Growing your business: Part 1
By Paul Hogendoorn
Growing your business is a lot like farming. The three critical activities are seeding, cultivating and harvesting.
Most of the remaining ingredients required for success are up to forces outside of your control. In the farmers’ case, it’s the market price for their crops, their input costs (seed, feed, fertilizer) and the biggest variable of them all, the weather. In the manufacturing industry, it’s raw material costs, labour costs, and the “economic climate,” which includes the market demand for your product and the availability of similar products from lower cost competitors.
Just like farmers, entrepreneurs and business leaders like to talk about the factors outside of their control, hoping that a superior force hears their pleas and somehow takes care of all those things. But, that seldom happens, and after all the wishful talking and complaining, the actual work still has to be done – and that work is the seeding, cultivating, and harvesting.
Seeding: To most, “seeding” is a responsibility delegated to “marketing.” Typical seeding activities include tradeshows, email campaigns, advertising, websites, etc. These are in fact “seeding” activities, but in most business cases I’ve observed, the seeds that are scattered fail to take root for one of the following reasons: the activities are not strategic, intentional, measured, or properly connected to the company’s cultivation activities. Seeding has to be intentional and ongoing, and it has to be measured to know what is working and what is not. When some seeds do take root, those seedlings need to be properly placed in the care of someone that knows how to take care of them, and the seeding activity has to continue.
Cultivating: This is the area where most of the entrepreneurs I encounter dwell. Gravity seems to pull them here. They are either relational by nature (directing most of their attention towards culturing relationships), or technical by nature (directing most of their attention towards their technical or product passions). This results in a very common mistake – the seeding activity ceases as soon as something takes root. Technically oriented entrepreneurs often keep raising the bar on the technology they are developing, convincing themselves that they won’t release a product that is less than the best it can be. Relationally oriented entrepreneurs often miss the opportunity to close the deal or make the sale because they have focused entirely on their customers’ best interests, and forgotten about their own. Cultivating a product, a relationship or an opportunity, is perhaps the most valuable and effective activity for most entrepreneurs to focus on, but failing to connect those activities properly with the seeding and harvesting activities will limit the company’s growth.
Harvesting: A product cannot stay in development forever, and all the time invested in cultivating a relationship has to eventually bear fruit too. It’s the harvest that continues to put food on the table for the farmer every season, and the only way a company can stay in business year after year too. A company that doesn’t live from what it harvests is either living off of investment capital (which is a short term thing), or a company that will eventually starve.
In the next few columns, I will be writing in more detail on all three of these activities, drawing from my own experiences (successes and failures), and from what I have learned working with other successful business leaders and entrepreneurs.
This article originally appeared in the November/December issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.