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Exploring new business opportunities? Don’t get distracted by shiny objects

Exploring new business opportunities? Don’t get distracted by shiny objects

There was a moment in my early career where I helped a friend and colleague found an ad agency in South East Asia, but it was short-lived. In retrospect, it’s easy to see why. Almost everyone on the team was in the creative department and very talented, yet we had no-one dedicated to new business. No one was out there hustling for opportunities. The pipeline dried up almost before it had begun, cash flow dwindled and the Asian Economic Crisis (precipitated by philanthropist/currency raider George Soros) did the rest. I quickly returned to being a salaried employee.

Safety in numbers 

My next role was with a mid-sized independent ad agency and my employers quickly got bigger from there. I didn’t move around a lot, ultimately spending a 12 year stretch with one of the world’s biggest networks, working in the same department the entire time. My definition of ‘opportunity’ was limited to what I could find in creative briefs.

Just over 4 years ago, I used a career crossroads to become a founder and entrepreneur, starting the Australian arm of the world’s largest property-marketing agency network Wordsearch.

One of the most striking differences between working for ‘the man’ (and yes, sadly, it is still overwhelmingly men) and working for yourself is how you view opportunities.

Opportunities are the lifeblood of any business

We were fortunate enough to start the Australian business with a solid brand and a well-defined offering. I was doubly fortunate that my business partner and co-founder had a lot more miles on the clock as both an entrepreneur and property specialist. Many of the seismic shifts the Australian industry is going through have precedents in the markets of the UK, Europe, Middle East and North America – we’ve been able to take those models and apply them here.

As a result, we’re more open to different opportunities, able to create partnerships and develop offerings that suit a changing market. For a true entrepreneur (no, I still don’t consider myself one), a changing market is always the most exciting time. Opportunities are everywhere. And that’s also where the danger lies.

The thrill of the new

I have to admit the creative in me finds it very exciting when fresh new ideas, markets and products are on the drawing board. Possibilities open up, new futures become possible.

One thing that’s common to all new ventures, whether they are successful or not, is a shed-load of time and hard work. Frustratingly, it’s very hard to gauge the likelihood of success without first investing all that time and effort, so we started road-testing a few of our prototypes with potential customers and partners.

For one of the chunkier ideas, feedback was overwhelmingly positive, we seemed to be on the right track. Until one of our trusted mentors (and a customer of one of our other ventures) raised the red flag: “There’s no way this has the same potential as the idea you already have in market.”

Stay on target

At first, we tried to persuade him. No dice. Then we tried to argue him down. He wouldn’t budge. His point wasn’t that this new opportunity was bad, per se, but that it wasn’t as good (from an objective, financial, risk/return perspective) as the opportunity we’d already identified and were steadily working on.

If we suddenly changed focus or fell into the entrepreneurs’ trap of believing we had the bandwidth to pursue multitudes of opportunities, simultaneously, with equally positive outcomes across the board, our mentor believed we could squander our potential entirely. Spread too thin. Master of none, as it were.

It took a few days for the message to sink in, but eventually, we realised he was right. The ‘opportunity cost’ of this new opportunity was just too high, for now.

The lesson here for businesses, freelancers and careers is the same: if you’re making profitable progress on your brand or skills or market share, keep at it. Don’t get distracted by the next shiny thing over the horizon without first assessing, realistically, your ability to move on multiple fronts.

The reality is that any new venture will take time, attention and possibly money. I would be shocked if you told me you had an abundance of any of these. The good news is that time keeps on coming and you may find yourself in a position to pursue more opportunities, later – provided you’ve consolidated what you have now.

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