clients who don’t want to do business the way it used to be. It goes without saying that interior design is a service business, and thus designers need to provide the services their customers want. These designers have been reluctant to change their business model to adapt to the changes in the marketplace. As a consequence, they continue to lose market share and risk becoming obsolete. Their designs may be “timeless,” but their business practices are antiquated.

The number one reason businesses fail, according to entrepreneur and start-up advisor Eric Wagner, is not maintaining a deep dialogue with their customers. Instead, says Wagner, business owners have a tendency to “retreat to a cave,” that is, to become locked into their own thinking about the business and expect customers to come around to their way of doing things. That’s a big mistake, notes Wagner, “Your customer holds the key to your success deep in their pain, behavior, dreams, values and [what] they are trying to accomplish.” You need to stay in constant contact with them and really listen to what they have to say. The more personal the contact, the better.

How long has it been since you’ve gotten out of your cave and had a deep dialogue with your clients or potential clients? You may be surprised by what they have to say and what you can learn from them. Perhaps even more important, you may find yourself re-energized to try new things and rev up your creative juices, which will be a boost to your spirit as well as your business.

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