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When Opportunity Comes Knocking

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When you first started your business, you were likely overcome by the vast pool of opportunity that lay in front of you.

Set my own hours! Wear suggestive or polarizing t-shirts to work! Refuse stupid projects! Name my own salary! Stink up the place with microwave popcorn!

And probably a few more serious benefits as well.

Opportunity does exist in the world of small business, often in the way of small wins and new introductions that might lead to something, someday. But rarely does opportunity just present itself in full fashion. “Here I am,” Opportunity said sweetly, “Yours for the picking.” That rarely happens. So you have to learn to see all your individual efforts and attempts as building blocks that lead to something incrementally more substantial. Your time is money, so spend it well. Make sure it takes you somewhere you want to go.

From the realm of Viability to the land of Won

Owning a small business, especially in the beginning, is about toiling. It’s about digging through the crusty mantle layer in search of the promise that lay underneath: a sustainable client base. To achieve this you likely network and blog, attend Twitter chats and scour connections on LinkedIn for prospecting. You may submit RFPs until you’re seeing XYZ’s and tire of the “Everything is great” smile frozen on your face at industry functions (where you network some more). You’ll do anything to wrench a lead from the realm of Viability and lob it into the land of Won.

That feeling when you win? Yeah, it’s awesome. Break out the champagne! Boy, those are smart folks over there at Acme Company. Good people, they are.

But here’s the thing, they say. Your work samples are good. We want stuff like that, but on more generic topics. With fewer words. We’ll need a draft and links to support material a week before your publication date, just to make sure we like the direction. We’ll need editorial control of the final product, so expect rewrites. Sorry, no byline. We’ll pay our standard rate. Submit an invoice at the end of the month you produce the work, and we’ll pay net 30 days. This is gonna be great!

Pffffzzzt. That’s the sound of your balloon popping. Not feeling so hunky-dory with this win right now.

This is one of those times an opportunity may not be an opportunity after all. As a small business owner, you have tough choices to make when deciding what type of business best fits your business.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • What were your expectations for the project? How could you have communicated them more clearly, before things got this far? Were there questions you didn’t think to ask?

  • Strip away your immediate reaction. Re-think how the parameters really affect your work schedule and budget. Beyond those logistic pieces, does producing Acme’s kind of work fit with your vision or values?
  • What will you net if you accept? Literally speaking, after taxes and factoring in a conservative estimate of your time and resources, will you net a figure that’s worth your effort? In the figurative sense, will the project provide you with anything of value like a reference, a referral (of the caliber you desire)? What about a good portfolio sample or access to a swanky parent brand?
  • What do you stand to lose? Chalk up some (clearly not a lot) unrealized revenue potential. But what would have been the cost of that opportunity? Time missed with your family during a crazy season of youth sports? Personal dissatisfaction or resentment because you feel trapped? Time better invested in perfecting your craft or prospecting elsewhere? More projects down the road?

The decision to say “No, thank you.” or “Those aren’t my usual terms, but I accept them.” is yours. There’s no guidebook, and the resident mentor is out on vacation.

What will you do when you uncover opportunity?

Photo Credit: Guerrilla Futures | Jason Tester

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As Principal of Insights & Ingenuity, Heather helps brands earn customer preference. Specializing in digital channels, Heather’s firm provides brand-building positioning and content strategies to B2C and B2B companies. She’s a contributing author to Social Media Explorer, Content Marketing Institute, Shareaholic, MarketingProfs, and other media outlets. Find Heather on Twitter as @heatherrast or circle her up on G+ at gplus.to/heatherrast.