Small business mercy killing: When to euthanize a project

KILL IT WITH FIRE!
I've had a couple different Empire experiments that have just been abysmal failures. Two years ago, there was the Offbeat Bride Store, a browsable "catablog" of stuff we liked, monetized via affiliate products and paid placement. Readers loved browsing, but very few of them bought anything, so it never made any money. The final nail in the coffin was when readers started getting confused between what was a blog post (with copy written by us) and what was a store post (with copy slurped up from Amazon or some other commercial site). Not making any money AND confusing our readers and muddling our brand voice? KILL IT.

Fall of 2010, I launched the Offbeat Bride Vendor Directory, which was immediately one of the biggest business successes I've ever had, grossing over $20,000 the month it launched. Listing vendors reported great results (some getting inquiries within hours of their listings being published), and readers loved that they could finally easily view vendors in their area via a big clickable map.

Excited by the success of Offbeat Bride's Vendor Directory, last year I propagated the directory concepts to both Offbeat Mama and Offbeat Home. I envisioned guides that could help Offbeat Mamas find midwives and doulas, and Offbeat Homies find rad dyke plumbers. I set prices super low ($25/year!) and gave away a ton of freebies to build buzz… but no one bought. I had editors write posts about new businesses we were featuring in the directories… but no one bought. Listing businesses reported getting only a few clicks a month from their listings.

A year after launching the directories on Home and Mama, I took a look around and realized…yeah, no. They were almost sort of embarrassing … vendors just haven't been that interested, so the offerings have been pretty paltry. The directories certainly weren't making much money for the sites — we're talking maybe $25/month.

SO I KILLED THEM. Very few readers will even notice, let alone care. All listing businesses were given free banner ads worth as much or more than what they spent on their listings. The editors were happy to have one less moving part on their respective sites. And I can move onto scheming other projects that might work better. (It should be noted that the Offbeat Bride Vendor Directory continues to KICK ASS. The model just doesn't seem to work for the other two sites.)

It's always an interesting process, acknowledging when a project is failing. Luckily, the directories didn't take a ton of development work so it wasn't a huge write-off to kill them. It's more just humbling to say "Yep, that thing I thought would be awesome? FAIL."

Then I get out my whorebrain thinking cap, and start thinking of new ideas to launch and possibly fail. Admitting a fail and killing a project that's limping along is the best kind of business euthanasia. One less digital mouth to feed means more resources for all the other hungry offbeat projects wanting my attention.

ONWARD, MY LITTLE FAILURES!

  1. Man it is GREAT that you have this ability. You just don't even know. I work with the federal gov't and several large contractors and the biggest waste I can see is the inability to recognize and kill dead projects. Projects that truly deserve to die just trundle on and on, year after year, like money-sucking zombies.

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    • The hardest part is knowing how soon is too soon — I came THISCLOSE to killing Offbeat Mama so many times, but it looks like it's maybe finally performing! We'll see how long that lasts, to see how long I can put off making THAT decision…

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  2. Ha, the Rad Dyke plumber link brought back so many memories of reading the Stranger ads.

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  3. it was so funny…i was hammering my brain thinking so hard about doing it…and just couldn't see that light at at the end of the tunnel….but good to know, and smart move.

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  4. Since you threw out some numbers in that post, I'm wondering if you would ever want to write about how much money the Offbeat Empire makes. It's just something I'm curious about. I completely understand if you don't feel comfortable doing that, but…think about it, I guess?

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    • Absolutely not. While I'm fine talking about relative profits or specific projects, I'm not comfortable releasing financial reports publicly. I'm not doing an IPO any time soon, so my business finances are private.

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      • Okay, that's cool. My curiosity was piqued by the extremes of numbers that you mentioned here, but like I said, I understand why you wouldn't want to do that.

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        • Yeah, that number was mentioned specifically because it was extreme. I don't toss around descriptors like "biggest business successes I've ever had" casually!

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    • And let's not forget this new baseball cap slogan:
      Whorebrain Thinking Cap.

      Or if you're a minimalist:
      Whorebrain.

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  5. Live and learn. i feel the same way when I make a new product for my Etsy shops and I am JUST SO SURE everyone is going to LOVE it and it'll SELL LIKE CRAZY. And then, nope… it just sits there and gathers dust. After renewing it a few times once it reaches expiration, sometimes it's just time to let that once "brilliant" idea DIE.

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