“We’re really excited to have you here in Bolivia. We’ve organised a four week small business development program for you to run which kicks off next week with you presenting to 50 tourism business owners, telling them how you are going to assist them. Tell us about your experience with small business development.”
I felt sick. How do you respond to that? I’m an IT guy – I had no idea about small business development. To make matters worse, everyone was looking at me interested to know the answer. Rolando, one of the people running the volunteering organisation in Bolivia, had picked just the right time to ask the question – when there was a total lull in the conversation and everyone was quiet which meant, when he spoke everyone tuned in.
Last Saturday, in a Meetup group I run, I met a lady who had been in the same career for 30 years. While she was ready for a change, she was not sure she could do anything else except what she had been doing for so long – nursing.
That moment led me to thinking about my own experience with this. While I didn’t have 30 years of experience behind me – only 10, I certainly had convinced myself that I.T. was all I could do.
I can’t remember exactly how I answered that question that day in Bolivia. I remember having an overwhelming sense of guilt because my brain immediately assumed I’d mislead the charity I was about to work for. The truth was, I’d simply ticked the small business option (because working with toddlers in a daycare centre wasn’t my thing!) and I’d always admired people who had the courage to start something. I’d also attached my resume to the application, as per the instructions, so I was expecting an I.T. project. There was a break down in communication somewhere but it wasn’t anything I’d done.
That first day came around all too quickly. I was nervous – scared someone would call me out for not knowing what I was doing. I’d put together a presentation combining my marketing theory (from the marketing subject I did at uni) with my experience as a traveller and the creative structure that I used to produce results in my own life.
The presentation went quite well – despite the fact someone was translating ever word I said to Spanish the whole way along, impeding the flow a little. I’ll never forget at the end of the presentation, there was one guy who stood up to voice his issues. He was quite emotional and on the verge of tears and he said to me “I’ve taken one horse riding tour with 8 people into the mountains. They were referred to me by a friend. I want to keep doing this but I have no idea how.”
Over the next few weeks we took the participants on excursions to visit some other tourist sites to see what they did, we worked through a SWOT analysis in groups on each of the market segments and I started working one on one with some of the business owners. While there were a few businesses I helped during that time, I want to focus on the horse riding guy. Here’s how it went:
“What’s the name of your business?” I asked, kicking off our discussion.
“Name? I don’t have one.” He answered quickly.
“You need a name for your business, so people know how to refer to you. Have a think about what you want to call yourself” I said, giving him his first piece of homework.
“Now what horse rides can you do?” I asked him.
“I can go anywhere you want,” he answered with a helpful smile on his face.
We worked together for the next couple of sessions, using some wisdom I’d read in an article written about Steve Jobs about limiting product choice and came up with 3 tours he could offer people.
One of the volunteers was a graphic artist and she did the flyer for him. I then asked him to brainstorm where his customers might hang out – that is, where he was going to put his advertising flyers. With some encouragement, he came up with some great places to put them.
In the end, I was able to assist him and the others. If you’re looking at making a change and not sure what else you can do, don’t limit yourself to what you’ve done in the past. You never know what you might be capable of.