Words of Wilson features a rotating panel of consultants from Bruce Wilson & Company, a landscape consulting firm.
Running a high-growth, fast-paced organization is like an extreme sport for a business owner. The rewards are many – the ability to attract and retain great people and customers, and the ability to empower a high-performing workplace culture, but so are the risks – sustaining cash flow, retaining those great customers and keeping up with speed of change, among them.
Like many CEOs, I’ve experienced both exhilaration and disappointment. I know how tough it is to find fresh approaches and push my company’s envelope. But if the right ingredients are in place, your business can not only leap forward, but can do so while meeting both profit and growth goals.
Let’s start by identifying and eliminating some common stumbling blocks:
- Assess business risk. One of the greatest lessons I learned working for high-growth companies was how to take calculated risks. When my partner and I started Conserve LandCare, we both had run successful companies with their cycles and setbacks. This gave us the ability to understand that the risks we would take had the potential to boost our growth. In our case, we made growth a team effort, empowering our employees to be ‘in it to win it’ and our business grew to over $20 million in sales in just eight years.
- Have the right growth strategy. An action plan will help you identify what the potential sources of growth are. Your plan should include core details about your customer, their buying behaviors and preferences, economic or societal trends that could support future initiatives or diversification, estimated profitability data, and a disciplined sales funnel to take advantage of opportunities your customers’ industry or lifestyle is embracing.
- Create an employee-centered growth culture. If you take care of your employees, your employees will take care of your business. Your team (and business) will thrive when you invest in your people. Offer professional development, continuous learning, a promote from within/train your replacement career path. Bring new people on who are fit well with the spirit and personality of your company, and hire to enrich your team, not just to fill a vacancy.
- Have a sound financial foundation. Pay close attention to your balance sheet to more accurately determine your company’s financial health. This will help you understand trends in your liquidity, show you where your leverage is and help you calculate changes in your key performance indicators.
- Manage your total book of business. When we started Conserve, we took every job that came our way. As we grew and experienced capacity issues, we re-evaluated our customer mix and eliminated jobs and customers that were the least profitable or most difficult. Learn how to spot, avoid, manage and fire nightmare customers when the relationship isn’t working out.
- Dial in a job costing system. Knowing how to price jobs and services is the most important skill you’ll ever have. Know the true cost to deliver a job so you can charge the right price to achieve your target gross profit margins. Determine which customers are most profitable to improve your business mix.
- Tighten up your estimating processes. You must be able to turn out accurate estimates in a timely fashion. Fast beats slow and the first proposal out the door wins.
- Align sales and operations. Operations must be built to deliver what you are selling and sales should be selling to operational strengths. Sales and operations must work in sync and communicate regularly so they can adjust on the fly.
- Be an active listener. Encourage open communication in both directions to build trust, engagement and esprit de corps. Let your team know what’s going on and they will let you know when what’s going on isn’t going well.
- Don’t underestimate your employees’ desire to get ahead. There’s a difference between pressure and stress. When the stakes are high, pressure creates a sense of urgency and employees are motivated to do their best work. Stress is a sign something’s not working. Learn and respond accordingly when pressure turns to stress and becomes detrimental to both your team’s health and your company’s productivity.