My title for this post is taken (slightly modified, but better known as shown here than in the original) from Coleridge’s The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner:
“Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink.”
I’m worried that one downside of our amazingly connected world, in relation to small business and entrepreneurship, is that business experts are everywhere, falling over themselves to offer answers and expertise. It’s tough to criticize, especially since I’m as guilty as anybody. But still … is it possible that we use ask an expert hoping for a right or correct answer when the real question is not write or correct, but gut feel? Is it possible we give to much credence to the outside expert and not enough to doing the hard guessing ourselves?
Let me explain.
Seeking the right answer
I take questions on my ask-me form at timberry.com. Here’s one I received.
I own an Irish pub [US place omitted]. I do not know what is going on, but my day business is not doing well. The staff has remained the same, the atmosphere is the same, but the number of clients has dropped. Is this just due to tougher economic times? I know that other bars in our area feel the same, but we cannot figure out what is going on. Could you please give me some advice.
Don’t get me wrong, please; I’m not advocating ignorance. And I like smart people and admire experts. But I worry that in many real-world business situations, asking some expert, via email, about the nuts and bolts of your specific situation. It gets in the way. It clouds your thinking. You should be asking that question, yes, but also, wear out your shoes finding the answer for yourself, first. Ask experts the big general questions. Not the specifics of your own business.
Nobody can answer that question from afar, with just a general description. That’s totally impossible. There’s no useful answer without getting into that bar, and into that neighborhood, and talking to people. Which is, in my expression, wearing out your shoes.
Wear out your shoes
The question, and the situation, cries out for taking a fresh look.
Don’t just ask an expert, get out there. This is urgent. Talk to people. Ask them. Walk the streets looking for the faces you recognize, stop them, politely, and ask them what’s changed.
Watch some other nearby bars and count their customers. How many people go into the place in an hour, how many exit. Have a drink at other bars and talk to their customers. Look at their prices.
Call some other Irish bars a few towns away and talk to the owners. Ask them if they’re having the same problem. Ask them why or why not.
This is your business, and asking experts it good, but don’t be sitting around waiting for experts … wear down your shoes. Is there a trade association? How about blogs and online sites for bar owners? Call the blogs you read, specialized for bar owners, and ask the online editor if something’s up in the industry. You might get some good attention out of it, and the writers sometimes (sad that it’s not always) know what’s going on better than anybody else.
Great post Tim. I started following your blog about a month ago after re-discovering the POWER and COMMON SENSE of comprehending the business planning process. Concerning this post, though, I believe you nailed the obvious without ‘cutting’ too deep with the truth. I’ve worked with microentrepreneurs for over ten years, and what I notice today is that there are TONS of advice and expert websites and other tools available that offer the ‘silver bullet’. Thank you for pointing out the clear truth: it’s ok to seek the advice of experts, but in the end, only the BUSINESS OWNER (and his or her team) can drive results and commit to consistent action. Great stuff Tim 🙂
Thanks Pierre, and yes, I agree with you that the key is the business owner; no silver bullets.