“Кill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little [..] heart, kill your darlings.”
This advice is well-known among writers (Stephen King, “On writing”), and it means to cut out all “extra” words from your text. To writers, each word is our own flesh and blood, a darling, and killing one hurts like hell. Oh yes it does.
The same applies to business. A start-up is made of ideas, the entrepreneurs’ own flesh and blood, their darlings. AND these “darlings” are supposed to make money.
But what if they don’t?
Killing a business-idea or prematurely ending a business-project – just because it’s not turning enough profit – is a tough-tough job. Yes, business is about money, but come on – your business is your baby! You’ve given it birth, nurtured it, held its infant hand while it took its first steps in the big scary world.
DO WHAT YOU LOVE vs. DON’T GET EMOTIONAL
They say you should “do what you love”, so if you are starting a business, make it about something you’re passionate about.
You could of course start a business based on what others are passionate about: e.g., just because you don’t have a “thing” for photography doesn’t mean you can’t make good money selling cameras and equipment. Sure, in that case you’ll be missing out on fulfillment. Your competitors will have the advantage of using their passion as an accelerator – research, first-hand experience and knowledge come so much easier when you love what you do.
But it’s also so much harder when you have to “kill a darling”. Of course it is! How do you NOT get emotional if your business is your passion?
Well, you can be passionate about your business as a whole, but keep your eyes on the balance sheet. Sometimes you can get so carried away doing what you love that you actually FORGET to take care of the business side of things – you know, get the money?
Because if you’re not getting the money, how is your “business” different than a hobby?
I started a dance group for kids last August.
Daydreaming on the kitchen table, I thought I’d easily get a dozen kids just by putting a sign out. And in a couple of months, when we do our first performance and show how great we are, kids would stampede to our dance hall!
You know how many kids I actually started with? One.
And how many stampeded after our first performance? Zero. In the course of a year with several performances, their peak number never got beyond ten.
I should have taken the hint back in the first months – if kids were going to “stampede”, it should have happened early on. Reality kept sending me wake-up calls by anchoring my dance ship in the shallow numbers.
But who cares about wake-up calls if they’re living their dream? Me neither! So I kept hitting the snooze button: leave me alone, Reality! Let me enjoy my work!
I loved my work so much that it clouded my judgment. Dancing and working with kids are both about being emotional, so it was hard to keep a cold, hard, sharp business mind.
Speaking of being emotional… I remember this one rehearsal when I was expecting four kids for the dance lesson. So far it had been just me and the one single girl I had started with; then a group of three girls had come yesterday to see what we do, apparently liked it and wanted to join “us” (me and my one dancer).
Four kids is a joke for a dance group, but to me it was a major breakthrough. Four dancers look much better than one, and allow for at least some choreography. Sure, we didn’t have the power of numbers just yet, but now that there are four of them it’s only a matter of time before they become more!
I was so excited I didn’t sleep too well the night before.
Soon it was rehearsal time. My first dancer came in, then… nothing. The three new girls didn’t show up. I was telling myself that they are probably just late, but my heart knew better.
My one dancer was looking at me. The warm-up track blasting on felt as awkward as blowing a birthday whistle when none of your friends showed up at your party. I, the 26-year old, felt like crying. Please believe me when I say that it took ALL my willpower and skill to smile and act casual. I deserved an Oscar.
Why couldn’t I get more dancers? I jumped on the first obvious solution – the fee, and lowered it in half. This was tricky, because I had no idea whether the price was the problem, or something else. And once you lower it, raising it back up won’t score you popularity points.
I lucked out – apparently in my business, the fee was at least part of the problem, and lowering it brought me several dancers. (In many businesses, owners would prefer to get $100 from 1 client than 2 clients paying $50 each. But my case was reversed because I was fighting for numbers.)
I bought dancing outfits for them. Each outfit was tailored to one kid’s body measurements, and cost me three months’ fees. So each dancer had to stay with me for at least three months just so I could break even for the outfit; not to mention other costs and my time.
Speaking of time, I was killing myself with this. Having a full-time job, dance lessons (for adults) on weeknights, writing a blog and working on e-books left me a wreck by Friday night. And now I had the kids for a couple of hours each weekend (not counting the time needed to prepare music, choreography, performances and so on) – so I didn’t have even a single day off. I hung on, nevertheless.
Things were picking up, but sloooow, slow. It wasn’t bad enough to call it quits, yet it wasn’t really good enough to keep working on it. See, if I hadn’t been so involved emotionally, if I had taken a long hard business look at it, it would have been clear: “Кill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little [..] heart, kill your darlings.”
Instead, I kept at it, and paid out of pocket for things that kids should have bought themselves. I got so involved with the dance work that I often forgot to remind the kids about fees due. When one of them said she’d have to quit because her father lost his job, I let her come for free.
At the end, there wasn’t much of a financial reward (if any), but the emotional reward was huge. And the reason I could afford taking payments in good memories rather than money was because I didn’t rely on this little “business” gig to put food on my table.
GET EMOTIONAL OR GET PAID ?
You can get emotional or you can get paid.
I don’t mean that as in, “be a heartless dick and go after money at all costs”. I don’t mean that if a customer is late in payments because her husband just died you should choose between getting emotional or getting paid and terrorize the poor woman.
What I mean is: emotions don’t mix well with business, they cloud your judgment. While it’s great to do what you love, you need to stay sharp if you want to make a business out of it. After all, business is about serving others – that’s why they pay you. If others were serving you, you would be paying them.
It hurts to “kill your darling [idea]” because that proves others didn’t like it. If they had liked it, they would be paying and you wouldn’t have to kill it. But when others don’t like your ideas, it feels like they don’t like YOU, and it “breaks your egocentric little heart”.
WORDS OF COMFORT
If your business isn’t making money, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your idea was bad. You can’t grow bananas in the winter. Or in Alaska. Your business needs the right mix of time, place and circumstances:
Selling your wedding dress online was still a novel concept in 2004, when PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com debuted, [owner] says. But when the economy tanked in 2008, the business “just exploded,” as the downturn “put a focus on frugality for everyone,” she says.http://www.dailyfinance.com/2012/07/09/brides-presell-wedding-dress/
After huge initial investments (of time as well as money), shutting a business down is a tough call – even if we discount the emotional attachment. So why not ask your customers about modifying the business into something else? A clothes shop could become a thrift shop, a latino dance class can become aerobics, and maybe apples could become peaches.
“Modifying” is easier said than done, and it would probably require an additional investment of money and time. So what if modifying is simply not possible?
Then don’t throw good money after the bad. Kill it early to minimize both costs and emotional pain. (It’s easier to let go after three months and harder after three years.)
Try again later with the same idea, or try another idea.
Psychologist Barbara DeAngelis (relationships expert) says:
Unlike a person, a business is all about what it could change into tomorrow; a “start small, get big” kind of thing. But I still like to keep Barbara’s quote in mind. You need to take a sober look at where your business is TODAY. Is it showing really promising signs for tomorrow? If so, great.
If not – perhaps it’s time to kill a darling?