The last time I posted here on the SFS Instructor’s Blog I waxed eloquent on the need for money to put the wind in the sails of your business boat. However, the second source of wind that moves your boat is sales. Your sales are influenced by three different factors: a) selling, b) good fortune and c) competitors. Because of these extremely variable last two factors, it is critical that you manage your financial resources carefully.
Selling: A client of mine beautifully illustrated the impact of selling on your business when he commented, “When you’re sailing around in a small boat you can often grow your business just by showing up and doing good work. But when your business gets larger, that’s not enough.” He’s right.
Referrals might allow you to grow at a safe, comfortable pace when you’re smaller. But to successfully compete when you’re sailing a yacht or tall-masted ship, you’ll need an aggressive and sustained sales program. It is only with this program that you can have any kind of predictability over future sales and of course cash flow for your company. (Bill Yeadon recently weighed here on one sales and marketing program that doesn’t work anymore!)
Good Fortune: You don’t have to be in business very long before you recognize the role serendipity plays in any company’s success. Even Sergy Brin and Larry Page, the founders of Google, recognize the role it played in their huge success. Being in the “right place at the right time” can give you a huge leg up on success.
But, too much good fortune can create real problems for a small business. Take, for example, situations where an overwhelming amount of work comes to your company unexpectedly. It can be in the form of a single large contract, or in the form of a incredible cold snap with pipes breaking all over town! These situations are similar to having strong winds catch your sails and threaten to capsize or swamp your boat. You can be caught unprepared without enough cash to finance the work, or without enough equipment or trained people to handle the jobs. OR you can use this incredible push to move your business to the next level if you are charging enough (most carpet cleaning/restoration firms don’t) AND have your Business Infrastructure in place.
Unexpected sales like this can also blow your boat into unfamiliar waters. Suddenly your small sailboat can find itself in heavy seas where you’re competing with larger opponents (which leads to the next sales factor).
Competition: Most small businesses compete with companies that are similar in size to themselves. For the most part, you’re not even affected by the competitors who are significantly larger or smaller than you. When your company is smaller, you don’t always take big competitors seriously because you don’t think you really compete with them, and you’re probably right. Your company may be no more than a blip on their radar screen. Sometimes just running into them on the same job makes you feel like you’ve gained a moral victory. And they probably view you as no more than a mild irritation.
But don’t forget, when you change over to a larger, different boat, your competitors change, too. Now you might suddenly find yourself competing with the seasoned crew of a racing yacht, or staring down the gun barrels of a tall-masted ship! While the companies you competed with when you were smaller might have been happy sharing the water with you, now your larger competitors are very serious about shooting your boat out of the water!
So you need to prepare yourself mentally for these new, larger competitors. After all, they’re more experienced sailing their schooner than you are. They know how to navigate these waters. They know how to use their customer relationships and their financial muscle to undercut your reputation, or even to get you kicked off jobs. Although you might view their captain as ruthless for callously wanting to destroy your boat, he’s just viewing it as doing his job. Some thoughts to reflect on BEFORE you jump ship into a larger business vessel!