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Most companies are in growth-mode. Successful businesses are always looking for ways to increase sales, revenue and – ultimately — profits. And there are a multitude of ways for a company to grow. A company might be ready to expand its geographic reach and open another location or hire more sales staff. Or it might want to diversify its products or services. Or it might have won a major government contract that necessitates operational expansion. Or it might be looking to franchise its operations. Alternatively, it might want to license its products so it can be sold by other companies. Or it might want to form an alliance with a partnering organization or merge with another business entity. These are all valid approaches to grow a business.
While approaches for growth vary, the elements to grow a business are usually the same for most companies. In fact, the variables for growing a business are somewhat similar to growing a garden or harvesting a field. Just as with a garden, there is an ecosystem or market in which a company will grow. A garden must have the right space and soil to expand and a business needs the right facility, plant, office space or storefront to grow. And a garden must be properly fertilized and watered, while a business needs marketing and advertising to nurture the business. Also while a garden must have the right amount of energy or sunlight to grow, a business needs the right sales and business development support to generate orders. And just as there must be a strategy to keep all manner of bugs and pests from destroying or consuming what is produced in a garden, businesses need to keep competitors and regulations from eating away at profits. Gardeners must have some level of training and experience with agriculture or horticulture; a company’s employees need training and expertise in the business’ niche. And they must not only know what they are doing, but they must be efficient and effective in their work to maximize the ROI. There must also be a way to harvest the yield in a timely manner. And the quality of what is produced must remain high, and be as good as or better than the competition’s produce or else no one will want it. Just as only the best gardeners are successful expanding a small garden into a thriving, productive farm, only savvy, shrewd business owners can grow a company.
Cultivating a Business
1. Create a Plan
When growing a garden, simply scattering seeds or putting plants randomly in the ground without much thought will not make sense. If done in a haphazard way, it will be impossible to know what harvest to expect. Whether growing a garden or a business, it helps if there is a plan…. a road map to success. It is important to lay the ‘groundwork’ for how growth will take place. If the goal is to expand products or services, those must align and make sense with the rest of the organization. For example, it would make no sense for a company that only handles the sale of residential real estate to offer commercial property renovation services unless Broker wants to expand its services from residential into commercial real estate as well. If the goal is to franchise operations, then it is important to have a plan for how much growth the corporate offices can handle per year. If a company is trying to grow by merging with smaller companies, then it must have a process in place to handle the due diligence for vetting those companies and the approach to combine operations and eliminate redundancies.
2. Identify Space to Expand
A garden must have room to grow. A gardener cannot just spread more seeds in an area that is already full of plants. The new plants will choke the existing ones and rob them of nutrients. A company must also have room to grow. For example, a company that wants to expand into new markets must scout locations carefully. For that type of growth, location selection is pivotal. Or a company that is growing its product line must have the manufacturing and storage facilities to handle a larger selection of products.
3. Nurture Growth with Proper Nutrients
For any garden or farm to grow healthy crops, there are two key ingredients needed. One is water and the other is fertilizer. No plants can grow without irrigation and plant food. Likewise, a business must have marketing and advertising to grow. For businesses, marketing functions like rain. Water is to plants what information about products and services is to consumers. It quenches a thirst or need. But there is such a thing as too much water. Companies must be sure to water but not water too much. Excess water simply results in runoff which is wasteful, or it can even cause fungus, rot and decay. The same is true of marketing. Every business needs a healthy amount of marketing, such as social media, PR, trade shows, direct mail, email, etc. But there is such a thing as too much marketing which can be wasteful or the wrong kind of marketing. Also, just as there are times of the year when extra irrigation is needed, there are also certain times when marketing should shift into high gear. During expansion is typically one of those times.
In addition to water, plants need food. Just as a plant needs the right kind of fertilizer to provide essential nutrients, advertising provides key messages to targeted audiences. Just as too much fertilizer or the wrong kind can harm a plant, the wrong kind of ads can likewise harm a brand, or blow hard earned profits. It is essential to fertilize regularly but strategically to the right audiences.
4. Get rid of the pests.
In every garden or farm, there are insects, rodents and other vermin. Some of those pests eat leaves or crops and spread diseases. Those pests detract from the yield. The same is true of any business, and certainly any business in growth-mode. There are all manner of vermin that will try to eat away at a company’s profitability. Excessive regulations. Waste. Theft. Unfair competition. Inefficiencies. Just like pests in a garden, these eat profits and drive businesses into the ground. Any business that wants to grow and thrive must eradicate the pests. Businesses must lobby government for fewer regulations. They must streamline process to eliminate inefficiencies. They must identify and cut out areas of waste, such as utilities that never sleep. They must keep a watchful eye on the possible theft of resources.
5. Hire the best gardeners.
Most gardeners, horticulturists and farmers have a lot of knowledge about how to grow plants, flowers and produce. The more they know, the greater their yield. Case in point. There is a movement now to grow food in vertical farms. The mission of vertical farming is to transform agriculture by building and operating environmentally responsible farms inside of buildings in dense cities throughout the world to enable local production at scale while growing safe, nutritious, and delicious food. The goal is totally-controlled agriculture. Vertical farming disrupts traditional supply chains by building farms in buildings on major distribution routes adjacent to major population centers. Since it is indoors, it defies traditional growing seasons by enabling local farming at commercial scale year round. It sets a new standard for traceability by managing produce from seed to package — eliminating any possibility of pests or bacteria — all while using 95% less water than field farmed-food and with yields 130 times higher per square foot annually. But to achieve those kinds of innovations and results, vertical farming has had to hire farmers with deep expertise across a variety of specialties including plant science, biology, engineering, data science, food safety, and nutrition. Vertical farms employ biological engineers, plant pathologists, crop physiologists, electrical and mechanical engineers, planning and logistics managers, etc. To grow the most food, it takes the most qualified employees.
That is also true when growing a business. A growing business must be staffed properly. It must hire individuals with training and skills in all of the fields related to the company’s niche. Companies that hire based on connections and internal relationships are unlikely to find and retain top talent. Nepotism and cronyism undermine a company’s ability to grow and thrive.
Just like a garden, it takes time to grow a business. Things won’t grow overnight. Leaders must tend the garden of business. It takes a lot of effort and time before things start to pay off. Like in a garden, there will be weeds…. weeds of laziness, procrastination, fear and doubt. Weeds must be pulled while they are still small or they can take over a garden. By carefully tending to the gardens’ needs – irrigation, fertilization, sunlight, space, etc, eventually there will be growth that will come in ebbs and flows. In the springtime, there will be a burst of growth, followed by a leveling off in the summer. Then will come another burst of growth in autumn followed by the dormant period of winter. This also happens in business. Leaders should expect and plan for busier and slower times.
Remember that a garden requires patient labor and attention. Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or fulfill good intentions. They thrive because someone expended effort on them. This is also true of growing a business. Growing a business requires patient labor and continuous attention. So get those gardening gloves out and get busy. It’s time to get growing.
Quote of the Week
“The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world.” Michael Pollan
© 2017, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.