It is a New Year and time to …

Yes, yes, you’ve heard that a lot lately. Still, it is no less valuable nor less appropriate for having been used before. Prior to becoming a cliche, it was good advice.

The other morning the snow and ice convinced me to work from home for a few hours before driving into the office. So I assumed that I could simply sign-in to my office computer using our virtual network. Dang! That didn’t work. It turns out I didn’t know that my new office computer has a different IP address, and my log-in wasn’t recognized. I just assumed it was the same as my old computer.

Next I decided that I’d edit our company blogs using WordPress on the Internet. I assumed I could pull out my old laptop, set up the wireless connection, then sit back with a big cup of caffeinated black cup filler and start reading. Rats! That didn’t work either. The plug-in wireless card for my old laptop has given up the ghost. I just assumed that it would connect as it had last month.

So I rummaged around for another CAT 5 cable and strung it around the room to plug in next to my chair by the fireplace. Arrrrgh! I assumed the cable was good. Nope. I remember now! The window installation contractor told me last summer he’d dropped a chisel on the cable and cut it part way through. No problem. I’ll just crimp a new end onto it.

Blast it! I assumed I had a supply of crimp-on plugs. Plenty of 4-wire and 6-wire, but not a single 8-wire plug to be found. Grrrrrrrrrr.

I assume you can see where I’m going with this anecdote of assuming I could work from home? Yes? No? It’s the presumptuous assumptions we make about our businesses.

When we start a business we make a number of important assumptions. We assume our location will attract customers. We make a variety of assumptions about the demographics, lifestyle attributes, and trends of our target customers. We assume that our target customers will buy our products and services. We assume that our suppliers will be able to keep us stocked with goods at a certain price. We assume that our bank will continue to approve our line-of-credit. We assume that our hot, innovative, cutting-edge product will stay on top of the everyone-must-have-one list. And so on.

So now we’ve been in business for a while, and it is a new year. I recommend, I implore, I insist, I cajole, I triple-dog-dare you to take a close hard look at all those assumptions. Are they still applicable? In a sense, they shouldn’t be assumptions any longer. They should be verifiable facts.

Ask your bank if the line-of-credit is still available. Check with your suppliers. Can they still deliver and at the same price? Who are your real customers? (NOT who you assume they are, but who actually comes through your door and gives you money.) Ask them for feedback and suggestions and compare that with what you assumed. What’s changed in your area that might affect your business? For example, did your floor traffic increase or decrease when that new movie theater complex opened down the street? Did a new techno-gadget consign your product to instant obsolescence?

In Location, Location, Location Tim Berry posted about a venue that was a successful restaurant for 30 years, and then had a series of failed eateries in the same space. It would seem that a basic assumption had changed.

You and your business cannot afford to blindly trust that the assumptions accepted as true once will remain true always.

  • Confirm what still holds true
  • Identify old assumptions which are false
  • Determine, if you can, why these assumptions were incorrect
  • Make new assumptions where necessary
  • Incorporate these changes into your monthly and annual business planning.

Steve Lange
Senior Editor
Palo Alto Software

My thanks to my co-editor Sara Prentice Manela for suggesting this post to me, after patiently listening to me whine tale of woeful assumptions.