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Fearlessly Take Risks to Grow Your Firm

Go ahead. Don't look back. Enlist a rookie employee to solve procedural problems, or launch an audacious product line.

A month or so ago, an interesting thing happened in my office.  One of my sales reps, while trying to duplicate a customer's recent order (that customer wanted to place the exact same order again), discovered that, thanks to a recent software update, there were now three options to choose from to clone an order, instead of one. 

Panicking for a second, as most of us do when a button pops up that could potentially erase all our hard work, she quickly called over the vice president of the company and showed him the three choices.  He told her to go ahead and try one of the new options.  As she pushed the button, I heard them both suck in their breath and say, "Oh, my god!" My heart did a somersault.  What had they done?

Quite simply, they had revolutionized our order entry process.  The new button they had discovered and had fearlessly pushed allowed us to transfer backorders from the old invoice to the new order in one touch!  Gone was the paper mess, the wasted time, and the errors in translation—all because they had dared to push the button.  This got me thinking.  What if we, as business owners, pushed the button more often?

Lead your employees to take risks.

Most people enjoy being in control of things, and the same is true of employees.  Many times, however, rather than taking charge of additional projects or proposing innovative initiatives that might take your business to the next level, they hang back, afraid to speak up.  What if we put the emphasis on pushing the button instead of the possible consequences? I decided to push the button myself, asking one of my sales reps to solve a long-standing problem we've had of important details getting left off of customer orders, which results in delays. I picked the sales rep most often at fault for the problems, and I asked her to find a way to get the entire team to do better. This employee had never been in charge of a project, so giving her a problem to solve like was uncharted territory, and I was not sure how it would turn out. 

She set up a program to track the errors of each rep as they happened, a reporting mechanism to inform them daily of the type of error and the frequency, and then put in place an intriguing reward system for those people who did not make mistakes.  Each error counted for minutes to be subtracted from a possible afternoon off.  As the errors accumulated, the minutes of the time off slipped away.  Seeing their time off decrease daily had a huge impact on the way the reps looked at the mistakes.  The carelessness happened less often during the first week. In the second week it was greatly reduced.  In the final week, all of the reps finished the contest with most of their hours of freedom intact.  A problem we had been trying to resolve for months was cleared up in less than three weeks.

Devote resources to daring products.

Since we've been in business for a while, we tend to find the right mix of products and then stay with them. Sales are good, so we feel our products are too.  Like many owners, since the business moves forward, we stop looking for the next best thing.  In the spirit of pushing the button, we decided to take a risk on a new product that was outside of wholesale body piercing jewelry, which makes up the bulk of our product line.  

While completely unrelated to our jewelry line, Interactive Tattoo, a computer software that helps users organize tattoo design ideas, is an auxiliary item that we believe could really help our customers (body pierce jewelry retailers) grow their businesses.  But it was risky for us not only because it fell outside of our usual offerings, but also because it was far pricier than our regular products.  We took it on anyway, because we felt it was a game changer for our industry.  Our sales reps learned the program, and began calling our customers to talk to them about all the ways the product, while expensive in the short term, would save them time and money, and facilitate customer interaction and satisfaction in the long run. And it turns out the software, which literally costs 1,000 times more than most of our existing products, sold out in the first month.

Pushing the button can be scary, but it can also yield big rewards.  In order to do it successfully, I find it is important to push the button in a controlled way.  I knew that allowing my employee to take charge of a problem that was plaguing my company could have gone no where, but if that turned out to be the case, it would not have made things any worse than they were already.  I also knew that adding a product that was so far out of our merchandise mix could possibly backfire, but I figured if I tried it with just one product at a time, it could not do that much damage.  

In both instances, it turned out, pushing the button was the right thing to do.

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Last updated: Feb 24, 2012

VANESSA MERIT NORNBERG | President, Metal Mafia

In 2004, Vanessa Merit Nornberg opened Metal Mafia, a wholesale body and costume jewelry company that sells to more than 5,000 specialty shops and retail chains in 23 countries. Metal Mafia was an Inc. 500 company in 2009.




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