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Posted: May 28, 2009

Your baby’s ugly… and you’ve got bad breath

Just because you thought of it doesn't mean your product or service is perfect

Steve Baker

I've got good news and bad news. The good news is that 98 percent of businesses are small businesses. The bad news is that from 60 percent to 80 percent of new businesses will fail in their first five years.

After years of building my own companies and consulting growing businesses, I've found that too many business owners can't see their business through an objective eye, which often leads to their demise.

It takes an incredible amount of intense drive, determination and strong ego to breathe life into a business and create products from scratch, but it's also that same ego that won't let a business owner be objective about what their business needs to succeed.

The business is up and running at light speed and management doesn't have the time or willingness to stand back and take an honest look at what they have created. They are too close to the problems to see them. Just like a proud parent, they have spent sweat and time creating this "baby," and they refuse to believe that it might be less than perfect.

I call this the "business parent trap." It is in this trap that business owners often create and introduce products that would not test out in the marketplace. There's an attitude of "Hey, it's gotta be great because I thought of it."

I've found that there are usually two basic things wrong with a business: the product (the baby) and the management (the breath).

So how do you assess your business? Are your employees going to tell you that you're headed in the wrong direction? Not likely. Occasionally a consultant will be brought in to review the company's performance in a given area. Unfortunately, when management does bring in a consultant, they often are really looking for affirmation - not straight-forward constructive criticism. Unfortunately, some consultants are more than willing to "affirm for a fee."

If you're going to succeed, then someone needs to tell you if your baby's ugly or you've got bad breath. So here are some blunt yet truthful thoughts for your business, and perhaps you:  
Know yourself, trust yourself, believe in your self... then get over yourself….
You're really not the smartest person in the world. You built the business and know it better than anyone else, but no one else really cares how much you know. 

Conversation with you should not be a spectator sport for others. Remember that there's a huge difference between listening and merely waiting for your turn to talk. You hired your employees and perhaps a consultant because you assumed they had brains, so let them use them. Ask questions and listen to answers. 

Realize that even though you think that your new product or service is the greatest thing since the flip-top beer can, the world just sees one more product and must be convinced. You created this product and you know every function of it, but customers do not buy functions, they buy only benefits. Whether your product is a high tech internet service or a left-handed widget, you must show how it is uniquely beneficial to your customer. Functionality makes your products work, benefits make them sell.  
If you have the skills to create a product, chances are that you don't have the skills to market and sell it. Many business owners think that marketing and sales are the simplest part of their business, so it is almost an afterthought. There is only one reason that inferior products outsell better ones; and that is successful marketing. Think of your marketing plan as the complete story book that sells your product. If your story book is a best seller, then your product will be a best seller. Without the right story that will build sales and distribution, your wonderful product is just another paper weight that is headed for a land fill. 
Your competitors are not all stupid. Guess what? They think their babies are cute too, and they may tell better stories that make them look even better than yours. So stand back and look at yourself and your baby and try to look through the eyes of a disinterested party, because believe it or not, the world is a disinterested party.

Remember, there's a strong chance that you will not be in business in five years. As busy as you are and successful as you think you are, you must set your ego aside and realize that there are things beyond your control.

The secret to success does not lie in knowing everything; the secret lies in knowing what you don't know, and finding those who do.  I’ve been successful because I seek out constructive criticism, asking others to tell me my baby’s ugly…just tell me why.

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Steve Baker is a founder of successful businesses and a business advisor with a passion for every phase of business cycle from startup to exit He’s also a public speaker and author of "Pushing Water Uphill With a Rake," as well as an avid poor golfer. He welcomes your comments and e-mails at  and invites you to visit his website

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