I’d love to win an Edison Award, but to be honest, it ain’t gonna happen.
I’m no inventor, so unless they open up a category for new cocktails and mood-enhancing aromatherapy recipes, I’m fresh out of luck. The award I would perhaps have more than a snowflakes chance of winning is a new type of award that celebrates more the ‘Edisonian method’ — commonly referred to as ‘trial and error’.
This proposed new awards ceremony would be about celebrating the journey entrepreneurs take and acknowledging that iterating, growing, learning, changing or modifying the plan according to evidence and experience shouldn’t ever be seen as a ‘failure’ of the original plan… but is in fact ‘business as usual’.
Personally, I live by the theory that the only way I can fail is to actually give up. Having already taken the biggest leap and made it through the first hoop of entrepreneurship by getting in there and ‘starting’ something, I can honestly tell you I’m never, ever going to give up. So if you fancy yourself as a chance against me at the inaugural Edisonian Method Awards (although, we definitely need a much sexier name for the press release — any ideas?) you’re going to need a damn good story to tell.
My journey into entrepreneurship started out pretty well…
It was about this time two years ago that I was sitting on the beach having a little moment to myself and relishing that I’d just sold my first business. I’d started the business, a Natural Therapies Clinic, with the end in mind. I created systems for everything, insisted on Swiss-like punctuality from therapists and worked hard to market the clinic as the most convenient and professional destination for stressed out execs and local business owners to unwind.
The one thing I wasn’t great at was keeping overheads low, so when it came time to sell after four years, I achieved a price that was about twice my earnings before tax (EBIT). Problem was, my EBIT sucked. My net profit growth over the four years hadn’t kept up (as a percentage) with the revenue growth of that time. I learnt a big lesson there about the way a business is valued.
Although I had expected to come out of it with a little more cash in the bank, I was still really happy with the sale. I’ve since begun to understand what I would have to do next time to increase both net profit and the multiplier applied to realise a better price.
Spurred on by initial success, I embarked on my next adventure.
Business number two, started in 2006, Gorgeous Things, is my entry in the Edisonian Method Awards. My journey over the last three-and-a-half years has been full of thrills and spills, expensive ‘learning experiences’ and outright stuff ups. There’s been continual iterations and even a complete business model change.
If my faith in the ‘trial and error’ method and my own ability to change and grow will ever be fully tested, this is the business that’ll do it. It’s also taught me that you have to be prepared for the path you set out on, to take you to a very different destination than you might have planned for.
What started out for me as a direct sales business promoting the natural, organic and Fairtrade products that I am so passionate about (with an online store mostly for re-orders) has morphed into what is soon to become a small scale (initially) online magazine for the community of women we’ve established over the last few years who want to look fabulous and feel great naturally. How did I start by selling a hand-picked range of products only to arrive a few years later at becoming a publisher?
I’ll happily air the dirty laundry of my last three-and-a-half years in my current business if it means I can help a fellow entrepreneur avoid making some of my gaffs. Like anything in business, the devil is in the detail. If you happened to catch my previous post here on Anthill, you’ve already heard one of my tales from the trenches — the ‘disaster recovery event’ that saw my e-commerce site and blog get hacked — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg!
Before I do share more though, I’d love to hear your story. Have you, like that lovable scamp GOB from Arrested Development, ever “made a huge mistake”? Or, did your business start out on one path only to end up somewhere you never expected?
I’m all for embracing these realisations, whether they take the form of major stuff-ups or a systematic series of iterations that lead to a better way of achieving success in our businesses. It’s the best way we can all learn from each other.
So, leave your entries below in the inaugural Edisonian Method Awards. But know this: whatever it is you’ve done that you think is such a clanger of a mistake, you’re not the only one.
Lesley-Ann Trow is a seasoned bootstrapping entrepreneur who loves to share what she learns with other SMEs. Her Consulting talents range from asking ‘why?’ roughly 17 consecutive times to assist clients develop their razor sharp cut-through WOM marketing message to helping SMEs protect their reputation and bank balance as they navigate the online world. Start following Lesley-Ann on Twitter @150dominos and please tell her if she makes a mistake.