The alarm clock didn’t go off; the sun was still 3-hours from brightening the day; and Stanley couldn’t sleep. It was 3:00 am and Stanley’s knew he wouldn’t get back to sleep. Why not just start his day early like he had so many times before? His head was filled with thoughts of what he could do to get his business back on track. He might as well do some work since he couldn’t sleep.
Stanley owned an engineering consulting firm. His firm worked with municipalities on how to improve their waste water treatment plants. His business had been on a roller coaster ride since he started it 10-years earlier. He thought that running a small business was supposed to get easier once you made it past the 5-year survival mark; but Stanley couldn’t seem to get the momentum he needed to make a decent profit. His best year was the $1,000,000 year 3-years ago; and he now felt like that was a fluke. His firm of four engineers seemed like they couldn’t break the million dollar mark and he was now wondering where he would get his next $100,000 design contract.
The thought that woke him up that night was figuring out a new way to beat a large competitor who was gobbling up most of the small municipalities in his state. He prided himself on being the engineer for the small towns. The big companies didn’t even take notice of these rural municipalities until Stanley demonstrated there was a lot of work in these places. Now, he realized that he had prepared the market for his competition; and was getting left out of the market altogether. He thought that if he could create a compelling reason, the rural towns would pick him instead of these large corporate firms.
Stanley entered his dark and quiet office and turned on the lights. Silence. He was the only one in early that morning. Didn’t anyone else care that their firm dying? Why weren’t his employees as concerned about his business as he was? Why was he the only one coming in to work early? Stanley supposed that any of his engineers could find a job with one of the large corporate firms whenever they wanted. They’d probably get better benefits and compensation anyway. Why would they care if HIS company failed?
Stanley got busy that morning writing down reasons why his company was better than the large corporate firms all morning long. He developed a list of ten key differentiation points that he felt would be compelling to any rural municipality that needed to upgrade their waste water treatment plant. Around 8:30 am, he heard activity at the front door of their office suite and knew that his tardy employees were just showing up to work. He thought, ‘Why should they show up early? They don’t have much work to do? Still, why am I doing all of the work to save my company? Don’t they want to help at all?”
Sara, Stanley’s administrative assistant, peaked through Stanley’s cracked door and asked if he had a moment to talk. Stanley smiled and said, “Come on in.”
Sara closed the door behind her and started, “Stanley, I know that you’ve been worried lately. And I think I have an idea.”
Stanley worked hard to pretend things were going well, but apparently he had failed, “We need a few more design contracts, but we’ve been here before. I think I have some great ideas.”
Sara smiled, “That’s great Stanley. Did you want to hear my idea?”
“Of course. What’s your idea?”
“My sister knows a guy that helps business owners. I was wondering if he may be able to help our company?”
Stanley smiled, “I want to thank you, Sara, for thinking about our company. But I doubt that any consultant will be able to understand the nature of the waste water treatment plant industry. This is a pretty specialized market.”
Sara persisted, “This guy is a coach, not a consultant. His name is Coach Russ. I don’t think he knows anything about waste water; but I think he will be able to help you.”
“What do you mean? Help me?”
“Well, I know that you’ve been working long hours. I get emails from you at 4:00 am some days. I also know that you’re worried about selling more projects to keep us busy. Maybe he could help you work less.”
Stanley felt like there was no way Sara could understand why he was working so hard, couldn’t sleep, or what he was thinking about. But he also knew that this conversation wouldn’t end until he agreed to see this ‘Coach Russ’, “I’ll tell you what. I’m not sure Coach Russ can help, but I’d be glad to talk with him. What’s his number?”
It was another early morning, and Coach Russ was willing to meet Stanley at a coffee place at 6:30 am. Stanley felt like there’s no way he wanted to waste precious work time talking with Russ and he needed to get his morning coffee anyway, so why not?
