Are you sitting on the next big thing?

I’ve been having a great ongoing discussion with a couple of friends on a business opportunity that one of them is facing.  Over the course of the last 10 years or so, this friend has been doing sales transaction analysis and consulting for small to medium sized companies.

What’s really interesting is that he’s uncovered a set of patterns and commonalities across more than 50 companies that are extremely consistent, despite different sizes, industries and situations.  This data contradicts conventional thinking on how to approach sales and growth for companies and can really pinpoint how to improve results.

In short he has a repeatable process that can make a substantial positive impact to a client’s bottom line for a lot of business clients.  Additionally he has a unique situation and approach – he’s been working on this for 10 years…it’s not going to be easily duplicated.

The problem he has is that it’s just him – he’s been making a decent living doing this in a one-off consulting approach but he has the opportunity to really turn it into something much bigger.

The question that we’ve been ending the discussion with is “Where do I go from here?”.

I believe the partial answer is “It depends…” (helpful right?)

It depends on what he wants. Remember, your business is simply a tool to get what you want out of life.  You get very different outcomes if you want a reasonable income, interesting work and time to spend with your family versus substantial wealth creation and building something bigger than yourself.

Here’s what I think the next steps are for any business that is looking to grow:

  1. Define success.  Decide and document as clearly as possible what the vision of success is 1 year out, 3 years out and 5 years out.  Not only is this important to get things straight in your own mind, if you’re going to bring other people on board it’s critical that they understand what you’re trying to do.
  2. Identify a repeatable process / product.  If you’ve been doing the work as a consultant with a different approach for every client, it will be very difficult to have others implement the end result in a consistent fashion without building a solid, documented framework of all the work that needs to be done to satisfy a client.
  3. Where can you centralize or outsource on that process?  Once you’ve got the process, you need to figure out if it always has to be done in parallel or if you can develop repeatable sub-cycles.  As an example, it’s pretty common to have an invoicing process that’s shared across all clients.  Once you decide what to bill, the actual process of submitting the invoice, collecting and processing the payment can be standardized (and probably outsourced).
  4. Find the bottlenecks to the process.  After you’ve taken out the common steps, you’re left with things that will require some sort of personal attention with each client.  If you suddenly sold 10 clients at once, where would you run into problems in terms of fulfilling the products?  If there really aren’t any bottlenecks (i.e. most of it is automated with data feeds…) then the bottleneck is likely going to be the sales process.
  5. Identify the best way to address the bottlenecks.  This could be as simple as hiring additional salespeople, or it could require reworking part of the process so it’s automated.

My recommendation is to take it slow for the first few clients and really prove out your assumptions and refine the repeatable process.  This will also allow you to establish a revenue stream and get some history under your belt so if you have to borrow money to expand, you’ll have a story and some facts to borrow against.

I would also suggest bringing the first few people on carefully and slowly, making sure they’re on board, have clear cut roles and a way to measure success.

It’s a great opportunity, but it’s not going anywhere.  In the long run planning a careful rollout and expansion will allow much stronger growth than just jumping in with both feet (and it’s a lot less stressful…).

What are your thoughts on growth and planning for a significant change in your business?  What have I missed?  What would you add?  I’d love to hear from you.

Shawn Kinkade