Where are your meals coming from?
I’m not talking about your favorite restaurant or your go-to grocery store. I’m talking about the meals that fuel your business.
In the world of business, one simple rule dominates across industries: you need to eat. Your business is a financially driven organization that requires capital to operate and sustain. In turn, it must also produce capital as a byproduct. This serves as the basic function of commerce, and cannot be made possible if your business is not being fed.
So, where are your meals coming from? Are you hunting for your food, or farming it yourself? What’s the difference? Why does it matter? What does any of this mean? I’ll get there – I promise.
This article thus far might seem like the musings of a ravished business owner who hasn’t taken their lunch break yet, but it actually stems from a conversation I once had with a colleague of mine. We both run our own businesses in a similar field, and often compare notes about the state of our industry. One day we were swapping stories when my colleague stopped me and asked point-blank:
“What’s the secret to your success?”
Mind you, his business is in no way struggling, nor is mine creeping up on the Forbes 500 list. The difference is, however, my business had been experiencing a steady boom of growth while he felt as though his was treading on water. The work his team produced was consistently high quality and his previous clients loved him, but he couldn’t seem to grow his business from where was. After spending some time discussing his current marketing and development strategies, I realized the fundamental difference between our business models.
He was still hunting, whereas I had moved onto farming.
What I mean by that is that my colleague was still chasing down leads (hunting), while I was cultivating the relationships I had built since I started my business (farming). As a result, my new client acquisition has been steady and consistent, whereas my colleague’s has started to stall.
This is not to critique those who primarily hunt for new clients and customers. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to get a business off the ground without taking a few serious hunting expeditions. That being said, there’s a time and a place for both hunting and farming, and a way to go about transitioning from the role of a hunter to the role of a farmer.
What is a Hunter?
Hunters are independent go-getters who play an active role in chasing down quick sales. You won’t find a hunter waiting for a potential customer to make the first move – they’re out on the field seeking them out themselves. Once that sale is closed, they tend to spring right back into action immediately to pursue their next potential prospect.
When your business is new and your reputation is shaky at best and nonexistent 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, at least until your business starts gaining some traction.
Piling sale on top of sale at a rapid pace sounds like the perfect strategy for financial stability, so what’s the problem? That issue comes into play once the sale is made and it’s time to nurture relationships. Hunters solely focus on their next move, which means they often neglect to continue building upon the connection they forged with their client prior to them signing their contract. This can often lead to clients feeling abandoned, which may make your professional relationship short-lived.
If I’m being honest, hunting is 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 your business afloat 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 downright terrifying when you come to a rough patch and can’t find any good leads to pursue. A business built on the principles of hunting may enjoy the occasional feast, but it is always one famine away from collapse.
If you’re anything like me, collapsing simply isn’t an option. I have a son to support, and a team of employees who rely on the success of our business to support themselves. When I realized that I was setting myself up for an unreliable cycle of constant hunting, I knew it was time to learn how to farm.
What is a Farmer?
If hunters prioritize speed, farmers focus on stability. Farmers aren’t motivated by making a quick sale, and instead take the slow and steady approach to cultivate meaningful bonds that have the potential to grow into long-lasting professional relationships. The connections farmers build with their clients often lead to referrals and positive word-of-mouth, which allows them to continue growing their business passively but productively.
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 grow in time. 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.
While I am first and 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, but 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, meatiest account I could sink my teeth into.
But I knew this wasn’t a long-term way to run a business. I knew I wanted the kind of business that could sustain itself. The kind of business supported by steady 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 full-time clients. I developed lasting, meaningful, and mutually beneficial relationships with clients and industry professionals alike. In short, I planted the seeds of my business’ future success.
Why Does It Matter?
“Different strokes for different folks” as they say, right? What works for one business might not work for another, and hunting for leads might be exactly what your business needs to enjoy feast after feast every night. For my business, however, that wasn’t the case.
Truth be told, my early years as a business owner were a scary time. I often found myself in the same position my colleague was in – stagnant, stunted and stuck with no clear path to move forward. That was, until I started farming.
Here I sit now, several years later, several harvests under my belt and more seeds going into the soil every day. 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.
Ready to Plant Your First Harvest?
Let’s get the cold, hard truth out of the way: your first harvest will almost definitely be your toughest harvest. Starting with a blank slate – empty field, if you will – is not only intimidating, it’s downright frightening. Let this discomfort motivate you to see your first harvest through to fruition.
While the benefits of farming are clear, the practices themselves are less so. It isn’t enough to simply hand out business cards to every person you meet – you need to target your efforts strategically 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 your local 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 in need of your services.
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 age of digital communication, that introduction is often made by your web presence. The traffic generated by a properly optimized website provides a steady stream of motivated 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 provides you a platform to build relationships on a very human, personal level, which can then evolve to a professional level.
Last but not least, never forget the importance of following up with clients. Provide ongoing and consistent support for every client on every project, no matter how large or small their questions or concerns may be. It’s not enough to simply provide a product or service, you need to stand behind that service to assure your clients that they made the right choice in doing business with you while encouraging them to do business with you again. Think about your farm: how much better do crops grow when they are routinely 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 labor? Are you ready to reassess?
Take it from me – someone who’s been there. I’m not a business owner who achieved success by some stroke of luck. My business didn’t boom overnight, and it took a long time to reach any sense of stability. But I reached it, and I did so by working hard to earn it. I became a master hunter, and used the skills I learned to grow into a master farmer. And guess what? I’m not the only one who can reach this point. You can too, once you ask yourself one simple question:
Where are your meals coming from?