Pearls for Small Business

We’ve all  heard the phrase “pearls of wisdom”.  Sometimes, a person gives you a pearl but you don’t recognize it. You toss it in a drawer and forget about it.  Then, years later as you are searching for an answer, you find it again under a couple of decades of junk that’s piled up on top of it.  And, you start to understand.

My career began with 15 or so years technology delivery and operations.  In the mid 1990’s, I was fortunate to be pulled into the business and revenue generation side of the consulting industry, and even more fortunate that I had a couple of excellent coaches and leaders to guide me.

One of my coaches, the gent that hired me into my new role was Eric Butlein. Eric gave me the first pearl in my new role:

Revenue cures a lot of problems

At the time, while it made intuitive sense, I didn’t fully understand or appreciate what it meant.  I am pretty sure Eric wasn’t the originator of the phrase, but when it comes to pearls, re-gifting is OK. The industry was in the midst of an unprecedented boom, and revenue seemed the least of our worries.  Prospecting was a lost art in those days – phones would ring and deals would be done.

Five short years later, everything changed.  The “Internet Bubble” burst. 9/11 happened. Phones didn’t ring.  The market swung from an extreme supply constrained model to one limited by demand.  Services we thought of as “consultative” and “value add” became viewed as commodities by clients. Margins were sinking fast, and optimism was following. Politics and self-centered behavior made an ugly entrance into what had been a great culture. People left or were fired.

I thought about Eric’s words.  Revenue cures a lot of problems.  While certainly our market had changed, we were spending what seemed like an inordinate amount of energy on operations and culture and efficiencies and org charts, none of which would get us out of the morass we were in.  These might help stem the bleeding, but wouldn’t cure the patient. Revenue cures a lot of problems. We needed revenue, we couldn’t see the problem, and we were blowing our chance to fix it.

Fast forward another decade. As a newly minted entrepreneur entering Year 2, I have this same pearl out of the drawer, polished, and on a pedestal on my desk.  My brain is crowded and there’s not a lot of room for fluff.  This is the one thing I must do to succeed. If what I’m doing doesn’t help with revenue generation, I don’t do it or I outsource it.

The typical small business faces a similar challenge.  There are distractions.  Troubled deliveries, legal and tax compliance, employee issues, technology snafus.  There are never enough hours in the day, and slowly, without realization,  the business is deprived of the oxygen it needs.   Revenue cures a lot of problems.

There are pearls all around if we take the time to look and listen.   Look when you are not in the midst of crisis, when the urgency of the situation does not drive short term action.  Look in the rear view mirror; there may be a pearl on the side of the road you zoomed past when you were in a hurry to fix something.

For small business, the pearl is revenue.  Take a look at the top line on your income statement. What are the trends telling you? A decline or slowed growth? Missed expectations?

It’s amazing how revenue stagnation or decline impacts the mood of an organization, and how it insidiously manifests itself. Discord becomes evident. Associates that were once in favor are scrutinized. Workflow snafus that were solved in collaboration are now reasons to blame others. Perks that made your firm the “cool place to work” go away, and turn it into “just another job”.

Look at your sales model and activity.  Sales people spending less time facing prospects? Has your market changed in a way that makes your sales model no longer effective or relevant?  Maybe your product or service is maturing and competitors are spending face time with your clients, or their widget is perceived as better by your clients. 

Look at revenue first.  The pattern will be evident, the causes fairly easy to detect,  and the answer will generally present itself.