Category Archives: Business Strategy

Two Paradoxical TED Talks Every Business Owner Should Watch

My thanks to Hubspot and post author Mike Whitney for today’s two Friday videos. Whitney included these two in his selection of 4 TED Talks Every Marketer Should Watch, from last year. I want to focus today on these two as not just for marketers, but also essential TED talks for business owners. They go beyond marketing into product and business definition. choice, and business data. Neither of these is new, but both are fundamental, and the contrast is important.

Malcolm Gladwell says trust the data

Whitney included this summary:

[Gladwell] tells the tale of Howard Moskowitz, a consultant who revolutionized the way companies align their product with their brand in the 1970’s and 80’s. There is much to be learned from Moskowitz’ example, especially as told by Gladwell, about how to use data driven buyer personas (sound familiar?) to provide the most possible value to your customer base.

Previous to Moskowitz’ research, companies were in the habit of seeing product development as a linear path towards one ideal item, as perfectly aligned with the desires of their customer base as possible. In order to develop an idea of what those desires were, traditional focus groups were used obsessively, rounding up endless groups of sample-consumers, and simply asking them what they prefer in a product.

Sheena Iyengar says put limits on choosing

Whitney followed that with this one, which he describes as “coming at the same problem from opposite sides of the ideological spectrum.” I like that. It fits my view of how much business is full of paradox and contradiction. Iyengar talks about the “choice overload problem”. The following is from his summary.

As a graduate student, Sheena executed a very interesting experiment with a local grocery store which was noteworthy for having a plethora of different options for all of their different product offerings (75 different olive oils, 348 flavors of jam etc.).

Sheena, though, was curious as to whether this actually promoted revenue or was a hindrance to it. To test this, she got permission from the store manager to set up a ‘Free Samples’ table in the store and do two trial runs: one with 6 options, and one with 24 options. She found that about 20% more people stopped when there were more options.

However, when tallying how many people actually bought a jar of jam as a result of stopping, she found that the table with fewer options was more effective as a marketing tool. Why might this be? This goes back to the choice overload problem. Sheena finds that if a consumer is bombarded with too many options, he/she will often ‘choose not to choose.’ For your business, that means lost revenue.

Paradox of Product Persistence

ParadoxParadox: On one hand, to keep a business healthy you have to be able to cut mediocre products. On the other hand, some successful products require sticking to them for a long time, stubbornly, to get either the product or the marketing right. Take a minute and think about it, and you’ll find examples of both cases.

Ruthlessly killing products

I vaguely remember a quote from a computer company chairman (I think it was Lou Gerstner, of IBM) talking about how success depends on being absolutely ruthless about deciding to kill products that weren’t working.

I also remember a chilling moment in my personal past when I listened to a guy who’d been running a sailboat company for 15 years tell me how he’d hated it the last 10 years. It was always borderline failing, but he couldn’t get out because he’d started it with friends and family money and he couldn’t tell his parents, sibling, and cousins that they’d lost their investment.

Sometimes persistence produces success

In my specific business history, with Palo Alto Software, I had trouble giving up on products that didn’t make it. I’m stubborn, and I’m optimistic. Still, for the record, especially during the early growth years we killed a bunch of products. The list includes Business Plan Toolkit to Financial Forecasting Toolkit to Business Budgeting Toolkit, Cash Plan Pro, Cash Compass, DecisionMaker, Incorporation Toolkit, and Systems Continuity Plan Pro. I’ve probably forgotten a few others. , and I’ve probably put others into repressed memory where I don’t have to think about them.

However, on the other hand, I first started productizing business plan financials in 1984, as templates; and did them again in 1988, as more advanced templates; and stuck to the idea of business plan software into the 1990s when we launched Business Plan Pro, which was successful. And Palo Alto Software is a market leader today, with LivePlan, which we introduced in 2011. So that story argues for sticking to it over the long term.

So it’s all case by case

That’s why it’s paradox. You can argue this one either way. General rules and best practices don’t always apply. And you can find experts advocating both sides of this question. And my business experience includes both killing some products and sticking to others.

I was at the pre-competition meeting of the judges of the University of Oregon intercollegiate venture contest a few years ago when we (the judges) were asked to introduce ourselves. One of them, Ty Pettit, said “I probably have the best qualifications for judging this contest because I recently oversaw a company going bankrupt.” That struck me as a very wise comment. Ty has had several successes since.

