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Business 20 June 2019
The quest for more clients. It's a common, never ending journey for many small business owners, especially those in service-based businesses. While clients are vital, there are some nuances that you might be missing when it comes to scaling your business profitably.
You may think that clients are the cure to all your business problems. If you are just starting out, clients are vital to the longevity of your business. But as you progress on your journey, there will be a moment in time when getting more clients will no longer cure all the problems in your business.
Here are the 3 key signs that getting more clients isn't the answer you are looking for.
#1 More Clients ≠ More Money
There will be a point of diminishing returns in your small business, where more clients no longer brings in more cash. While your top-line revenue or sales may see an increase, no cash is making its way to the bottom line. This means that even though you're bringing on more clients, the money you bring in does not go in your pocket—in other words, clients start COSTING you money!
If you have ever had the 'busiest' month of your life and are fighting to make payroll at the end of the month, you are solidly living this business truth.
This happens because your pricing isn't geared to be profitable, which forces you to go 'get more clients' which is more work than there are hours to work. When this happens, the balls start getting dropped on project work, which leads to disappointed clients who don't want to work with you - meaning now you need even MORE clients. This is what we refer to as growing yourself out of business or growing broke.
Entrepreneurs typically try to spend their way out of this problem and go on the search for more clients. This begins to create a situation where the money is flying out the door faster than it is coming in the door. You gain more clients, but you don't solve the problem.
To break this cycle, you have to slow down in order to move forward. A critical review of pricing and packaging is the first step. The goal is to be profitable with the least number of clients, not the most.
#2 There's No More Time to Serve More Clients
Busyness does not make for a good business. Scaling a business is a constant management of your most valuable resources, time and money. This means being productive, efficient and leveraged in your use of time. Busy just doesn't foot the bill, but it is the bill of goods most entrepreneurs are sold as the only path or definition of success.
Compounding the problem is that 'MORE' is the go-to solution for most business owners, when it should be about 'BETTER'. If you've reached that point of knowing that you can NOT work any harder or any longer than you already do, you are not alone.
You could be looking at your $1 million dollar business wondering what you are doing it all for and whether you should just shut the business down and go corporate where you would make more and work less.
Don't despair, you can unravel the web that has been woven to create the busy trap.
First, your attitude needs to change about how the work is done and who is in control of your precious minutes.
Second, the factors impeding your progress in this area deal with productivity, systems, processes, leveraging time through automations, reproducibility and technology.
Most service-based businesses develop 'custom' solutions for their clients and therefore believe that each project requires a complete reinvention of the wheel.
However, even the most customized outcome can be generated by a process that utilizes strategies and produces a way to decrease the amount of time needed to serve clients.
The key here is doing more with less, getting more bang for your buck and leveraging your resources.
# 3 You Are Over Promising and Under Delivering
Have you ever felt like one of those performers who dash between spinning plates, trying to 'wow' the crowd by how many plates you can have spinning? What starts out manageable quickly becomes chaos as plate by plate comes crashing down to the ground.
Sustainability in delivery should be of the utmost concern when it comes to scaling your business.
Imagine you have a brand new Great Dane puppy. It is as cute as it can be. You pick it up, set it in your lap as you rub its head. Now imagine doing that when the Great Dane weighs 150 lbs and is the size of a small pony. The habit isn't sustainable.
Entrepreneurs can have the habit of serving in an unsustainable manner to try to prove their services are worth purchasing. In the early years, this becomes harder as you've likely been saying 'yes' more than 'no' to the client requests. (Insert spinning plates here.) The end result is projects are missing the mark, clients are unhappy, and you are discouraged and exhausted.
The best, and most profitable, businesses are simple. They do their one thing and do it with surgical precision. It's only after years of mastery that they even consider adding complexity. However, in the quest to solve money problems, business owners choose to treat the symptoms, not the problem.
This moment is when service based business should take a look at SaaS companies. These businesses do not launch with the creme-de-la-creme version first. They launch with version 1.0, get the bugs worked out and get to audience critical mass. Then they look at version 2.0. The lesson here for service-based business is not to add too much complexity too soon.
Your business needs to deliver the best product you can sustainably deliver at 10 clients, or 100 clients, and you need to stay in your lane while you master the ability to do so.
It's the fear (and sometimes the nearly empty bank account) that has you jumping on every opportunity and client that comes your way. This is a dangerous cycle to get stuck in. It is important to realize that not all money is good money in your business.
You need to question the opportunities and whether they keep you in your lane, or detour you off course. Follow the path!
If you are looking at what your business needs in order to scale richly, get the money right first. That is the first order of business. Positive cash flow puts you in the driver's seat and gives you freedom of choice. Refine your services and the way that work is done so that the delivery is sustainable at 5x your current operating level. That gives you profit and scalability. Stay focused in your lane for as long as it makes sense.
While you will always need clients in your business, they should not always be your primary focus. As your business evolves, your systems should be reliably producing clients in your business so that you can put your attention to scaling your business.
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3 Min Read
"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.
Find A Need And Fill It
I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.
Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.
Have Working Capital And Credit
There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.
I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.
Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.
My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.
Know Your Product Thoroughly
I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?
My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.
My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!
More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.
Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth
I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.
I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.
Delegate From The Bottom Up
I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.
In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.