By Rieva Lesonsky

thinksmall photo
If you’re like most entrepreneurs I know, you love to think big. Sure, you may be a one-person operation now—but you’ve got grand plans for getting venture capital and building your company to Starbucks-like world domination.

I’m not trying to throw ice water on those ideas, but I do know that sometimes the best way to achieve your big dreams is to think small.

Case in point: the story of Alden Mills, founder of Perfect Fitness. Inc. magazine tells how Mills, a former Navy SEAL, invented a fitness program for women, found a business partner and raised $1.5 million in capital. Then “experts” convinced him he needed to advertise the product via infomercials. “We were dead set against it,” recalls Mills, but he finally acquiesced. Mills spent months of his time—and burned through most of his startup capital—launching the series of infomercials. But the product didn’t sell, because having a former Navy SEAL talk about a women’s fitness program was “a big disconnect.”

Mills didn’t give up—but he took a totally different approach. Using his last $25,000, he developed a new product: Perfect Pushup, a device to make it easier to do pushups. Then he used his credit card to buy small ads in the back of men’s sports and fitness magazines.

The first print ads sold $100,000 worth of product in a month; sales kept increasing, and soon Mills was able to do a one-minute commercial, targeting sports channels. Within 4 months, he was profitable and started ramping up. Within a year, his product was in more than 24,000 retailers.
What’s the takeaway?

One, listen to your gut. Mills knew infomercials weren’t right for his business, but he let an expert convince him otherwise. When he went with his gut instinct to target men, he succeeded.

Two, learn from your mistakes. Lots of entrepreneurs keep doing the same thing over and over. If at first you don’t succeed, go in a different direction. It worked for Mills.

Three, think small. Sure, it would be great to be able to launch a huge e-commerce operation with a call center, a chain of retail stores, or a national operation all at once. But do you have the money, time and resources to do this? Starting small and building on your successes enables you to bootstrap your business and keeps you from getting in over your head.