 

10 Tips for Starting a Consulting Business

Money DetailsAre you thinking of starting a consulting business? Let’s say consulting, engineering, graphic design, SEO or marketing help, something you can do yourself? Here are some tips I’ve garnished from several decades of it. I took my business from high-end professional service to software products, but I’ve never stopped watching the service businesses, and I’m actively involved in several. My favorite, at the moment, is Have Presence, which does social media posting for business owners.

Here are those 10 tips:

  1. Find a focus. Be different from anybody offering similar services to similar clients, in a way they can understand immediately and will share with others. Example: Have Presence isn’t a social media strategy firm that advises you; it’s a do-the-work business that does the posting every day for business owners who don’t have time to do it themselves.
  2. Set your goals right and define success well. Service businesses generally take less start-up capital but are also much less likely than product businesses to offer eventual leverage and scalability. There are exceptions, but in most service businesses the assets walk out the door every night. Those businesses are relatively easy to start, relatively easy to survive and prosper with, but also hard to grow beyond small, hard to sell, and hard to attract outside investors.
  3. Look for a business anchor. That’s a former employer and/or a strong client.  For example, before I left a salary position and went on my own, I had Apple Computer, a former client, and Creative Strategies, a former employer, both willing to contract my services from the beginning. Apple remained critical to – and loyal to – my business services from the beginning in 1984 until Business Plan Pro changed the business to product-driven in 1994.
  4. Understand your first client is twice as hard to get as your second. And the second is a third harder than the third. Land those first few clients well. Make sure they’re happy. Give them a huge discount to get the relationship going, and expect to keep your rates low for them, but ask them, in return, to not tell strangers what they pay you. Work free if you have to. You need references and testimonials.
  5. Use social media and content marketing. Create and share content that validates your expertise. Your marketing today is so much easier than it was when I went out on my own; where I had to get through editors and publishers and conference organizers to get my expertise in front of clients (specifically, I wrote magazine articles, and books, and I spoke at conferences), you can do it yourself by posting on blogs and Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn. And don’t
  6. Spend wisely on your logo and look and feel. Look into 99Designs, I’ve seen some sensational work from them. A professional look to your logo and website (or Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn profile, if that’s all you do for a website) is really important. It isn’t a matter of business cards or stationery anymore, but it is how you represent yourself.
  7. Don’t ever spend money you don’t have. You’ll get lots of suggestions for ways you can spend money now to make money later; mail lists, marketing programs, they never stop.
  8. Don’t ever lose a client. Repeat business is vital. Keeping your existing clients is way cheaper and easier than finding new ones. Always go that extra mile, when you have to, to keep your existing clients happy.
  9. Know your numbers. If you don’t know the difference between sales and money in the bank, between profits and cash, learn it. It’s vital. Know your numbers like the back of your hand.
  10. Never compromise integrity. You’re going to succeed or fail based on your reputation. Don’t cut corners with credibility.
  11. (Bonus point) Expect to make mistakes. If you can’t acknowledge and learn from and apologize for your mistakes, then you’re doomed. You will make them. If you think you won’t, keep your day job.
  12. (Second bonus point) Do your own simple, practical business plan. Do it for yourself, not outsiders. Make it just big enough. Keep it fluid and flexible and review it often and revise it frequently. Read Lean Business Planning, by me. Sign up for www.liveplan.com. [Disclosure: I’m the author of that book (but I’m linking you to where you can read it free) and I own Palo Alto Software, which publishes liveplan, a web app for business planning.]

Why All Business Has to be More Social

Are trends favoring social businesses over classic “greed is good” businesses? Is all business social business? Or, every day, more business is social? I think so. I hope so.Define_Social_Entrepreneurship

I first heard the term “social venture” in the late 1990s. Back then, social ventures were the odd exception to the norm, making money while making things better for their employees, their community and rest of the world. They sold devices to sanitize drinking water in the developing world for small profits. They sold technology to develop clean energy. They sold goods that protected the health of the less privileged in the developing world.

It’s been about two years since Harvard Business Review published “Every Business Is (or Should be) Social,” an article by Deborah Mills-Scofield. She wrote:

All businesses are social. All companies have people as customers, employees and suppliers. At some point in deciding which supplier to use, in engaging your workforce, and in getting your product into users’ hands, relationships with people matter. Improving their experiences always improves the outcome for your company.

It’s not just random change. It’s progress.

