How We Turned Obstacles into Opportunities in 2018

‘Round here, we like to practice what we preach. So when we started brainstorming this month’s newsletter theme—the importance of reflecting back on your business (wins and losses alike) annually as part of an effective retail strategy—we knew we wanted to ask ourselves the same questions we were posing to our readers and students. We encouraged businesses everywhere to turn their obstacles into opportunities, which is exactly what we did in our own reflections. 

The truth is, it wasn’t a hard exercise. Like most small businesses (and big ones, too), we’re all sorely aware of our flaws and flounders because we’re the ones making them. When we asked ourselves, “What were our biggest obstacles this year?” a flurry of hands rose in answer. We imagine it’s probably the same in your business: ask your employees (especially managers) and yourself where you went wrong in 2018, and everyone will have an answer. 

The tricky part isn’t finding the obstacles, it’s turning them into opportunities.

Luckily, we’re a hardy group of optimists here at The Mann Group, so finding the sparkling light in each dark moment is something we do regularly (in fact, you might even argue that’s our job: to help people and businesses find and cultivate their strengths in the midst of their weaknesses). As we considered our obstacles, we realized we’d already begun to consider them as opportunities. Some of these obstacles were even intentional, hard lines pursued for the opportunity they will hopefully provide. All of them have been facilitators of growth and self-reflection.

Adjusting your perspective is a tough task for most business owners, but with a little warmup and experience, it’s easily incorporated into your operations. That’s why we wanted to share our own experience with positive self-reflection; if we can do it, so can you. 

We hope you’ll find some helpful cues and clues to apply to your own business from the lessons we’ve learned in 2018. Here are the obstacles we’ve turned into opportunities, and how we did it:

  1. Unprofitability.
    That word is one of the most terrifying in the entrepreneurial lexicon—but, perhaps surprisingly, it’s one we’ve truly embraced in 2018. As we mentioned before, many of our obstacles were created intentionally of our own volition with the intention of reaping opportunities from them later on—such is the case with our profitability.

    This year we significantly increased our payroll. In 2016, we were basically a two-man operation with a few part-time or contracted folks to help; by mid-2018, we’d expanded to a family of nine, most of whom are full time employees of The Mann Group. We knew amplifying our employee numbers would be a big investment, but it was one we were willing to make in order to grow the company longterm. More employees means more money (and for now, less profitability), but it also means more hands and minds to cultivate new products (like the new Mann U library) and new customers.

    Here’s the important shift in perspective: although we were technically unprofitable in 2018, we achieved our highest annual sales to date (entirely as a result of the investments we made that compromised our profitability).

  2. Narrowing our scope.
    This is part of a larger obstacle we’ve long struggled with at The Mann Group. Our conundrum is this: we truly believe we have the skillsets and minds to vastly improve the customer experience culture of a vast array of industries, both within retail and outside of it. We believe we could help every small business, as well as every big business, be their best  through specialized programming and planning. We do genuinely believe those things, and so for a long time, we tried to pursue them; we went broad instead of wide, and offered our services, in an unfathomable array of forms, to every business out there.

    This year, we recognized that this approach wasn’t working; we’d almost forgotten our own intention and our own strengths in the midst of trying to change the world. So we identified what we do well—cultivating a great customer experience in retail, particularly specialty retail—and doubled down in that space.

    This was a big obstacle for us because it meant walking away from some of our dreams; rather than helping everyone, we’re kind of settling on a somewhat niche industry, and that at times seems limiting. But rather than fixate on all the businesses we’re not helping, we’re investing with passion and persistence in the businesses and industries we are helping. By adjusting our scope, we’re able to make a true difference in a community we love and save those big aspirations for later.

  3. More miles.
    When we started the year, we had what we thought was a very tangible goal in our sights: keep our President Dan off the road. As Dan approaches retirement age, we’re making intentional decisions to aid in the course of that eventuality (see point 1). So this year, we decided we had the manpower (ha, get it?) to keep Dan off the road and at home in Asheville more.

    Well, that backfired. Dan’s traveled as much, if not more, this year than every year before. But rather than perceive this reality as a failure or a negative, we’ve instead considered it as an opportunity to reevaluate how we set and accomplish our goals. We’ve learned hugely from this experience, specifically the necessity of creating small steps to achieve a big goal. It would be easy for us to regret our failure to achieve our big goal, but instead we’re using it as an opportunity to specifically define the steps we need to take to achieve it next year (or maybe even the year after). Now, when we achieve a small step toward this large goal—like training another member of the team to perform a training that was traditionally relegated to Dan—we celebrate it as real progress.

All of these obstacles, with a little shift in our mindset, have become opportunities. One of the biggest barriers to your business’ success is your perspective, but it’s also one of the easiest to fix.  

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