Knowing When to Let Go of a Failing Business Plan

I started my company when I graduated from college in 2006. It all started with an assignment to write a business plan during my senior year.

Originally, I planned to just write one up for a generic graphic and Web design company, but my professor 

Most doctors have horrible websites, if they have them at all. When I found out how under-represented the medical community was on the Web, my professor thought it was a smart idea. So I got to work targeting primary care physicians, dentists, chiropractors and physical therapists — anyone who had patients, really — to help them with their logos, marketing materials, and websites.encouraged me to try to find a lucrative niche. So I researched different industries in Maine, and ended up targeting the medical industry.

The problem was, despite all the research and statistics I'd collected, I truly didn't understand how medical offices worked. Barely a year later, it was clear to me that the plan was a bust and I'd have to rethink my whole approach.

Right idea, wrong strategy

What I didn't know was that most medical offices weren't really interested in having websites or spending the money on them.

I tried cold-calling doctors' offices to ask whether they wanted more information. If they said yes, I'd sent out a marketing package and try to schedule a follow-up meeting. But I was always going through office managers or receptionists. Since they aren't the decision-makers, it was really hard for me to pitch my services and explain the value of what my company could do for them.

I think I called more than 250 doctors' offices — and I got one new client out of it.

The big pivot

While I was struggling to make inroads into that niche, I was getting referrals for other small businesses that knew me and knew that I could do graphic design for them. I saw no reason to be really rigid about my niche in the medical field. Before I knew it, I had many more small businesses as clients than doctors' offices.

But that became awkward when I needed to market myself to prospective clients. I had a website called MediCreative, my business card said "MediCreative," I had all these pictures of doctors and patients and all the language was very medical. So it was confusing when I had to explain to people, "Well, we specialize in medical offices, but we can also do your website."

I decided at that point that I needed to give up on my original idea, and rebrand the company to appeal to a broader audience. It was about a year into the business when I re-launched as iBec Creative and stopped promoting MediCreative. It was really hard for me to let go.

The hardest part was accepting that the first idea wasn't a success. I believed — and still believe — that there's an opportunity out there. But it wasn't worth the effort or the time or the money to keep targeting doctor's offices.

Keeping an open mind

Once I made that switch, the business started growing much faster. It wasn't some big process to get a client anymore. It really started to grow organically.

Rather than cold-calling, I quickly learned the importance of networking. I focused my efforts on going to events, working on referrals with existing clients, and changing how I talked about my company to the public.

If I had stuck with MediCreative, I would have eventually needed to enlist a partner who had a background in the inner-workings of doctors' offices. But at the end of the day, I just wanted to help people with their branding and websites.

Today, iBec Creative has eight employees and our 2010 revenue was about $650,000. My next goal is to break the million-dollar mark.

You can't be stubborn about your business plan — it's going to change the day you open. Go where the profits are leading you, and do what makes you happy.

If Becky McKinnell could switch lives with a celebrity, it would be Anthony Bourdain, so she could travel the world, meet new people and try delicious food.

By Becky McKinnell, Founder and President, iBec Creative, Portland, Maine

– As told to Mike Miliard

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