It’s not that people running businesses are more ethical or moral than they used to be. It’s because of changes in rewards and penalties for good or bad behavior. Social and technological changes are real factors.
The big change started with the Internet in the 1990s. Websites gave businesses a new and different way to reach the world. Before the World Wide Web, businesses had essentially only two ways to reach out to get people to know, like and trust them. They could pay for advertising. Or they could go through the media with public relations, events, articles, speaking opportunities and the like.

The second option depended on getting through gatekeepers: editors, event managers, producers and so forth. By the middle-to-late 1990s, businesses could generate their own website and online options to attract people and help them get to know, like and trust them.

Then came blogging. Millions of people started their own blogs. Experts established their expertise by writing and publishing blog posts and articles. The gatekeepers ceded power to the general public, the readers, search engines and the quality of content. Authors, consultants and assorted business experts established themselves independently of gatekeepers.

The finishing touch was social media. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social sites offered publishing for the masses, billions of opinions expressed as likes, follows and comments.

The result of these trends is what we call transparency.

In his book “The Age of the Customer,” small business advocate Jim Blasingame suggests that we’ve passed a tipping point. “You don’t control your brand,” he says, “your customers do.” And that is a shift in centuries of business reality, he adds.

And it’s because of the accumulated power of the customer as publisher in millions of tweets and updates.

Transparency means bad business behavior is more likely to result in damage to the brand. Big corporations still want to spin information toward their favor, but it’s more difficult to do.

United Airlines took a huge hit in brand image when a customer posted a video on YouTube complaining about treatment of a guitar. Clothing brand Kenneth Cole took a huge hit when its founder tweeted that riots in Cairo were caused by his firm’s new spring fashion line. When Volkswagen cheated on emissions tests, the world knew. When General Motors misplayed product recalls, the world knew.

Transparency also means that good business behavior matters more, too.

Markets care about business stories. A new local business is more effectively able to compete against big national brands because buyers know the local firm’s story and care about it. Clean energy businesses are finding buyers willing to pay more for renewable energy than fossil fuel energy. People pay more for healthy food than mass-produced food. People care about genetically modified foods, and local foods. Some customers prefer local coffee shops to Starbucks. Chain restaurants are less attractive to some than local restaurants.

As we look at business today and trends, shouldn’t all businesses be conscious of their impact on employees, customers, the environment, the economy and the world?

Isn’t it a sign of progress that when so many businesses have a social conscience that we drop the distinction between social business and just plain business? Shouldn’t good behavior be a business advantage?

I’m happy to report that I think it’s happening. Slowly and in stops and starts, progress is being made. All business should be social business.

(Note: republished with permission from my monthly column in the Eugene Register Guard Blue Chip magazine.) 

Planning Is Telling Stories and Making Them Come True

You could call this synchronicity. A few years ago I was reading Seth Godin’s All Marketers Are Liars at about the same time that I caught Harvey Cox talking about the power of stories as truth telling in all major religions. I paused to think about the importance of stories in so many different modes of thinking and communicating; and of course, me being obsessed with business planning, I started thinking of stories as building blocks of planning.

Around that same time, people liked my post Let Your ‘Story’ Frame Your Business Plan, one of my columns at entrepreneur.com. This is moving forward with my sense of planning and stories as closely related:

Suspend your image of a business plan as a document, for a while, and think of it as a collection of stories combined with concrete specifics or goals that aim to make those stories come true.

That led to more recent posts including Stories as Business Strategy earlier this year.

As time goes by I see increasing attention to the wisdom of framing ideas in stories. Just to give you the idea, think of your marketing strategy as a story about how a specific kind of buyer solves a problem or gets something he or she wants by encountering your business. What did she want? How did he find you? What made you different? These are all stories.

A sales forecast tells a story. An expense budget tells a story. So does a set of starting costs, and a balance sheet, and a cash flow projection. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think through these numbers without imagining the purchase decision, the channel, the process, and the scale of units, prices, and costs, assets we need, debts we accumulate, and so on. I can’t be the only one who sees stories in numbers. I hope. Maybe this is what happens when former lit majors fall in love with business analysis, but I’m hoping you agree.

The best way to talk about goals is a story:

Think about your long-term objectives story. Are you looking for wealth and fame, or to do what you like? What does success look like to you? Is it getting financed and making millions, or taking off at 4 p.m. to coach your kids’ soccer team?

And the planning specifics take those stories and break them into specifics required to make them come true:

As you imagine what those stories are, break them down into meaningful, trackable parts. Set tasks associated with those stories, assign tasks to people and give them dates.

