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Saying no: the secret to a successful business

Business ideas come from a big fat "yes". Yes to something new; yes to drive and passion; yes, often, to risk. Entrepreneurs can be seen as the daring minority of us who have gone with their gut and their determination and carved out a pro-active, positive path for themselves that many of us dream of but can't muster the gumption to pursue. Risk-aversion usually causes many of us to say "no" to opportunities we wish we could make the most of, if only financial security, time, or other commitments weren't an issue.

However, saying "yes" is only one small part of starting and running a business. I've found that over the years, you have to say "no" a lot more than saying yes, and just like starting a business, you're often going against pressure to do so.

Business is about solving a problem that people have, with a solution that both makes them happy and makes you money. That solution has to be well thought-through and executed. If you muddy the waters by getting distracted by other fun ideas or other people's passing comments about what they want you to do, things will quickly go pear-shaped.

Here's a list of what people have told us they'd love to see us selling in the shop:

- Eccles cakes

- Bread

- Bread classes

- Sandwiches

- Bacon butties

- Pies

- Quiches

- Vanilla slices

- Raw pizza dough

- Coke and other soft drinks

- School type puddings and custards

- A massive stock of cake decorating equipment.

And I'm glad people feel they have a say in our little slice of the community. The reason they suggest these things is because they feel they have a buy-in and a relationship with us - which they do!

But I think most of the time what they mean by these suggestions is, "I wish there was a place that offered me the same experience as you that sells these different things". People like how our shop looks, they like the welcome they get when they come in, and they like the quality of the products we sell. They long to see an equivalent of that selling other products (and by the way there are other great places in Keighley selling lots of them!)

But when you've set up a business to make people happy, it's really hard to stand your ground and stay focused on your goals, because part of you thinks, "well if that's what people want, maybe we should do it". Maybe there is money to be made. Maybe there is a problem that we could solve for them.

You need to be super focused on your business model and strategy. Businesses may start with passion, but they only continue based on logic, rationale and a lot of number crunching.

For Three Little Birds, our business model runs on 3 main strands of income: the retail counter in the shop, wedding cakes, and celebration cakes. This is working well for us. In the past we've also run Classes (which we will be starting up again in the next few months), online classes, and attended Fairs and Events with our cakes. Diversification is the key to success, as long as each of your income streams is actually profitable, or contributes to the overall profitability of the business.

If we introduced bread, we'd need an utterly different production process. To make money by making bread you need to make a much larger volume than we do for our bespoke cakes. Our staff would have to be in the shop at 3am each day. We'd need completely different ovens. None of us have ever been trained in making bread. It would require thousands of pounds of investment. It's a really bad idea for us to start making bread. However, there's still a part of me that feels guilty for saying, "No, we don't sell bread", because I just want to bring people joy and they're telling me they want bread, darn it.

Obviously, your clients' feedback is really important, and what I am NOT saying is, ignore customer views. Sometimes an idea will be floated and you'll think, that's worth looking into. Then the next step is some proper market research to see if there's uptake for it, followed by a rigorous investigation into costing it, and working out your processes to deliver it to market. More often than not, the answer will still be "no", but sometimes it will be a resounding "yes", and another income stream is born. Hurrah!

One last thing: if your business is working as it is, then even more of a reason to not act on impulse and to carefully consider any opportunities that come your way. For us, thankfully, the business is working pretty well with the income streams we currently have, and we are not in a position to drastically need to pivot. In time, hopefully our profits will increase and we will be able to invest that back into new and fun ideas. But for now, we'll just be sticking to cake, which is the best kind of product - one that pays the bills.

Three Little Birds offers wedding cakes, celebration cakes and a beautiful selection of homemade cakes, slices and macarons from our shop in Keighley, West Yorkshire.

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 I was nodding along with every point made in this blog post. fireboy and watergirl

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