Head vs Heart - Pruning branches from your business

Why to keep your business pruned

As small business owners and entrepreneurs, we all tend to have a lot of imagination, drive and ideas that are begging to be tried out. We’re also up close and personal with our customers meaning that we get to hear their comments and feedback straight from the horse’s mouth - not many corporates can say that. So when those flashes of inspiration strike it can be REALLY exciting and almost impossible to ignore.

The positives of that are that we can discover new things and elements to our product or service offering that are exactly what the market is begging out for, and it can take us in exciting new directions that we hadn’t initially thought of.

The negatives of that are that we can end up with a business that is, well, rather random. With lots of branches point off in different directions with no clear focus. Sound familiar?

I’ve been there many many times. My flashes of inspiration tend to come to me either as a passing remark from a customer or when I’m doing something entirely different like walking the dog or having a shower, and I can barely contain myself to pursue them. The upshot of that is that my business, like most other entrepreneurs, has often gone off track and diluted my focus and purpose.

And if you’re not super-careful and aware that they are developing, you can waste time, energy and resources on branches that are ultimately taking you in the wrong direction. So it’s really important to review things regularly so that you can identify and chop them quickly and efficiently if it’s appropriate.

Here’s a little taster of some of the branches I’ve ended up with, what I’ve done about them, and what you consider…

How the tree started growing

About 10 1/2 years ago I sent up Qalbi, originally under a different name (Painted with Love). It was my first independent business as a sole trader and a massive and steep learning curve. It was new, exciting and as with all new businesses, I had to try out ideas to see what would work and what wouldn’t before I found my ultimate direction.

The first two branches to grow, and the first to be chopped off

With a background in art, I started off painting personalised canvases for children, and quickly learned that there was a fairly low ceiling to what I could charge and that it wasn’t worth my time. At one point, someone made an off-the-cuff remark that I should paint personalised wooden hearts (hearts were very fashionable at the time). Hmmmm, I thought, and went to investigate. I trickled along with the canvases but for several years the hearts turned out to be my principle line of business. Over that period I learned to start charging enough to compensate myself for my time properly and got REALLY good at painting them (if I do say so myself!). I also started saying no to requests for kids’ canvas (anyone who has a business will know you have to be very brave to say no to any potential work) and chopped that branch off.

The third branch to grow

At some point during that time, someone made another off-the-cuff remark and asked if I could make wooden hearts with maps of specific places on them. Hmmmm, I thought again, and went to investigate. The result of that was a HUGE collection of vintage maps that I built up over the next 6 years or so, thousands and thousands of them. That developed into a branch of making personalised wooden hearts and plaques with one or several maps of specific places on them, which proved to be very popular. And the map art turned into my principle line of business, although I did still paint wooden hearts too.

The fourth branch to grow (and get chopped off again quickly)

At some point during that time, someone made another off-the-cuff remark and asked if I could make some signs for her wedding to match the wooden hearts I was painting for her bridesmaids. Hmmmm, I thought, and went off to investigate yet again. So I did, added them to my website, and started getting heaps of orders. But they were big and bulky to make, paint and post, and were also mostly needed during the summer when I wanted to spend the holidays with my kids. So after a year or so, I chopped that branch off again as it wasn’t for me.

The fifth branch to grow and get the chop

One day I had a flash of inspiration - elf doors! That got delivered “straight from Father Christmas”! With a personalised letter! I got doodling, sourced someone to cut them for me, had the special airmail labels designed and printed for me and got to work. They were a MASSIVE success financially speaking but our own Christmas was ruined because all I did for 2 months was paint elf doors instead of enjoying all the activities and build up with my kids. I started my business to be with my kids so that didn’t work for us. Chop.

The sixth branch to grow

And at some point during that time, it occurred to me that I have a degree in Arabic, so why on earth wasn’t I painting in Arabic. (You know what I’m going to say here!). Potentially huge collateral in terms of finding my difference and strength. I discovered that there was NO ONE out there doing anything in a my vintage style of art in Arabic, but there was a huge potential audience for it. And so over time, I developed a whole range of designs and products.

So for the past 5 years or so I’ve had two big branches to my business - the vintage map art and personalised Arabic art. There has been a slight overlap, insofar as maps of Mecca & Medina go for people making hajj (pilgrimage), but largely they’ve been two fairly separate entities with different audiences.

After I while I came to realise that the Arabic prints are a) much more time efficient to produce once I’ve done the initial time investment of painting the designs and b) the maps cost me a lot of money to buy and take a lot of space to store. So in terms of profit, time and efficiency (and a current lack of competitors), it made absolute sense to focus on that market. Furthermore, having two different sides to my business made the marketing more complicated and time consuming - it’s hard to target your audience and message specifically when you’re too varied. And I definitely don’t have time to spare.

The latest branch to get the chop

So, I’ve recently made a fairly gut-wrenching decision to cut the map-side of my business entirely. It’s been emotionally hard, I love the maps, I love the products, I love those customers who have been returning for years. BUT I also want to focus, save time, work more efficiently and reclaim the acres of space in my office that has been used to store all the maps.

I’ve had more than a few comments to the effect of “Oh no, but I love your map art” / “Oh don’t get rid of them!” but if I take my heart out of the matter, I know that this is the way to go. And now the decision is made, my shelves are empty and full of possibilities, my heart is catching up with my heard and I know that I’ve made the right decision.

Do your heart and head align when it comes to your business?

Have you taken a step back lately and really looked to see what different branches grew organically when you were busy responding to clients and ideas? And have you looked at each one to see how much time, energy and resources they take versus the profit they generate for you? If not, it’s definitely work a look. It can be painful making some big chops, but trust me, it can also be incredibly cathartic too.

If you need a hand assessing what’s going on or making decisions about what to focus on, get in touch via my contact page, I’d love to work with you. And don’t forget to sign up to my emails below for handy tips and food for though…