The Seth Godin book carries the subtitle: the power of telling authentic stories. I say we go it one step further: we tell authentic stories and make them come true. And that’s a really good path to better business planning.

Business Consulting Suggestion: Make The Small Modules Work First

I knew a man who made a living with complicated mathematical models that he would provide for large companies. He was a professor at the Stanford Business School, but kept his business consulting on the side.

“One thing you want to look for, always, is the simple easy-to-understand model to use at the start,” he said.

“Never propose a big job as a whole package. Instead, always propose a small piece of it as a first step. Assure the clients they can abandon the whole thing if they want after that first step. Make it like a tenth of the whole job.

“Make it something they can see, touch, feel. Make it simple to understand. Make it as visual as possible.”

If that first piece doesn’t work, then you’re better off without the rest of the job.”

I’ve used this tip a lot over the years. That’s with my business consulting, mainly business planning and market research, and with some of the product development I’ve done or supervised. It’s very important.

This applies as well to a lot of business situations. Start with something you can show fairly easily.  Look for something that will make your clients understand the benefit of going on.

If Your Idea is Any Good It Will Be Copied

Good ideas get copied.

Yes, you can read all over the web how to protect your idea. And people are recommending patents, trademarks, copyright, all of which you should do whenever you can. People also recommend contract-like non-disclosure and non-compete agreements too, which is sometimes good advice, sometimes impractical. But eventually all good ideas get copied. Yours will be too. You’re going to have to deal with it.

As I write this I’m wearing a sweatshirt with University of Oregon colors that says “Oregon” on it and also “UO.” But it doesn’t have the logo of the university on it, or the words and fonts that the university copyrighted. And you can’t copyright the name of the state, or the letters U or O. So the university gets no royalties, and the manufacturer owes none.

I should make this clear: I am not saying don’t bother to protect your intellectual property properly. Please don’t misunderstand. Yes, register, apply, take all the steps your attorney recommends. Do what you can. It will help hold competition off and protect your secret sauce for a while. I’m just saying you shouldn’t think you are really protecting from copying, no matter how good your protection is. Smart competitors will get around your intellectual property, even if you manage it correctly and make that as hard as possible. It will still happen eventually.

And here’s my favorite example.

Volkswagen’s new beetle…

Volkswagen Beetle

Volkswagen introduced its new beetle in 1997. What a cool idea that was. It took its looks from the traditional beetle that was immensely popular a few decades earlier, but created a brand new car. What a great idea. And it was commercially successful.

Followed by the new Mini-Cooper…

Mini-Cooper

Not long after Volkswagen’s new beetle, BMW came up with the new Mini-Cooper in 2000. If the old VW was the classic small car success of the 1960s in the U.S. the Mini Cooper S was the darling of the racing magazines at about the same time. It was a tiny British economy car jazzed by John Cooper, famous for formula one racing. BMW bought the British manufacturer and introduced the new Mini.

And then the new Fiat 500

New Fiat 500

So by the time the old VW and the Mini-Cooper had been reborn successfully, Fiat, the Italian auto maker, came up with the same idea for its iconic Fiat 500, which had been the Italian version of the VW during the 1950s and 1960s. That one was released in 2007. It was basically the same idea – take an old standard, a past success, and redesign it for a new car. Buyers like that, and branding is almost automatic. Ride on its history.

The Point is That Copying is Everywhere and All the Time

If you’re successful, people will copy you. You can hold them back with registered patents, trademarks, and copyright, but that’s a delay, not a wall. Volkswagen did not sue BMW for copying its idea, and neither Volkswagen nor BMW sued Fiat. This kind of copying is legal.

In almost any kind of business, from high tech to classic, good ideas get copied. It’s like in fiction, movies, television, fashion, and so many human endeavors. It’s part of life. Laws only protect you so far.

To avoid being run out of time by competitors, you have to stay on top of the business, assume you will be copied, and keep doing what you do well.

(Images from Wikipedia)

 

You Need to Understand the Business Principle of Displacement

DisplacementImagine a bucket of water full to the brim, on a table, right next to a phone and a computer. Now take a brick and drop it into that bucket. Imagine what happens. Water splashes out, right? And that’s probably bad for that phone and computer next to it.

Business Principle of Displacement

That simple story is how I explain the business principle of displacement, in small business, startups, and entrepreneurship. I write it out as:

Principle of displacement: everything you do rules out something else that you don’t do.

