time for a pivot

Episode 221: 5 Signs It May Be Time for a Pivot

In this episode, we’re talking about the dreaded P word….the pivot. Since COVID-19 rearranged our lives in ways we couldn’t imagine, the concept of the pivot has been working overtime.

So we’re all on the same page, a pivot is generally a significant business change, usually around your strategy.

There’s no shortage of advice being dispensed about pivoting. And here’s what I don’t want to do, I don’t want to give you blanket advice telling you that you should do anything. Because, let’s be real, here in 2020, that’s not what any of us need.

Plus, a pivot isn’t something we should do overnight. As it’s a strategic move, it often takes time and deep consideration to plan. In the first few months after COVID, there was a lot of frenetic talk about the need to pivot which was a direct response to a situation we couldn’t control.

But now that we’re months into this, and have a concept of the “new normal”, pivoting may be the right plan in some situations.

For a service business, a pivot may take many forms, so here are the signs and some ideas on how to plan that pivot based on my experience. 

#1. Your Business Model Isn’t Getting the Results You Want

Within the service business model, there are many different ways to offer and execute on your offerings. And what worked two or three years ago, may at some point may not work as well as it once did.

You may notice a dip in revenue or fewer inquiries. You may book fewer clients. You may find yourself burnt out by something that used to energize you.

Take for example if you only offer project-based engagements. That may really have worked for you a couple years ago, but then it’s not working so well for some reason. That’s a sign that it’s likely time to change things up.

Don’t cling so firmly to the way you offer your services that you’re not willing to try out something new. Maybe you need to shift your model to do fewer projects and more retainers. Or maybe you use day rates or do intensives.

Think about the HOW of delivering your services, that’s your business model and there’s always room for innovation. Pay attention to how things would potentially be easier both for you, and for your clients in terms of how you work together. That could potentially be the pivot you’re looking for.

#2. You (or Your Clients) Are Outgrowing Your Services

Naturally, your services are at the heart of your business. But as you grow and evolve, what you want to offer will likely change too. A surefire sign that you may want to offer new services or revamp the ones you currently have is that they just aren’t working quite right.
Maybe you don’t enjoy doing those services, maybe they’re a pain-in-the-ass and unprofitable, or maybe clients just aren’t that interested in them.

Whatever it is, and whatever you’re offering today, there’s an opportunity to do something that builds on where you are today.

A great example of this is that I used to write a lot of PR-related content for clients, but then I got tired of that, and saw an opportunity to ghostwrite blogs instead. Then later, I went from writing blogs, to writing websites and sales copywriting.  All of these pivots in my services were related, but they helped ensure I was offering what potential clients wanted and gave me an opportunity to continuously grow my skills.

Look at the services you offer today and what related services you could be offering in addition to, or instead of them. There are always options to add something new to the mix. Pay special attention to what current clients are asking you for, what the market seems to be demanding and more.

#3. Getting Leads is Harder and Harder

Nothing stays the same in business, so all things being equal if you’re doing the same things, and it’s harder and harder to get leads, that may be a sign that you need to pivot your lead gen strategy.

This one may seem obvious, but it’s way too easy to chalk everything up to external factors and just hope that things improve. If you’ve always been dependent on referrals, and you’re not getting referrals for months on end, that’s a sign you need to mix things up.

Your ability to get leads on a consistent basis is directly tied to generating revenue. And it’s one that’s the most in your control when you shift from simply waiting for clients to come to you to becoming more active.

The truth? I talk about this all the time because it’s the #1 change or pivot that most service business owners need to make right now. Diversifying lead sources, and adding new ways to find clients will reap benefits for months and years to come. 

#4. The Market You Serve Isn’t Serving You

Many times as business owners, we fall into a specific industry or type of client because of our past experiences. That doesn’t mean those types of clients are serving you, and paying careful attention to the commonalities between clients in your market can be a tip-off as to where a pivot may be needed.

I’ll use myself as an example as I’ve made multiple pivots in the last 10 years as to who my clients were. For years, my clients were mainly in tech, then I moved on to working with online entrepreneurs. But then, due to many shenanigans, I shifted to working with a wide variety of small business owners. And wait for it…then I circled back to working with tech and professional services clients. Each pivot made sense in that it built on the last one, and was letting me learn in real-time what worked best for the agency.

In my case, I had to go through all of that to realize that I’d not settled for tech as my niche, but it was one that I’d chosen for very good reasons.

If you’re feeling like your market isn’t serving you or the right fit for where you want to go, don’t be afraid to slowly pivot to a new market. Many times I had years of overlap between different client types, and it gave us a learning opportunity. It also goes to show that not every pivot needs to be fast, many times it will be slow and deliberate. 

#5. Your Marketing is Disconnected

One thing that most of us are unprepared for is how relentless marketing can really be. And while the temptation is to launch a website, publish a blog post or send a newsletter and call it good, the reality is that marketing is a constant work in progress.

Marketing tactics change and evolve. Your client’s needs change. And that means whatever you were doing marketing a year ago (or even three or six month ago) may not work the way it once did. If you’re not sure, pay attention to the metrics around your marketing and don’t be afraid of what those numbers say. Because, yes, it may need you to pivot your marketing, it’s also an opportunity for you and your business.

Something I see regularly is well-meaning business owners who are so overwhelmed that they simply avoid dealing with their marketing or creating a fresh new plan. Remember, marketing isn’t a checklist of things you do each week, it’s designed to support your business goals. So if what you’re doing isn’t getting the job done, it’s time for the pivot.

A marketing pivot can be subtle, but it can make a major difference in your business. The right marketing can call in the right clients. Showing up on a new platform can help you reach new clients. Think critically about where your marketing may be falling short and go from there. Also, keep in mind that this work is ALWAYS in progress, and consistently pivoting as you learn and grow is entirely normal.

Next Steps: Do You Need to Pivot?

Now that you’re thinking about where you need to pivot, as always, remember, you shouldn’t try to do this all at once. Many of these signs may show up together, but pick one area to focus on first. When we pivoted our client base, we started with our market, then our messaging and marketing, then our lead gen. It was systematic and took well over a year, and probably closer to two.

To thrive as a boss, we need to adapt to internal and external factors as they emerge. Pivoting is simply part of that adaptation over time, as if we simply try to keep everything the same (especially this year) the threat of perishing becomes all too real.

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