Which type of carpet cleaning business “boat” will you choose to sail on?

schoonerFor those SFS website readers who have attended our Strategies for Success seminar over the last two years you’ll remember that I start off the seminar on Monday using the analogies of ships in how you build your business … and your life.

It’s no surprise that nautical vessels are used so frequently in business logos and as images of business success. For millennia, boats have evoked different emotions within us. It can be the peaceful image of the weekend sailor skippering his sailboat on a pristine lake, the wind blowing through his hair, the warm sun reflecting off the water. It can be the rugged image of a high-stakes yacht slicing through the water as her adrenaline-charged crew swiftly moves from station to station to trim the sails or change the tack to maximize every breath of wind and gain a competitive advantage. It could also be the strength and majesty of a tall-masted ship under full sail as it glides gracefully into harbor. These are images that few entrepreneurs can resist.

But there’s more to the relationship between boats and businesses than just image. In his book No Man’s Land, author and business consultant Doug Tatum talks about the need for businesses to change their model as they grow because the model that worked when they were smaller breaks down as they become larger. So, to sustain profitability as it grows, a business must constantly analyze its performance in light of its changing model. That’s where the relationship between sailing a boat and growing your business comes in.

Over the next few weeks I’d like to use my space here on the SFS Instructor’s Blog to use various types of marine vessels—a sailboat, a racing yacht, and a tall-masted ship—as models for the stages of growth our companies experience. Throughout these reflections I’ll discuss the changes a business goes through, and how the needs and performance of a sailboat and its skipper are different from those of a yacht, and how those are different from a tall-masted ship. In real life there is a vast array of different sized boats, just as there is a vast array of different sized companies, but to keep things simple, I’ll limit this discussion to just these three types of boats.

Remember that my boat illustration (and indeed the Strategies for Success seminar) isn’t just for fast-growth carpet cleaning and restoration companies. Not all business owners are hardwired for rapid growth, or are driven to skipper the next larger boat. Sometimes we’re perfectly content to stay with the boat we’re on, enjoying the life it provides. And that’s all right. Racing a yacht in a high-stakes event or sailing a schooner on the high seas isn’t everybody’s dream. So, if you’re someone who isn’t looking to expand his business, you can use this series to identify ways to get the most from the boat you’re on!

Businesses rarely grow in a smooth, methodical fashion. More often than not, they experience jumps as they grow…jumps that can be painful to the owner and threatening to the business. No well-defined line—no sales benchmark, no specific number of employees—determines when you move from one size boat to another. But, at some point the very survival of your company dictates you have to make the leap to a larger boat. With each leap your decisions become weightier, and if you don’t have the proper strategies in place beforehand, you are at serious risk of capsizing your boat.

So, over the next few weeks I’ll highlight a different critical factor that we, as business owners, must address if we plan to grow successfully from one business model to the next…or, to use the image of sailboats, if we plan to make the jump from one size boat to the next. ( Next post in this series: Are you “sailing against the cash-flow wind” as a professional carpet cleaner?)

Chuck Violand (more about Chuck)
SFS Instructor
CEO Violand Management Associates

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