Growing a business

Keeping your mind on what matters in a healthy business, with a nod to Paul Hawken. May 19, 2003

From Steve Bratkovich, forum technical advisor:
I've been reading "Growing A Business" (1987, Simon and Schuster) by Paul Hawken. Here are some quotes from the book that might hit home for some of you small business owners (or maybe they *should* hit home):

"The major problem affecting businesses, large or small, is a lack of IMAGINATION, not capital."

"If money could solve problems, there would be no small businesses because the big businesses with plenty of money would run everything."

"Small businesses fly under the commercial radar of the big corporations, free to create their market niche."

"Do you want to be a mushroom or an oak tree? Spores beat out acorns every time in growth rates, but never in longevity or durability."

Here's a true story. (Names and specific details have been omitted or changed to protect the innocent... or the guilty). Unfortunately, this story is *not* about "growing a business" but rather "destroying a business."

A friend of mine in the wood business has a wood supplier named Pete. Pete, about 30 years old, purchased a successful specialty wood business from his uncle a couple years ago. Pete's one-man business is truly a niche business, as he supplies a unique wood product to a craft industry and is one of only a few full-time producers of this product in the U.S. But Pete has a few problems...

First, after buying good logs, he lets them lay around the yard too long before he saws them (raw material quality problem). Second, he spends a lot of time and money on an expensive hobby that takes him out-of-state many weekends (he's not taking care of his business at home). Third, Pete is a lousy record keeper so he doesn't have the numbers on his business at his fingertips (he has no grasp on whether his bottom line for the week has been good or bad). Fourth, Pete is lousy at marketing himself and his business (even though he inherited his customer list from his uncle, Pete does nothing to keep these customers happy). Fifth, Pete projects an un-businesslike image (his business cards still have his uncle's name on them from two years ago with the wrong phone number!).

According to my friend, Pete is sitting on a gold mine of a business but Pete is just letting it waste away.

So... my message is this: Sometimes we forget about the basics of running a business - product quality, customer service, attention to the details, hard work, etc. "Value-added" opportunities are great, but if we don't take care of the Business, we won't have anything left to add value to.