Pivot Your Business to Success

How being flexible can help you get ahead.

By Carrie Myers Smith
Sep 30, 2016

In my last column, “Perfectionism: Can It Squelch Success?,” I wrote about how perfectionism can spell d-o-o-m to a business. One reason for this is that having an inflexible business mind means you’re not willing to really do what it takes to succeed.

I also mentioned the concept of pivoting as a means of counteracting perfectionism. Coined by Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup (Crown 2011), “pivoting” is a buzzword that essentially means changing direction. This includes changing parts of your business vision to meet the needs of your customer base—which includes members and clients in the fitness world. It makes no sense to have a death grip on your initial vision if that vision is not meeting the needs of your target audience (although death grip is an apt term, as it could mean death to your dream business!).

How Pivoting Serves Your Vision

Think of pivoting in a physical sense: You plant one foot, while you move the other foot around in different directions, pointing toward various avenues. Pivoting your business vision is similar in that you still have your foundational vision (the planted foot) in one place. But you should always be looking for ways to meet your customers’ needs, which ultimately points you in the direction of success. This includes being empathetic toward your customer base and knowing what clients’ needs are, beyond just the stats (“empathy,” by the way, is another common buzzword in the business world).

Pivoting may be needed in just about any segment of your business: products, services, technology, target market and even your niche.

But if achieving success means you need to be willing to change your original idea, or at least parts of it, do you even need a vision to begin with?

“The vision is the most important part of a business if you want to have motivated employees and cooperative customers,” says Mel Jones, author of the 90-day mental transformation book 90: Building the Ultimate Empire (Mel Jones 2016) and founder and CEO of Grip Work Gear LLC. “When your employees know and feel the vision, they will work hard for you. Your customers can tell if there is a big picture in mind by the way they are treated and the amount of value they receive.”

“Having a vision is everything,” agrees Tim O’Brien, founder and owner of O’Brien Communications, a Pittsburgh-based corporate communications consultancy. “Your vision must guide your entire business planning process. That doesn’t mean your vision needs to be complete, but it’s best if you know who you would like to serve with your product or service, what that product or service would be, and how you will deliver it. The more you work to envision the business, the more real it will become in your mind, and that will guide your planning.”

So the initial vision is your foundation. And then comes the pivot.

Sometimes, says Jones, your initial view can become blurred. As an entrepreneur, you “should be willing to pivot if the original vision isn’t working, because it is possible that you are seeing the wrong thing. The product or service might be wrong or may not be your true strength.”

“An original business vision is a great blueprint, but the key to success for any business—more specifically, emerging brands and startups—rests in the ability to act with swift nimbleness and flexibility,” explains Eugene Kang, CEO of Country Archer. “Sometimes a great business idea is ahead of its time or the market isn’t quite ready for that particular product. Entrepreneurs should revisit their original idea and constantly ask objective and relevant questions affecting the foundational vision of the business. Oftentimes we become married to our ideas and it’s hard to filter out our own biased opinions.”

Greg Justice, MA, owner of AYC Health & Fitness and co-founder and CEO of National Corporate Fitness Institute, says he had to reinvent his vision and business plan as his company matured. “In the beginning, it was simply about positive cash flow and hitting numbers goals. Throughout the years, my clients and trainers have helped shape my vision. We survey our clients to see what’s important to them, so we can work toward a common purpose. Too many business owners don’t know their purpose, and if you don’t know your purpose, it’s like a boat without a rudder on a body of water—going wherever the wind blows you. If you know your purpose, it’s like having a GPS guiding your journey. You may occasionally get off track, but your purpose will get you back on track fairly quickly.”

Real-Life Examples

A quick Google search will show you that nearly every successful business—including the largest ones—has pivoted at one time or another. A recent Forbes article names 14 biggies, including Starbucks®, Twitter and Hewlett-Packard. But regardless of the size of your business, pivoting can be beneficial.

O’Brien, for instance, had to pivot after spending too much time and energy on one client—and then losing that client. “At one point I had one client that comprised over 50 percent of my revenue,” he recalls. “My philosophy was to overservice that client on the assumption that client satisfaction was the key to retaining and growing that particular account. In the process, I turned away some projects that might have interfered with that one client. This had served me well over the years. But when changes on the client side affected budgets, I ended up without that account, and instead needed to replace over 50 percent of my revenue just like that. My pivot from that point forward was to never allow one client to represent that amount of revenue, and to constantly work to keep a healthy balance of client work.”

“I turned my business from being a motivation sportswear company, Grip Work Gear LLC, into a powerful motivation factory that produces products and services to inspire powerful thinking, teach powerful living and help others create a powerful lifestyle,” says Jones. “I still sell sportswear, but I have now combined it with my personal training experience, personal development expertise and motivational skills, all to be presented under one roof.”

“Country Archer found initial success producing healthy gourmet jerky products,” explains Kang. “However, as the category exploded it attracted a slew of emerging brands, all fighting for shelf space. To capitalize on the company’s gourmet positioning, branding and manufacturing capabilities, we launched The Frontier Bar, a brand extension of meat-based protein bars. The pivot was an opportunity that helped us extend the brand beyond the jerky category into an exploding segment with an entirely different and new customer demographic.”

Pivot to Fill That Divot

A business plan and vision are necessary parts of starting your business and moving it forward. Conditions must be constantly assessed to ensure that your business is meeting the needs of the people it’s trying to serve. Without pivoting, you may end up with divot holes in your business: unfilled gaps that simply require you to be flexible so they can be filled—but without any true growth.

Justice sums it up: “As technology, competition and opportunities come along, entrepreneurs have to be flexible. No one can see 10, 20 or 30 years in the future, so possibilities in the future may not exist at the present time. I began AYC Health & Fitness in May of 1986 as Kansas City’s original personal training center. There’s no way I could have imagined the advancements in education, equipment and technology back then. Who knows what the future will bring, but I’ll be ready to adjust my vision as opportunities or problems come my way.”

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Carrie Myers Smith

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