Ain't Worth It

I was standing at my table, gazing out a window during a lull in activity.  Two early twenty-something young men were departing the YMCA, and as they headed out the door one of them joked to the other in reference to my provisional beef stand: ‘I bet standing there all day is worth it!’  Laughter ensued.  Ouch, my pride.

Everyone in our family has listened to some variation of these themes about a million times:

“You drive all the way into Pittsburgh to sell beef every week?  That Strip District, it’s overrated by a bunch of yuppies.  I used to go there, too, you know.  It ain’t worth it.”

“These market managers aren’t doing a thing to get people to buy stuff.  Standing here, it ain’t worth it.  I could be at home getting something done!”

‘We sold some beef to a few people at church, but we keep telling friends we have more and they’re just not buying it.  This local food idea, it ain’t worth it.”

It ain’t worth it.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told through the years that a marketing scheme will undoubtedly fail to pan out.  Indeed, there is a whole community of farmers who regularly contribute to the list of activities that are a waste of time as though, by process of elimination, someone will eventually find easy street.  There is a huge amount of energy expended by people as they desperately search for that elusive sales platform that’s completely worth it.

Do you want to know a secret?  Nothing is worth it.  When we first started at the Clarion Farmer’s Market thirteen years ago, it wasn’t worth the effort.  Our store wasn’t worth building.  The first year (really, the first three years) of trips to Pittsburgh were not worth the huge amount of time required to make the trip.  Our first trips to Indiana High School were absolutely not worth the organizational stress.  The YMCA deliveries I mentioned earlier?  Those guys were right – they’re not worth it.

‘Worth it’ does not simply appear one day and fall into your lap; if it did, everyone in the country would be self employed and making a good living.  Nothing at all is worth it until you put in your time.  Those who react to their first impression of a marketing situation will always leave in search of something better, because the outset of a new project will rarely return favorable results.

A major stumbling block for entrepreneurs is the attitude of expectation they carry into a new venture.  When I talk to someone with a freshly minted business and they lead the conversation with “I want ____” or “I need ____,” I know they are candidates for abandoning the enterprise.  Depending on a young business to provide a wild lifestyle or to rescue the owner from financial ruin is similar to demanding that an infant cook its parents a five course meal every night – it’s not going to happen.  No business activity can be worth it when we’re counting on the impossible; just ask the farmers who join a community market in hopes of eradicating the crippling mortgage payment.

Starting into direct sales is incredibly difficult.  Allan Nation frequently wrote that most successful business owners, had they known what they were getting in to when they opened their business, wouldn’t have started in the first place.  Those who survived didn’t find a magic bullet, they were simply too stubborn to quit after they realized nothing works the way they expected it to.  The stress that accompanies finding and keeping customers while organizing a system that supplies demand and functions financially is often a shock for people who believe they will turn their hobby into a pleasurable business.  Everything is fun until you do it for a living, as they say.

What I’ve come to learn through the years is I need to place a filter in my mind when we’re developing new marketing strategies.  Everything that can create a nagging doubt must be temporarily barricaded out of the thought process so I am able to better see what we’re doing.  I completely ignore the dubiety and focus on aspects of a new venture that have potential, no matter how small the nuance.  Then the progression is like starting a fire from an ember: tend to the tiny spark relentlessly until it becomes a roaring blaze.  Everyone will agree that some smoldering twigs aren’t going to keep you warm, but those who persist through the smoke are rewarded with abundant heat that can take the chill off several people.

I’ll have to modify the axiom propounded by everyone out there who’s done it all:That ain’t worth it – at first.The illusion of finding mythical instant success is a distraction that keeps many people out of business.Those who are diligent enough to tend a small spark that others would snuff out will, with time, build a fire worth sitting around.The next challenge is to keep it from growing so big it burns your house down.