A Wake Up Call
From the time he was 10 years old John Randall knew he’d never fit in.
He didn’t play well with others. He wasn’t a joiner. He did not belong to the cool group at school. In fact he didn’t care much about the cool group or any other group for that matter. His teachers said his attention wandered a lot.
They also had serious doubts about whether or not he would have much of a career. He seemed to be in his own world. He was less than interested in participating. It was like he thought the majority of what he was being taught in school was pointless.
John worked a bunch of different retail jobs in the summer all the way through school. He learned that the public could be incredibly demanding (and irrational) over even the smallest purchase. He knew the sting of an irate customer yelling at him. He also discovered a few things about himself. First, the retail world was not for him. Second, he realized that even as a teenager he had more business skills than most of his bosses. Third, he learned he couldn’t work for anyone else and needed to be his own boss.
John couldn’t wait to finish school so he could get into the real world, make some money, get married, and have a family. Because John wasn’t much of a people person and had his fill of retail jobs, he decided he was going to start a business-to-business (B2B) company. This offered him two main benefits. First there was nearly unlimited growth potential. Second, a B2B company would minimize the number of interactions he’d have with customers. Win, win.
Choosing an ideal B2B startup was a struggle as John felt there were too many choices and not enough information. He decided to trust his gut. Eventually he settled on a Giggler Pin manufacturing startup as he felt it was a fast-growing industry.
At first it was exhilarating. He read every business book he could get his hands on, scoured the Web, and attended many conferences. He struggled along as his business grew in fits and starts. He was making enough to pay his bills and his employees but never seemed to be able to get ahead. He was scraping by and living a middle class life. Some days were good, some were awful.
In his heart he knew he was missing some vital piece of information. After all, his college buddy Mark Dunford had started his own company around the same time as John did and was rolling in the cash.
John’s friends thought he was rolling in the cash too but his wife and family knew differently. What was even more painful is John knew differently too. He knew he wasn’t meeting his growth goals. He knew his business was down 10% one year and up 10% the next, and it was a wash. During this latest year he was struggling to keep afloat and was worried. He'd been in business for years but just couldn’t figure out how to create consistent and profitable growth.
John hated the grind and long hours and began to wonder if being self-employed was worth it. He also was filled with many questions like:
- How could he buy his long-suffering spouse the dream vacation she'd always wanted?
- How could he build his pension so he could retire before age 85?
- How could he help his kids get through college?
- How, after 3 years of being frozen, could he increase wages for his employees?
- How could his company increase its charitable donations?
- How could he build his company and sell it as an exit strategy?
Maybe he’d be better to close his business and become an employee with limited responsibilities and a full benefits package. After all becoming an employee meant far less stress, way less pressure, and a stable life. But it also meant admitting defeat, giving up on his dreams, and limiting his earning potential.
While driving home after another 10 hour day at work John struggled with these questions. He arrived home, opened the door and greeted his family with a smile. He hoped they couldn’t see through him. He sat down at dinner put on his best brave face and pretended.
Thursday, June 15, began like any other day for John. He poured a coffee down his throat and headed out the door at 6 am to get a jump on the day. He spent the morning dealing with problems and doing paperwork. Same old same old day in and day out, or so he thought.
Around 10 am his bank manager Bill Carter, called to remind him that the annual review of John’s business loans was coming in about six month's time. Then Bill dropped a bomb and said, “John, we’ve been watching your revolving line of credit and it’s not revolving. In fact all of your credit lines are only increasing.
"I need to see solid growth and a workable plan to maintain consistent growth or we'll likely call your loans. Nothing personal, but I'm getting pressure from above.”
John felt crushed as he hung up the phone. He'd been on the ropes before and faced lots of things as an entrepreneur. But this time the situation seemed like it might be hopeless. He also knew he was scared and needed to motivate his employees fast. He called a staff meeting for 9 am the next morning and worried about what to do next.
Surely he could think of something.
