at the crossroads

Last week I got an email from a longtime MML reader who wanted advice for her husband’s business. Given my history with growing my own company, she thought it might be helpful to get some insight on their situation. I thought the best way to help them and help other MML readers was to share the general issue they are facing here (with her permission) and then explain the similar situations I’ve been in myself.

At the Crossroads: A Reader Question

My husband has his own business and he is just now going into his third year. It has been growing gradually just with the help of word-of-mouth, a website, and Facebook. I believe we have come to a cross-roads, and I fear that my husband could make a decision based on money alone. He is in the home improvement business and does anything from installing trim inside a house to building whole new additions. The crossroads we are at leaves him with two options:

Option 1: Pay about $1000 more a year to increase his insurance on his truck in order to sub-contract for a company (large home improvement store that begins with an L). But, when he is on the job for them, he cannot in any way advertise his own company. He would have to wear their shirt and their hat with their logo on it. There is a pretty good guarantee that he could increase his volume and the money coming in through L, but at the same time it is not getting his company name out there. And, there is the potential that he could get so busy with them that the jobs he does have through his own company could potentially suffer. But, that is a big what-if.

Option 2: Pay the same amount of money and invest in some marketing targeting his work area. Maybe using things like Valpak, The Shepherd’s Guide (Christian phone book), etc. or even hiring somebody to do some marketing. In this way, he may not have the same work volume at first, but it could potentially grow his business name and help it to become more well-known.

My Response:

Okay, before I even begin to dive into this question, I want to state loud and clear two things:

1.) Please do not take any actions in your business purely because of what I say. This is your life and you need to be comfortable with the decisions you make, taking someone else’s opinion and following it blindly will only lead to designing they life that person wants, not the life you want.

2.) There are no black and white, cut and dry, right and wrong answers to business strategy. Both options you stated can work out beautifully or fail. Thinking that one option is “right” and the other is “wrong” will set you up to be thoroughly confused and paralyzed, because it is simply not true. Take a deep breath and feel comfortable knowing both options can lead to success – it’s just a matter of choosing what kind of success your after that is worrisome.

Furthermore, since I don’t know the financial data, risk factors, and personal motivations for your husband’s business, I am going to speak about your quandary by relating to situations I’ve experienced in my own life via Jess LC. Please listen to my stories and see how pieces resonate with your own business and see if any clarity comes from your own intuition. Because at the end of the day, you are going to make your own choice in this matter, and it is best made by following your gut/spirit.

I will also state that I’ve personally tried BOTH options for my business in the past. And BOTH options worked. So my guess is that this is all going to boil down to how you want your business to grow and what kind of journey you’d like to take.

When I started Jess LC full-time in Chicago in 2007, my overall motivation was to eventually write a book called Makeunder Your Life, which I knew to be my purpose. But in order to pay bills, Jess LC was my full-time gig until the book became a reality (still waiting on that book, but MML is a stepping stone). To get as much money in the door when I started as possible, I focused on selling my jewelry wholesale to boutiques in Chicago. It was a comfortable business, I was used to selling to stores since I was 15 years-old, and it did get the results I was looking for: cash flow to avoid working a full-time job for someone else. Eventually, to really sustain the wholesale business I built, I took on sales reps to sell my jewelry to stores nationwide for a commission fee. This phase of my business is the equivalent of Option 1 for your husband. Working with sales reps was a means to an end: getting more money in the door as quickly as possible to keep going, to keep growing.

The benefit of Option 1 for me was that I indeed went from selling in 15 stores to over 100. The downside to working with sales reps and selling primarily through wholesale accounts was that I was personally unfulfilled and I relied on the sales reps to produce results for my business. If they did well, I did well. If they didn’t sell well, I didn’t sell well. At a few points I felt like I actually worked for them, they brought me new orders and I fulfilled them. I was simply completing a process that they began. Over time, this didn’t sit well with me. I wanted to branch out on my own, to create a business that didn’t live or die based on their performance.

Luckily, the sales reps I worked with over time decided to launch their own clothing business and strayed from their original goal to represent other brands. This was ideal for me because I didn’t need to sever ties with them, it happened gradually and organically. And as I watched their sales slow to a halt I gritted my teeth and refused to complain about the dip in revenue.

Instead of lamenting the decline of my wholesale business, I started focusing on selling online. I started MML. I started designing the business as I really wanted it to be. I threw my attention and time into marketing and helping people with MML. It was a test of faith and persistence to get my business to blossom on the internet – where I felt most at home and fulfilled. Like growing a garden, it takes a few years of trial and error, lots of sowing, and time for the plants to mature. The fruit each season is more robust than the last. Now, two years later, I am at a higher revenue and profit level than I was back when I worked with the reps. And my life has in so many profound ways turned into the life I designed.

I hope by sharing this personal story, you will feel more confident in either option for your husband’s business. I also think you and your husband have the maturity and business acumen to decide confidently to choose Option 1 or Option 2. You have a choice to make either decision a successful one. And you always have the choice to try Option 1 until you have the cash flow to make Option 2 your primary objective as I did in my own business. But I must caution that Option 1 might be hard to leave in the future. From the phrase I highlighted in red above, there is an underlying assumption that your husband really wants to choose Option 2, but is worried about the cash flow not being as predictable as Option 1. Option 1 could become so comfortable that it is hard to leave. Predictability and comfort make “acceptable excuses” to avoid risk and true authenticity. So if you choose Option 1, please stay vigilant that you don’t stray from what seems to be the primary goal: Option 2.

I hope that this has in some way helped you (and other MML readers!) with your decision. Please talk it over with your husband and take a deep breath: both options are possible, neither is right or wrong. It’s all about designing your life and business with intention.

What is your intention?

Go do that.

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  1. GREAT POST! Love the personal experience shared on both sides of the coin – so rewarding to read something by someone who has been there, done that!

  2. Great post, Jess. There is no wrong way as long as you are willing to work hard and always keep moving toward your “Plan A.”

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