Trade In the Stupid Lemon Already! Part 1

”Your car is broken.”

Never words you want to hear from your mechanic.

This car had 57,000 miles on it, it was paid for in full, and it was my problem child. A month ago, I put the third set of tires on it.

Three weeks ago, it exploded.

When six dashboard warning lights go off at the same time, all the interior lights start to strobe, and the cabin fills with a strange burning smell, it must be broken.

The explosion cost me $1,100, and I took the car home, planning to drive it for another 50,000 miles.

Last week, I noticed a huge puddle of anti-freeze on my garage floor. The radiator had cracked.

So I fixed that too. And the dealer then said, “Oh, by the way, your shocks and struts are shot — you need to have those replaced.”

All told in four weeks, I spent $2,100 on a car that was barely five years old.

And I still resisted getting rid of it.

I’m telling you the story because I think it highlights a common problem that business owners of all kinds, and solopreneurs in particular, often face.

We stick to our choices th​at aren’t working anymore.

As I look back in my life, I see situations that put me on a slow but certain path to disaster. It’s easy to see those in retrospect, but really hard to see them in the moment.

With the car, three sets of tires in five years should have told me that something was wrong with the car. An explosion REALLY should have told me that something was wrong with the car.

But I stuck with the car because it was paid for, I didn’t want a car payment as I’m establishing my business, and I knew that I should, in theory, be able to drive the car for 100,000 miles.

As Robert Burns said, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

So, finally, I said to myself, “Trade in the stupid lemon already!” So we went and bought a new car. After wasting $2,100 on a lemon.

Each of us makes choices in our pursuit of the writer’s life. And whether or not we like it, choices that once served us well can put us on a slow path to disaster.

And it’s up to us to find those choices and fix the problem.

Here’s another example. Down the street, there was a nice English café. It had been open for a few years, and I went in every month or so for coffee or lunch and had nice chats with the owner. She was an intelligent, likeable, but somewhat stubborn lady from England with a good idea.

But the execution of her idea wasn’t working.

I’m no restaurant expert, but I can tell when a restaurant isn’t thriving. Food quality was slipshod, they had high staff turnover, prices kept changing, hours were erratic.

It was very clear to me that she was on a slow path to disaster. And last week, her café closed.

Why couldn’t she see that her business was failing?

I think it’s because she wasn’t willing to admit to bad choices. As she ran that restaurant, every day, she made choices that undermined her basic goals. She didn’t maintain quality, she couldn’t keep her staff happy, and she couldn’t even decide when she wanted to be open.

It’s just like me and the car. Even though it clearly wasn’t working well, I stuck with it because I was the one who chose that car, and I wasn’t willing to revise my plan even though it was a failure.

I also think that her attitude got in the way. Like many of us, she was the expert. And often, expertise makes us unwilling to ask for help.

But each of us has to use any tools at our disposal to stay on the path to success. Whether you’re just starting out as a copywriter, or you’ve been doing it for years, you have to dodge disaster. And whether or not you like it, the choices you make can ruin your business.

In my business, I’ve made some bad choices. I’m forcing myself to stare at them, intently, and make changes I need to make for my continued success.

But I’m not just relying on my own insight. I’m working out a way to get outside perspective. Large companies do this all the time — that’s what a corporate board is for. That’s a tool many solopreneurs don’t use, probably out of ego, or maybe lack of resources.

But why shouldn’t my business get outside scrutiny? Why shouldn’t I get a second source of ideas? Why shouldn’t I get help?

Or more importantly, why shouldn’t your business get help?

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Published: October 1, 2012

1 Response to “Trade In the Stupid Lemon Already! Part 1”

  1. Thank you for contributing this article and I would like you to know that I really enjoyed reading it.

    To paraphrase: I think that's why too many CEOs have been labelled as "fire-fighters."

    When you are in that reactive mode, you spend most of your time putting out fires.

    Instead, you should be proactive and ask the question: "Well, why are these fires there in the first place?"

    In the long run, reactivity will burn your business and you will find yourself going to an Employee Assistance Program for help or assistance.

    After all, prevention is better than cure, so your reminder is timely here.

    Archan Mehta

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