Putting the cart before the horse (small business edition)

One of the best (if not THE best) things about my job is meeting other small business owners. Whether I’m meeting a potential new client for the first time or I’m catching up with a fellow chamber member I’m always interested in their story and how they earn their money. Another great source for meeting new people is via one of my instructional seminars, whether for SCORE or Constant Contact. The thing to remember is that these business people are typically at an earlier stage in their business life than those I meet via networking at my chamber of commerce.

I had one of my recent seminar attendees call me the other day to discuss websites and how he should market his small business. The conversation went something like this:

Me: “What’s your business?”

Him: “Importing goods for sale in the US”

Me: “What kind of goods?”

Him: “Haven’t determined that yet”

Me: “OK (pause) where are you importing from?”

Him: “Haven’t determined that yet either”

Me: “OK (longer pause) and how exactly are you going to market/sell something you don’t know anything about”

Him: “Maybe I should rethink this…”

The conversation reminded me of why I include a slide in my seminars that I titled “The Hierarchy of Things” (it’s also a blog post). The gist of the slide is you need to put first things first:

  1. You need to have your business, products and/or services completely squared away before anything else.
  2. Get a website (not optional)
  3. Everything else (social media, email marketing, etc.)

It would be easy to dismiss the guy as just clueless but I really think it was much more the case of putting the marketing cart before the business plan horse – which is a lot more common that you’d imagine!

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