When to quit…

Have you heard this joke? Jesus walks into a bar. Bartender asks, “What can I get ya?” Jesus says, “Just water,” then winks and walks away.

If only we, the self-employed teachers of the world, had the ability to turn water into wine. But alas, we are often stuck with just water. Or wine. But never water that we can turn into wine.

Over the past 8 years of my business, I have often found myself staring at water and hoping it would turn into wine. Or, more accurately, expecting that I could, if I just worked hard enough, turn it into wine.

Usually, an embarrassing amount of time later, I would finally admit that nope, it is water. It will always be water. It is impossible to turn it into wine.

For example, in the early days of our company we tried a drop-in English class. The concept looked good on paper, but no matter what we tried, we could not get the numbers we needed to make it work financially. We kept up the marketing. We persisted. We worked really, really hard. Eventually, we had to admit that no matter what we did, it was the wrong program for our client base and our business. It was water, and it would never turn into wine.

In fact, we have tried and eliminated several programs like this. The trick, of course, is the timing. Are you on the cusp of success, or on the treadmill of failure? Are you nurturing wine that just needs to mature, or are you just clutching a bottle of water?

I am not sure I have a simple answer, but the good news is that the more often you make these decisions, the better you become at making them. For major new business efforts, I have a 6-month rule. The new project doesn’t have to be profitable in 6 months, but it does need to start tasting like wine. There needs to be some visible progress: customer growth, user traffic, sales growth, etc. Then I make a decision: cut the program or give it 6 more months?

The other key factor for us has been our yearly review of our income breakdown. At least once a year I look at our financial statements for the specific purpose of determining which programs are bringing us the greater share of revenue. Then I try to focus more on the most profitable programs. Over time, this has resulted in the maturing of some pretty fine wine.

What programs have you cut? What has turned out to be just water, and what has matured into fine wine for your business?

Posted in Operating Your Business

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