Don’t be afraid to question your business model

January 28, 2009

It has been an interesting time economically for those of us who have been running or working in business, as well as those who have had the pleasure of seeing their 401Ks become 201Ks! It’s only natural to want to climb back into our shells and wait until the storm is over. But “turtle-ing” isn’t always an option, nor is it necessarily what’s needed right now. Adaptability is.

Adaptability is often hampered by false assumptions and limits. At CO2 Partners we help executive/organizational leaders explode these assumptions and limits by asking questions. Leaders are usually smart, driven, and talented, and many are great question-askers. But they often don’t have the outside perspective needed to ask themselves challenging, visionary questions.

Sometimes, the courage needed to adapt can come from seeing others take risks, especially in hard times like these. We recently ran across a story along these lines that we wanted to share.

Before starting Wasabi (a PR firm) in 2001, Drew Gerber and Michelle Tennant Nicholson met with a successful Cincinnati businessman and mentor, who asked, “Why don’t you make payment contingent upon results?”

Both Drew and Michelle saw this business model’s appeal. Rather than get paid by the hour, they would be paid only upon attainment of the client’s goal. A risky venture, to be sure, but the upside was big: a true partnership would be formed with their clients (win or lose), and Wasabi would clearly demonstrate confidence in its abilities (typically a huge hurdle for start-ups). The third Wasabi partner thought the idea was crazy and decided to part ways. Her loss, it turns out. Wasabi has grown 1,000% since its first year and 300% in the past year alone!

“One client might want a book deal. Another needs traffic to a web site,” writes Michelle. Most want positive exposure that increases their audience and “brings dollars in the door.” Since that’s kind of a vague benchmark, Wasabi sets a timetable with specific phases and expectations for each PR campaign.

For Bowdabra (a bow-maker, favor-maker, and craft tool) and its founder (Sandy Sandler), Wasabi developed a press kit, created a “Frugal and Green” pitch that revolved around holiday craft ideas, targeted appropriate media outlets, and secured ten radio and TV interviews in the first month!

Don’t be afraid to question your business model. Just because it’s the de facto standard for your industry doesn’t mean that it’s the only option.

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