Starting small to grow big (And the painful complacency challenge)

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Construct canada
chase at our booth
Chase at the Construct Canada booth

Graeme Owen provides in his recent blog a rather intriguing (and simple) systematic approach to grow a tiny back-of-the-truck renovation business to a larger, scaled, successful business. His points: Take the small jobs (initially from your network), use systems and processes to manage them like big jobs and deliver truly exceptional service, are givens, but few contractors will do what he suggests. Some will be content to operate day-by-day handyman-type services; others will deign to lower themselves to the grunt work involved, and most who try parts of his approach will either give up or adapt or “simplify” to the point that they don’t follow the rules.

Who is talking here?  Well . . . me. Because the stories of systems and processes and failures apply for businesses with more experience as well as less. We fall into our comfort zones, and accept things as they are and then wonder why we aren’t going anywhere, fast.

My recent experience with Chase at Construct Canada proves the point. We had a simple display, easy to set up and take down. And we probably did about as much business at the show as we would have in previous years, when we spent significantly more in time and resources to work the room and develop opportunities, and track things through systematized reports. We of course had used our experience to simplify the priorities. There were certain clients we knew to meet — and reconnect — and who would quickly give us some business. The only major obvious mistake I made this year (which I should have remembered from last year) is not to bring so many copies of papers/publications. Even with rack space at the front of the convention hall, we could have gotten by with about 35 per cent of the materials we brought to the show, and left in the recycle bins.

However, there is a problem with the way things worked out here. Yes, we had all we needed to do the show. No need to have three or four reps (with hotel and meal and travel costs); no need to develop sophisticated ‘get people to our booth’ systems because we knew who would be most likely to want to do business with us; no need to really reach out and experiment and do more — because we knew who our customers were … but equally, no need to grow. We were in a holding pattern, failing to capture the potential and opportunities that might be right under our noses — and perhaps (both) tending to take short-cuts to the relationship-building process.

I don’t have easy answers to these questions. Right now, I sense that I’m preaching more than I’m practicing here. I know we can do better.

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