The reason this matters so much is that we can’t do everything. So we have to do the most important things. We can’t please everybody. So we have to please the most important, biggest volume groups.

When you decide to add outlier features – used by a few, requested by a few – to a product you are also distracting your team and your product from the main function. And displacement is a legitimate concern as you deal with strategy. Can we expand into schools, from mainly offices? Can we sell to consultants as well as users? In normal growth strategy you have to sort through lots of questions, many possibilities, all with the awareness that you can’t do everything.

Paradox and Strategy

There’s a lot of paradox in managing focus, displacement, and growth.

On the one hand, if you don’t change, you suffer. You can’t just stay focused on the main thing. You have to deal with new possibilities, which sometimes means new products, or new markets.

On the other hand, if you are constantly after the latest shiny new thing, you risk losing focus on what matters most. You don’t want to lose your core while you’re looking to expand.

What I like about real-world business strategy, for startups and small business, is that there is always an other hand.

Stories as Business Strategy

Stories are the oldest and probably the best way to communicate ideas, truth, and beliefs. Stories as business strategy can be extremely powerful. Think of the key stories that are foundational in the great religions. Or think about the stories behind the phrases “sour grapes,” “the fox in the henhouse,” and “the emperor’s new clothes.” They all have power because they communicate. They resonate. We recognize their truths.

“All human beings have an innate need to hear and tell stories and to have a story to live by.”

– Harvey Cox

business stories

Stories are a great way to define and communicate business strategy. A strategy that can’t be told as a story is doomed. And a strategy could be laid out as a story that includes the main factors, for example. And  it could be as simple as a story defining the problem your customers have, the solution your business offers, and the factors that make your business especially suited to offer the solution. In this method the problem is also called need, or want, or, if you like jargon, the so-called “why to buy.” Strategy should be flexible. And a lot of successful presentations start with the problem and its solution.

Your Essential Business Story

Strategy starts with an essential business story. Imagine a moment of purchase. Somebody is buying what you sell. It happens with every business. For example:

  • A group walks into your restaurant.
  • A web browser subscribes to your membership site.
  • A customer in your store picks up one or more products, puts them into a basket, and walks to the checkout counter.
  • A potential client decides to take on your management consulting or social media marketing.

In every case, there is a story. Think it through. Who is this person? How did he or she find you, your store, your restaurant, or your website? Was it by answering an email, looking at an ad, talking to a friend, or maybe searching in a Yelp app on a mobile device?

Every transaction is a solution to somebody’s problem. Understand what problem – need, want, or why-to-buy – you’re solving. Marketing author Theodore Levitt used to point out that people don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.

So you don’t invite somebody to a sushi restaurant just because you’re both hungry. You want an interesting meal; you want to sit down together for a while and talk. It’s an event, an activity, with hunger satisfaction far from the top of the list.

You also need to understand what business you’re in. The restaurant business is often about occasions, not meals. The drive-through fast food business is about convenience. Starbucks is about affordable luxury, not just coffee; and in some cases, a place to meet, or a place to work.

So the solution has to match the problem, but it should demonstrate what’s different about one company when compared to all its competitors. For example, to make a restaurant story based on fine food credible, you need to add in how this restaurant’s owners and team can credibly deliver fine food. And in the software company example, there must be a sense of this company being qualified to deliver useful content in this topic area. That takes us back to the Identity component of the IMO framework; but it could also be called simply the secret sauce, or why we’re different, and presumably better.

A Real Example

Let’s return to a social media consulting company: HavePresence.com. Here’s its essential business story:

Terry loves her business, puts her heart and soul into it, and is successful. Her sales are growing, her customers are happy, and her employees are happy and productive.

She’s worried about social media. She knows it’s important for her business’ future. She knows her business should be on Twitter, Facebook, and the other major platforms. Experts seem to agree that business owners should engage. However, she’s already busy running a business, and she doesn’t have time to do meaningful social media as well. When she’s not running the business, she wants to be with her family, not on the computer.

Terry tried having an employee handle the social media, but it was still taking too much time. She made inquiries with some consultants, but they are expensive.

Finally, on the web, Terry finds Have Presence, a small business like her own, run by three co-owners who love social media, understand small business, and do only thoughtful, strategic social media updates for clients they know and represent well. They aren’t selling expensive consulting, telling Terry what and how to do it. Instead, they do the work, manage the social media, and give Terry’s business social media presence, for a monthly fee that’s considerably less than a half-time employee, without the long-term commitment.

