Keep your ear to the market and brace for shifting paths

Many small-business people become so attached to their businesses that they may miss market signals that it’s time to change. How do they know when they need to redirect?

A conflict of interest demands immediate attention. New York’s The Expert Institute Group LLC “sources experts for financial and legal clients who need litigation support and investment due diligence,” says Michael Morgenstern, partner and vice president of marketing. The company had followed the industry practice of charging not only the expert’s fee but a separate fee for consulting. This practice could tempt a business to source an inexpensive expert over the one best qualified. Now the business bills its legal and financial clients a flat fee one time.

Bev Browne, information broker at Trade Network Systems International in Pickering, Ontario, combs public records to identify and recover government monies owed to individuals and businesses. In a previous capacity as a freelancer, she noticed a decline in workflow and a year later lost 90 percent of her revenue from her largest client, a leading Canadian newspaper. She started a small agency.

A host of signs swirled around Kreigh Knerr, director of Milwaukee’s Knerr Learning Center LLC, whose customers consist of high school faculties and families with students boning up for the SAT and ACT tests. He needed to grow, but the market signaled that too many competitors were publishing books. He noticed that athletes and dancers had jammed schedules. Then a coach asked how his team could prepare for the ACT on a bus trip.

“Students are good at forgetting textbooks,” Knerr thought, far more so than a smartphone. When he, himself, started using a smartphone, he realized that he’d found his vehicle.


These small-business people encountered market imperatives. If you find one, be willing to pivot.

“Make a change that better serves and provides the greatest value for your customer,” Morgenstern says.

Knerr resisted change at first, but ultimately did. He now advocates research in related industries “connected to yours, but not the norm for a business like yours to invest in.”

He scoured literacy, English as a second language, tests, publishers of similar services and the mobile app market.

Meanwhile, he was learning to listen to his market and ask specific questions.

“While I thought I knew what they wanted, and in some cases I did,” he says, “I had no interest in developing the ACT Science app until repeated pleas from our clients (compelled) me to recognize the need.”

He now has two apps, both with content troublesome to develop, but the second easier to design and program. However, he gained market share and expanded his international clients to more than 50 countries. He’s also consulting to educational technology companies.

After her experience with an almost-closed door, Browne recommends gathering your thoughts.

“Really assess the situation and possibilities,” she says. “And thoughtfully decide on what you can do to soften the loss.”

She says you might need to retrain, seek a traditional job, reshape your skills into a new, related service or find entry-level work of some kind for the interim. She shifted to new work emphasizing more skills, including more of the research she loves.

When your market calls for change, adapt. If you can’t change immediately, keep believing that something good lies ahead.

Dr. Mildred L. Culp of WorkWise® welcomes your questions at © 2014 Passage Media.