Stanley didn’t have time for chit-chat, and was a very blunt man. After Russ and Stanley found a table, he asked, “So Sara tells me you can help me with our waste water treatment plant consulting firm. Can you tell me the firms that you have helped like mine?”
Russ knew the conversation was headed in the wrong direction and felt like he needed to make an immediate course correction, “I know nothing about waste water treatment, Stanley. I was told that you are working too hard and are having trouble sleeping.”
“Are you some kind of therapist for business owners? I don’t need a therapist, I need a few more customers.”
Russ ignored the ‘therapist comment’ and asked, “What is that you’re doing to keep customers from buying from you?”
Stanley felt like he had a fight on his hands. But it was clear that ‘Coach Russ’ didn’t understand the waste water treatment industry, so he needed to set Russ straight, “Look. I’m sure you’re good at what you do. But, the waste water treatment business is quite a bit different than most businesses.”
Russ asked, “In what way?”
“First of all, we don’t sell a product. We sell a service. Secondly, our service is only needed when a municipality wants to upgrade their waste water treatment plant. Thirdly, treatment plant upgrades are funded by a combination of local taxes, utility rates and government grants.”
Russ interrupted, “I asked how your industry is DIFFERENT than others. You’ve told me some details about your market. And, I appreciate the education. However, nothing that you have said indicates that your business is DIFFERENT than others I’ve helped.”
Stanley was incredulous, “You’re kidding me! How many other businesses have to deal with all of the complexity as ours?”
“Stanley, you’re clearly an intelligent man. And you certainly understand your industry. However, the fact that you are working so hard, you’re worried, losing sleep, and not keeping up with your competition says that you can use my help.”
Stanley interrupted, “I’m working so hard because my company will fail if I don’t bust my ass to get us more work. And it doesn’t help when my staff doesn’t give a damn about my company. It’s all on me!”
Russ offered, “What if I could show you a way to engage your staff more completely; and find ways to beat your competition?”
“I’d love it. But I don’t think you can get me there. I just need to make it through this bad time. I’ve done it before, and I can do it now.”
Russ offered, “I’ll tell you what. I’ll offer you weekly coaching for the next two months. My rates are quite modest at only $1,000 per month. If you haven’t made noticeable progress toward being more successful, sleeping through the night and engaging your employees, I’ll return my fee.”
Stanley wasn’t convinced Russ could help, but he felt like he’d could give it a try for only $2,000, “Okay. I’ll do your deal… get the paperwork to Sara and let me know when we meet.”
Russ met with Stanley in his office each Monday morning at 7:00 am. They felt like the time would be best spent before the week started; and no employees would be in the office early to overhear their conversations. The first session took a much different tone than their debate in the coffee shop.
Russ started the session, “What do you feel has held you back from the success you’ve desired all of these years?”
At first Stanley felt a little annoyed, but then responded, “I really don’t know. I thought we had a great offering for rural municipalities with our service, but then competition started taking advantage of the ground work we did in that market; and we just haven’t gotten traction.”
Russ asked, “You had indicated that you found 10-ways to beat your competition in a recent email. Tell me more about that.”
“I wrote down ten ways that we’re better than the large corporate consulting giants in our industry. I was hoping to get this to most rural municipalities have them decide to use us instead of working with these large corporate firms.”
“When you have lost to your competition, what did your customers say was the reason?”
“They felt our firm was too small to handle such a complicated design. But, I’ve come up with 10-reasons why a small firm is more preferable than a large firm.”
“What do your customers say about the 10-reasons you’ve come up with?”
Stanley said, “Well, I haven’t told them, yet. I was going to send out a direct-mail flyer with our 10-reasons highlighted so that they get the message.”
“What do you normally do with flyers from vendors?”
“I never read them. Sara, usually throws them in the trash before they get to me… or I throw them in the trash.”
“What would happen if you called a municipality that selected one of the large firms and asked him or her about your ten reasons?”
“I think they would rationalize why those reasons were still not important; and they would have still went with the larger firm for the reasons they’ve already told me.”
