Our line of work is very interesting. We get to see a large amount of problems that started off small, but ended up becoming hugely problematic because they were ignored.
Perhaps you've watched some of those reality TV shows like Embarrassing Bodies? Various brave people volunteer to reveal an ailment to a doctor, but on national television.
Most of them have some sort of gross deformation that, if detected early, could have been treated quickly and painlessly. However, for whatever reason, they chose to wait until the problem became so huge they could no longer ignore or hide it -- time for a major operation.
There are many reasons why people leave things to the last moment, the longer you leave a problem the larger it grows -- pressure magnifies.
Pressure magnifies weaknesses
When launching a spaceship, ensuring that it's on target before pressing the launch button is very important. If the ship is off by one degree at launch that could mean the difference between landing on the moon or grazing the moon and bouncing off into an asteroid. The further the spaceship travels, the more off-course it gets.
There was a business that started off on a mission to attract students. Their one degree error started when the good business idea was hatched. Some assumptions were made, a large amount of money was invested in a location, equipment, staff, marketing material, radio ads and clothing.
Those are the kind of things you have to think about when selling to students, right?
Less than a year later the directors couldn't figure out why a certain demographic wasn't responding to their advertising efforts. They were getting hits on their website, they were offering students a trial free period of two weeks, but this wasn't translating to new business. Nobody was even calling about the free trial.
Puzzled, they assumed it had to do with their website design. So they enlisted a designer who made the site look prettier (based on more director assumptions) and then launched the newly polished version. Still no luck!
So they launched an electronic newsletter and got no traction with the students.
At this stage they were under a lot of pressure to make this work. People's life savings were involved. What was the issue here?
At the beginning they made a one degree error by not engaging their target audience. They hadn't even thought about it. The directors made fatal assumptions based on a few conversations amongst themselves, about what they thought their future students wanted.
Turns out those small assumptions pushed them to a place where they couldn't attract students.
You can't attract mosquitoes using repellent
When they engaged their target audience it became very clear what the issue was.
They had developed a brand by asking one of their students to do a logo. Another student was studying web design, so they gave them the task of developing their website and then had one of the staff take photos of them in their surroundings.
When you mixed this concoction together you had a brew that chased away the very clients they were after.
Their brand was like a mosquito repellent!
You can only hide your problem area for a small amount of time. If you're not getting a specific type of client then there is a reason for that.
Do your clients want what you offer?
Is there a purpose-driven strategy in place? Do you know who you are and what appeals to your market? Have you spoken with the people you want to sell to? Does your marketing material, photography, messaging, clothing and premises consistently reflect your business values?
Do your day-to-day interactions consistently reflect what you say in your marketing efforts?
If not, that's a major problem!
Worse still, if there's no avenue for people to provide feedback then you can never improve. You will always be running on assumptions.
Know who you are and who you're marketing to.
Talk to your audience regularly. Listen to them. Give them what they want. If they flag an experience that is the opposite of what your brand promises then get on to that immediately.
Don't get friends or students to do your branding, photography or radio ads. It's very unlikely that they have the experience to tie your brand promises into an effective visual representation.
If you're using a designer that does what YOU tell them to, then you need to end the relationship right now.
You don't need somebody that's too scared to tell you where and when you've gone wrong. You're paying them for their professional guidance, not to hold your hand while they watch you playing on the main road.