Daddy always said, “If you want to reap a harvest, you need to plant some seeds.”
Okay, that’s a lie. Daddy never said that. Nor do I call my father ‘daddy’. That’s just a cute colloquialism I picked up somewhere along the line. Sound words, though.
In the world of business, one single rule dominates; you gotta eat. Metaphor aside, your business is a financially driven organization. It requires capital to operate and sustain and must produce capital as a byproduct. That is the most basic function of commerce.
So what are you eating? Are you hunting for your meals, or are you farming? What’s the difference? Where am I going with this? I’m getting there, promise.
All this talk of food and feeding and farming stems from a conversation I had recently with a business acquaintance of mine. We both work in similar fields and both run our own businesses. We were comparing notes and swapping stories when my friend asked, point blank, what the secret of my success was.
Mind you, my buddy’s business is in no way struggling, nor am I creeping up on the Forbes 500 list, but I have been enjoying a good amount of growth, while he feels like his business is just treading water. The quality of the work he produces is consistently high and his past clients love him, but he couldn’t seem to take his business to the next level. After spending some time discussing his business practices, I realized what the fundamental differences in our business models was.
He was still hunting where as I had moved on to farming.
What I mean by that is that my friend was sniffing out leads and chasing down accounts (hunting), while I was cultivating the relationships I’ve built since starting my business (farming). As a result, I’ve been enjoying a steady and consistent growth in new clients and contracts while my friend’s business was beginning to stall.
This is not to slam the practice of hunting. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to get a business off the ground without undertaking some serious hunting expeditions. When your business is new and your reputation is shaky at best and non-existent at worst, you need to hunt for every meal you bring home. You need to seek out and chase down every single job you get.
And to be honest, it’s a lot of fun! There is an undeniable thrill to landing a big client and an unbeatable sense of pride when you realize you just brought home the account that will keep the lights on for another month. But all that ‘fun’, the thrill of the chase as it were, comes at a cost. Namely, stability.
While it feels great to land client after client, it’s down right terrifying when you come to a rough patch and can’t find any good leads to pursue. A business built on the principals of hunting may enjoy the occasional feast, but it is always one famine away from collapse.
That simply is not an option for me. My business cannot collapse. My family’s welfare depends on it.
When I left my old job and went into business for myself, I made a vow. I vowed that I would work harder than I ever had, that I would give my family a better life, and that I would only run my own business for as long as it was profitable to do so. I love the freedom of being self-employed, but I love providing for my family more than anything. I promised myself that if I found earning a living off of my own effort became unattainable, I would go back into the work force.
For just that reason, I refused to build my business around hunting . I simply can’t abide the uncertainty; my family needs stability. My family needs to me to farm.
It is worth noting at this point that farming in business is a lot like farming in the real world. There is no instant return. You must be patient and wait for your crops to sprout. In real-world farming, this means storing enough of last year’s harvest to make it through the lean times of winter. In business, it means continuing to hunt down your meals until the relationships you’ve nurtured start to bear fruit.
So while I am first a foremost a farmer, I have certainly done my fair share of hunting. I tracked game with the best of them when I was starting out; what choice did I have? I needed start-up capital and I needed to grow a client base. So that’s exactly what I did. I tracked leads, I pursued prospects, and I dragged home the biggest, fattest account I could sink my teeth into.
But that was never my endgame. I knew I wanted the kind of business that could sustain itself. The kind of business supported by stalwart accounts and dependable clients.
So that’s the kind of business I set out to build, right from the start. I parlayed single jobs into lasting accounts and turned one-time customers into long-time clients. I developed lasting, meaningful, and mutually beneficial relationships with clients and industry professionals alike. In short, I planted the seeds of my future success.
And here I sit, several harvests under my belt and more seeds going into the soil everyday. It’s a delicate process, and not nearly as glamorous or exciting as hunting, but it keeps my revenue stream flowing in a consistent, predictable, and manageable manner. Thanks to the relationships I’ve built, the crops I’ve planted, I don’t wonder where my next meal is coming from; I know.
I know how much capital I can safely reinvest in my company. I know when my business is ready to expand and how far it needs to grow. I know when it’s time to bring on more employees or clients. All thanks to farming.
While the benefits of farming are clear, the practices are less so. It isn’t enough to simply hand out business cards to every person on the street. You need to target your efforts to get the most out of them. Just like a farmer looking to stake a claim, you need to find fertile soil.
Consider joining a business network or chamber of commerce. Better yet, consider serving on the board or committee of a business network or chamber. Business networks are fantastic places to start cultivating lasting and fruitful relationships. Not only will it afford you the opportunity to benefit from the experience and knowledge of fellow entrepreneurs, but it gives you face to face access to potential clients.
For a more modern approach to farming for business, put effort into search engine optimization (SEO) for your business website. Every relationship begins with an introduction and in the communication age, that introduction is often made by your digital presence. The traffic generated by a properly SEO’d website provides a steady stream of potential clients.
A well managed and engaged social media campaign can help you cast the seed of growth far and wide. People don’t do business with businesses, they do business with people. Social media outlets provide you a platform to build relationships on a very human, personal level.
And never forget the importance of following up with clients. Provide ongoing and consistent support for every client on every project, regardless of your field. If you’re a tax preparer, email your clients in mid-May to make sure their returns came in on time. If you’re an auto-mechanic, follow up on performed repairs, ensure your customer’s satisfaction with you work. It’s not enough to provide a product or service, you need to stand behind that service, to assure your clients that they made right choice in doing business with you and encouraging them to do business with you again. Think of the farm; how much better do crops grow when well fertilized?
So I ask again, are you hunting or farming? Are you tracking down leads every time you’re hungry or are you reaping the sustained fruits of your labors? Are you ready to reassess? Good!
Your bottom line will thank you!
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