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Lemon to lemonade

In these times of uncertainty we can’t always count on business opportunities materialising, or sometimes not in the way we had expected. This is true for all businesses but particularly in industries like construction were a company may think they have a project lined up, only to find that the client is no longer able to do it, for whatever reason (usually financial). That’s an example of when life gives you a lemon.

I recently asked some entrepreneurs to share with me instances where life gave them a lemon and what they did with it. In all the cases, the entrepreneurs made “lemonade” by turning a challenge or difficult situation around to their advantage.

In one case a restaurant literally made lemonade when a delivery of fruit juices they were expecting to offer at lunchtime did materialise. Fortunately they had some limes and they made lemonade (as we say in Barbados as opposed to limeade) which has become one of their bestselling drinks.

Another entrepreneur shared that a few years ago she developed a condition in which she kept feeling dizzy and would be almost falling over at her desk. She was told to find a hobby or an activity that would require her to focus her attention and sight on one thing.

As a result she began to make embroidered gifts including small chattel houses which could be used for storage of small items like business cards, jewellery, threads etc. and she also put a printed scripture verse in the roof as an encouragement.

When she told me about her work I immediately ordered one and asked her to put the end of Joshua 24:15 in the roof (you can look it up). I received mine this week and I was amazed at the quality of the work.

The chattel house was totally covered with embroidery, down to the level of flowers around the front and side of the house. The detail work was amazing, even to the level where the doors and shutters can actually open. Inside she had sewn her label and my scripture verse that I requested was in the roof which was hinged on one side and could open.

As if that wasn’t enough, she included her business card in the plastic wrapped package and created a gift box with a picture of the house on it. Then, can you believe that she also created a full colour postcard which was printed on high quality card with a photo of the house on one side and a description of the history of the chattel house on the other side?

She timidly presented it to me at a business forum and said that she wasn’t sure if she was asking too much for it. This entrepreneur has created a beautiful, functional, unique Bajan product that has huge export potential, had gone so far as to research and include the history of the chattel house and present it in a gift box, and was not aware of the value of her product.

There is so much potential for her product to be exported to the Barbadian Diaspora, historians and collectors and lovers of Barbados (particularly repeat visitors) all of whom I believe would be willing to pay a premium for a genuine Barbadian souvenir that’s not made in China.

I’m sure that she’s not unique. We have many creative people in Barbados just waiting to be discovered who probably create unique Bajan products that they can sell at a premium. In my opinion there’s no such thing as “too expensive”, you just have to find the right market, i.e. people who can see and appreciate the value of your product and are willing to pay for it.

Take our Barbados sugar for example. We export it to Europe at a loss and an enterprising entrepreneur repackages it, creating a valuable product called genuine Barbados sugar and sells it for a fortune. We need to be doing that for ourselves.

Now that we have the Internet, opportunities abound to get our products exposed internationally and at low costs. We can connect with websites that target the same markets as we do and we can do cross advertising. We can make use of our embassies and consulates to assist us in getting our products and services to our markets and thereby earn foreign exchange. And I haven’t even gone into the knowledge products yet. The possibilities are endless.

So if life throws you a lemon, don’t throw up your hands in despair; make lemonade.

* Donna Every is a Chartered Accountant and an MBA who worked with Ernst & Young for ten years before starting her own Business Advisory practice, Arise Consulting Inc. She has written four books including What Do You Have in Your House?, Surviving in Times of Financial Crisis and the newly released novel The Merger Mogul.

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