Have You Outgrown Your Bowl?

This is Denis. Well, not really – who thinks to take a picture of their goldfish? But you get the point. Denis came home with my daughter one Friday night in her middle school years after hanging out with a friend at the local St. Denis School Fair (hence the name and the uncommon spelling). She won him playing a carnival game. And while he arrived it that good old plastic bag half full of water and half full of air with a rubber band keeping him “secured”, she was smart enough to spend $3 on a teeny tiny bowl and a ziplock bag with about 3 days-worth of fish food in it.

So Denis went into the teeny tiny bowl and made his home on my kitchen counter. After about a week, I felt bad for him trying to swim around in such a tiny bowl, so off to the pet store we went for the whole package – a bigger fish bowl, gravel, a fake plant and a little rock to hide under. We got him all set up in his fancy new digs, and he was happy as a clam (ok maybe not a clam, but as happy a goldfish in a bowl could be).

In his new and bigger bowl, there was more eating and more swimming and Denis went and had the nerve to grow. And grow. And grow some more. Within a few months, he was once again a big fish in a little bowl. So back to the pet store we went for another new bowl, even more gravel, and bigger and better plants and a mini castle. Over the course of his life (over two years) we ended up replacing his bowl three times.

So what does this have to do with my service-based business you might ask?

For most small business owners, we start out on our own and it’s just “you in a little bowl” learning how to swim. Then you get settled in, and before you know it, your business has grown without you truly noticing how much. Eventually you start to feel like Denis – a bigger fish in a now too small bowl.

Most growth in the early stages of business are natural and organic, and more often than not somewhat unplanned. We’ve all heard the saying, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road’ll take you there”, and it’s true – growth is almost inevitable if you’re good at what you do. Planned growth, however, is a whole different animal. That’s where my motto – organic growth with a strategic mindset – comes in. Here are three suggestions to help you keep pace with your growth plan (and not find yourself stuck in a too small bowl for too long).

  1. Take a STEP BACK and evaluate where you are currently
    1. How many employees do you currently have in the field and the office?
    2. How many customers does that allow you to serve?
    3. Do you have the bandwidth to expand your customer base without increasing your company size?
  2. Take a LOOK AHEAD and decide where you’d like to be
    1. What is your ideal company size? Number of employees, revenue, etc.
    2. What infrastructure will you need to support this?
    3. What type of investment will this require? Time, money, personnel changes, etc.
  1. Take the time to MAP OUT your game plan on paper
    1. What needs to happen in the current year to start the planned growth process?
    2. What does your ideal company look like in 3-5-7 years?
    3. What step changes will be needed along the way to get there?

As we launch into a new year, and a new decade, now is a great time to think about your long term plans, and then set clear short term goals to help you get there. And I know it sounds old fashioned (especially given all of the technology at our fingertips) but I’d encourage you to start with a good old pen and pad of paper. It’s amazing how differently your thoughts flow when you’re physically writing things down as opposed to typing on a keyboard. Here’s to an amazing year and your best decade yet.

TFCB – Strategic Planning Checklist


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