If you’re trying to run a pool care service in central California, you may find that during severe droughts like the one this area is currently experiencing, your company cell phone is probably not ringing off the hook.  Likewise, if you’re trying to operate a pizza carryout joint in an area laden with reasonably priced Italian food restaurants, the orders are probably not flying out of the oven and into Toyota Camrys scurrying around the city in a mad rush.  So what do you do when you find things are not working, the books are falling through the basement, and you’re having to let go of employee after employee just to keep the doors open, it’s time to think about switching up your game.

While it is true that the term “pivoting” is as overused in the business world as the word “genius” is in the music industry, it’s not an entirely stupid concept, and has worked well for thousands of businesses that had previously been brought to their knees by the economy, location, and a million other reasons.  A pivot could be as simple as beginning to offer cell phones instead of pagers (really, this should not even be a conversation) or as complex as changing your entire business model, rebranding, offering a whole new inventory while still maintaining the same internal structure of employees and management.

So how do you pivot in a non-trendy way that will actually help your small business rather than make your venture one of the victims of the pivoting fad?  You’ll have to do some thinking, work with your team, collect data about what’s been hot rather than what’s just white hot right now, and getting out of the office to put your finger on the local pulse can also be enormously helpful.

Small Business Pivot Strategy

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Pivot 2010 by Steven Rosenbaum, on Flickr.  This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License.

For those who run ecommerce websites that have fallen on hard times, checking out what’s happening within your industry, peeping your competition’s sites to see what new directions they may be headed in, and doing a keyword search to see what online consumers are buying now if they have stopped buying what you’re selling can be good ideas.

The biggest reason for a pivot is usually competition that simply put is doing a better job than you are — at least in terms of sales.  You could have a product that is far superior to theirs, but whether it’s your marketing or your sales team, something isn’t working.  So a pivot may not even necessarily mean a change of industry or inventory; it could mean cleaning house and starting over with a whole new crew across every corner of your office, including human resources, accounting, marketing and sales staff.  It may sound harsh, but if you’re paying people to deliver something they just aren’t delivering, it’s time to cut them loose.

And then there’s the elephant in the room that seems to be invisible to so many small business owners: are you seriously not marketing to Millennials and younger generations?  What many small ventures don’t understand about their demographic is that it is changing.  In case you were not already aware, people between the ages of about 22 through 34 have more disposable income than any other generation right now, if you don’t consider a well-loaded 401(k) disposable income (which you shouldn’t, because most people are saving this to live on when they are no longer able to work).

So if you own a shoe store, load up on some Norm-core styles the younger crowd can get in on, and start offering trendy new styles in socks and flats.  With this in mind, be ready to pivot again when Millennials start posting the even newer cool options in shoes and socks on Instagram.

A pivot can be huge or just a minor tweak, but if you find your business flailing, chances are, you already know whether the issue is a lapse in interest in your industry or a flaw within your business model.  You’ll know what to do when you decide to pivot, so try not to listen to the people who think change is bad — it could be what saves you from going out of business.


Arnel Ariate is the webmaster of Money Soldiers.

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