The Next Morning Arrives
John woke up the next day with a worried mind. He hadn’t slept well. He thought about going into the staff meeting and reading them the riot act but decided against it. After all, they thought they were doing their best.
He knew that his staff had been a bit lackadaisical in their marketing activities and needed to pour on the power. The conclusion he’d arrived at is that they needed to do more.
He wholeheartedly believed in the adage that if you throw enough mud against the wall that some of it would stick.
John arrived at the office at 6:30 am and quickly sketched out the plan he was going to use to kick start growth in his company. As the clock approached 9 am he put the finishing touches on his latest 30 day profit building plan.
He’d get his company moving in the right direction and show banker Bill Carter some serious growth. Once he had Bill off his back John could really concentrate on ratcheting up the revenues. Being the ever-optimistic entrepreneur John knew that everything would fall into place. All he needed to do was to provide a tonic for the troops! A good pep talk would get everything moving in the right direction.
The meeting began at 9:10 am sharp. There was tension in the air. As usual, John put on a positive face. He told his staff the time had come to put a big marketing and sales campaign together to get things growing. He then outlined his straightforward four step plan.
The first step was a postal mailing to 1,000 new prospects. John was certain there was no way they could mail a company brochure out to all of these prospects and not get at least 50 to 100 responses. His salespeople were a bit concerned about how they were going to find the time to follow up all of these leads but agreed to do their best.
They had recently updated their website with lots more product information. So the second step was to double their online advertising spend to direct more traffic to their website homepage. Surely this would create a dramatic increase in the number of inquiries. His salespeople nodded their heads in agreement.
The third step was to post on Facebook and Twitter at least three times per day for the next 30 days. That would mean inquiries from the social media world would explode. John agreed to contact their social media guy and get this done.
John knew most of his salespeople were making 10 cold calls per day and generating some interest. This meant the fourth and final step was to increase the number of daily cold calls by 50%. John knew his salespeople weren’t big on cold calling but they reluctantly agreed to crank up the call volume.
John and his staff agreed to meet again in four weeks to discuss results. There was the usual shuffling of paper and checking of phones as the meeting finished. As his salespeople went back to work John felt relieved by their support. He also felt positive and confident he had taken the right actions to get things growing.
During the next month John kept himself occupied with his normal work activities. Before he knew it, it was time to have the results meeting. He felt excited and maybe a bit apprehensive.
He knew he had a good team at work and could count on them. As the staff walked into the board room he got a brief text from his old friend from college Mark Dunford inviting John to lunch. He sent yes as his one word reply.
“So what’s the scoop?” John asked as he looked at Harry.
Harry looked at John and seemed reluctant to speak. Finally he spoke, “Well the results aren’t good. We did everything you asked us to.”
“Harry, I knew I could count on you to do your best and I'm sure you did. So what happened?” asked John.
“Our direct mail campaign resulted in three inquiries. One was disqualified as having no budget and the other two could not be reached for any kind of follow up. Doubling our online advertising did boost our website traffic but resulted in no uptick in inquiries.” Harry said.
“Okay, so what about our social media and cold calling campaigns?” asked John.
Harry’s face betrayed the answer before he spoke, “We got more likes on Facebook and more followers on Twitter. There were no inquiries from this. As we discussed at our last meeting we increased our cold calling but had the same old problem.”
“What problem is that?” asked John.
“We call, and call, and call, but all we do is reach voicemail. Same as ever I’m afraid. We did speak to some new prospects but their timing is not good. I hate to tell you this but overall nothing really worked,” said Harry.
“Thanks guys. I appreciate all you have done. I need to think about this and come up with another plan. Let’s meet in a few days and we’ll try again.”
John returned to his office. This latest attempt to fix things was a disaster. He knew he had to take action, fast, but couldn’t seem to find the best way to move forward. He spent the next couple of days staring out the window and worrying about what to do next.
That Friday he met his old college buddy Mark Dunford for lunch.