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Far from agreeing with the axiom that “change is a good thing,” small business owners often find the thought of pursuing a new direction terrifying and risky. The smallest change in customer needs or marketplace demands can generate a ripple effect that completely reroutes a business’s course.
But as unnerving as it may be, change is what business owners need to test their assumptions, elevate their goals, and venture into new areas of success. How you deal with that change will determine whether your business soars or sinks.
Amy Balliett, cofounder of design agency Killer Infographics, views unexpected change as crucial to her business’s evolution. Balliett, along with business partner Nick Grant, launched Killer Infographics in 2010 as a way to support their main venture—a suite of websites called Seven Figure Project.
Their infographics project was never intended to be a revenue driver, but it quickly became a lucrative source of client work. Meanwhile, Grant and Balliett continued to devote their focus toward Seven Figure Project, hoping that the portfolio of websites would take off—but it didn’t.
“Our star website, ZippyCart, had better months than others, but it kept averaging $4,000 a month, which wasn’t nearly enough to pay our mortgages and grow the company,” said Balliet. “When we took our first infographic order, we thought we would be able to subsidize our core business.”
But ZippyCart was slow to grow, and in 2011, Balliett and Grant received an order for 40 infographics in just one month. That’s when Killer Infographics became Balliett and Grant’s primary focus.
“It was very sudden,” said Balliett. “Infographics stopped being a small part of our business. They needed all my attention.”
Even though Killer Infographics was beginning to find success, Grant and Balliett were hesitant to take such a sharp strategic turn.
“While the new direction happened very naturally, it was still hard to give up our original business model,” Balliett said. “We took the transition very slowly. It was never our intention to shift directions in the way that we did.”
Balliett and Grant responded to sudden demand for infographics by carefully dividing their responsibilities between the two companies. Even though Killer Infographics was beginning to take off, they were hesitant to hire staff. Instead, they combined the sales and web development operations from both businesses into a single team.
“We remained small, split resources between the two companies, and worked with freelancers,” explained Balliett. “This agility allowed us to carry both business models for the first year of Killer Infographics.”
As Killer Infographics grew, ZippyCart continued to wind down—due in part to Google Panda, the search giant’s 2011 algorithm update.
“We knew we had to shift our focus entirely,” said Balliett. “We put ZippyCart up for sale and sold it in early 2012.”
“Nick and I had spent over a year investing our time into building a portfolio of affiliate websites,” said Balliett. “We had a business model that we were certain would work and set our future plans based on the flexibility that a strictly online business afforded us.”
Despite the fact that Killer Infographics was growing rapidly, the two founders felt like they were giving up on their original dream.
“Because we were both fighting against the business we were building and living for the one that was failing, we had to do a lot of soul searching as a partnership,” she said. “We even almost sold Killer Infographics in the spring of 2012 because we were still married to our original business model.”
Grant and Balliett backed out of the sale at the last minute.
“It took almost losing Killer Infographics for us to finally embrace the growth that we had set in motion almost two years prior.”
By the end of 2013, four years after Killer Infographics launched, the company has designed more than 3,000 infographics for clients that include Starbucks, Adobe, Microsoft, REI, TurboTax, Mint.com, and others.
“We were so lucky to embrace the change before it was too late,” said Balliett. “Had we embraced our new direction a year earlier, we would be even larger than we are now. Had we waited just a few months, we might not even be here now.”
Ritika Puri specializes in business, marketing, entrepreneurship and tech. She writes for American Express OPEN Forum, Forbes, Investopedia, Business Insider, CMO, the SAP Innovation Blog and others.
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