Russ felt like their conversation was too focused on actions and not on thoughts, so he changed the subject, “What staff member is responsible for sales and marketing for your firm?”
Stanley was quick with a response, “You see, we have a very technical service we offer municipalities; and my administrative staff doesn’t understand it enough to talk about it with sophisticated customers. And my engineers are terrible at talking with anyone outside of their cubical. I’ve been handling sales and marketing for the company. It’s my job to sell.”
Russ saw the problem that Stanley couldn’t see because he was too close to it. The company was struggling in SALES; and the business owner was the SALES PERSON.
Russ offered, “How much time do you spend in a typical day dedicated to selling?”
“I spend most of my time selling. I’d say about 80% of my time is spent selling.”
“How many prospective clients have you called in the last month?”
“A few, I guess. I left voice messages mostly.”
“How many sales have you made this year?”
“That’s the problem I’m facing. I thought you could help me close more design contracts for our firm.”
Russ asked, “If a sales person was as successful as you over the past few years, how much money would you have paid him?”
Stanley felt a little embarrassed, “I suppose he wouldn’t have made much money at all, given our terrible sales results.”
“How much money do you make from your firm, Stanley?”
Stanley offered, “I make $100,000 per year in salary, but take about $20,000 in equity draws when the firm is making a profit.”
“So, you make $100,000 per year; 80% of which you claim is dedicated to selling; but you also claim that if a sales representative did the same job, he wouldn’t make much money at all. Do you see where I’m going with this?”
Stanley chuckled, “Are you saying I should fire myself as my own sales representative?”
Russ was serious, “Yes. That’s exactly what I’m saying.”
Stanley didn’t know whether to feel insulted or not, “If I’m not the sales person, who else will sell design contracts for my firm?”
Russ explained that a dedicated sales professional could do much better if he or she were trained. He also explained to Stanley that his competition had full-time sales people who were dedicating 100% of their time to selling; and there was no way he could compete without the same level of effort.
Over several sessions, Stanley learned that he needed to stop doing the work in his firm; and instead direct his staff to do the work. Something remarkable happened. His staff started showing up early for work and was even taking work home when needed. He hired two dedicated sales executives and contracted his marketing campaigns to an outside firm. The marketing firm did market research to find that the reason he was not getting selected in competition with the larger firms was the amount of attention larger firm sales people paid to decision makers in each municipality.
Change didn’t happen overnight, but Stanley learned to train and then trust his employees to execute on sales. Within 6-months, Stanley’s firm secured $250,000 in design contracts and had an additional $1,000,000 in prospective contracts they hoped to close in the next year. Stanley paired his list of 10 things down to 5-things and his sales people were actively using these selling points to beat the large firms in deal after deal.
Something even more amazing happened with Stanley. He was able to sleep at night, take vacations with his family and know that his business would operate well without his direct involvement. He couldn’t believe that only a year ago, he was frantically trying to keep his business afloat; when what he really needed was to delegate his business success to others. How could his thoughts about delegating to staff clouded his ability to succeed? He was so glad that ‘Coach Russ’ helped him replace his damaging thinking with positive thoughts about how his staff was more capable than he was to execute different roles within his business.
As a business coach, I help my business owner clients change their mindset in a way that allows them the freedom and profitability they have always hoped for, but never thought possible. If you’d like to develop a Successful Business Mindset, I urge you to complete the free Business Wheel exercise below to see how you can grow yourself as a successful business owner.
As a long-time small business owner, I know how hard it is to create the business of your dreams while struggling with the financial realities of attracting prospects, converting those prospects into high-paying customers, and making money for you and your family. The biggest mistake in my past was not seeking the advice of wise counsel sooner than I did. I don’t want you to make the same mistake. I help my clients see exactly what they need to work on in their business by doing the Business Wheel exercise. If you’d like to try it out, sign up to the right. It’s completely FREE.