That story defines three important factors. Identity is there in the phrase that begins “the three co-owners love social media and understand small business.” Target market is there in Terry, the business owner, and her problem with social media. And offering is there in the sentence that begins with “They aren’t selling expensive consulting.”

Stories can describe some important visions of truth better than, say, statistics. The real market isn’t a number on a chart or in a table; it’s that collection of people. Sure, the number is nice, once you know the people, but first you have to feel like these people actually exist, and the reason to buy exists, and that the people and the reason match up.

The Story Your Customer Tells

Imagine how your customer found you. What did he think was good or interesting or remarkable about you or your business? Why does she go back for repeat business? What do you want that story to be, and how can you influence that story? This is where the story leads to better business planning as alignment of all the elements of the business with your ideal story.

Your most powerful branding, like it or not, is the story that the customer tells her friends. Imagine your customer explaining your business to a friend. How would she describe your business? What can you do to influence that story?

Even before social media, there was viral marketing, and before that, referral marketing, guerilla marketing, and going back even further, word of mouth. John Jantsch, author of Duct Tape Marketing, calls it getting people to know, like and trust you. Seth Godin, author of All Marketers are Liars, calls it being remarkable.

And now, with social media, Jim Blasingame, author of Age of the Customer, says your customers control your brand. Your business depends on collective opinions published in tweets and Facebook updates, Google+, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. It’s amplified word of mouth, and it’s in the hands of the world at large, independent of your advertising budget, signage, and tag lines.

Know the story. Create the story. Plan in useful steps how to make it true.

Management, Done Well, is a Collection of Stories

Your business revolves around the story of your history and your values and your team as it grows.

With business planning, you don’t just tell the stories of the past, you also create and develop the stories of your future. Look ahead with your plan, control your destiny, and drive it in the right direction. Go from vision to imagination to focus and step-by-step concrete measurable activities.

(Ed note: this is taken from a section of Lean Business Planning)

Experts, Experts Everywhere, and Not a Pause to Think

My title for this post is taken (slightly modified, but better known as shown here than in the original) from Coleridge’s The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner:

“Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink.”

I’m worried that one downside of our amazingly connected world, in relation to small business and entrepreneurship, is that business experts are everywhere, falling over themselves to offer answers and expertise. It’s tough to criticize, especially since I’m as guilty as anybody. But still … is it possible that we use ask an expert hoping for a right or correct answer when the real question is not write or correct, but gut feel? Is it possible we give to much credence to the outside expert and not enough to doing the hard guessing ourselves?

Let me explain.

Seeking the right answer

I take questions on my ask-me form at timberry.com. Here’s one I received.

Worn ShoesI own an Irish pub [US place omitted]. I do not know what is going on, but my day business is not doing well. The staff has remained the same, the atmosphere is the same, but the number of clients has dropped. Is this just due to tougher economic times? I know that other bars in our area feel the same, but we cannot figure out what is going on. Could you please give me some advice.

Don’t get me wrong, please; I’m not advocating ignorance. And I like smart people and admire experts. But I worry that in many real-world business situations, asking some expert, via email, about the nuts and bolts of your specific situation. It gets in the way. It clouds your thinking. You should be asking that question, yes, but also, wear out your shoes finding the answer for yourself, first. Ask experts the big general questions. Not the specifics of your own business.

Nobody can answer that question from afar, with just a general description. That’s totally impossible. There’s no useful answer without getting into that bar, and into that neighborhood, and talking to people. Which is, in my expression, wearing out your shoes.

Wear out your shoes

The question, and the situation, cries out for taking a fresh look.

Don’t just ask an expert, get out there. This is urgent. Talk to people. Ask them. Walk the streets looking for the faces you recognize, stop them, politely, and ask them what’s changed.

Watch some other nearby bars and count their customers. How many people go into the place in an hour, how many exit. Have a drink at other bars and talk to their customers. Look at their prices.

Call some other Irish bars a few towns away and talk to the owners. Ask them if they’re having the same problem. Ask them why or why not.

This is your business, and asking experts it good, but don’t be sitting around waiting for experts … wear down your shoes. Is there a trade association? How about blogs and online sites for bar owners? Call the blogs you read, specialized for bar owners, and ask the online editor if something’s up in the industry. You might get some good attention out of it, and the writers sometimes (sad that it’s not always) know what’s going on better than anybody else.