A company is looking at options to fund growth. These include selling a stake
in the company, bank financing, organic growth. or partnering with another
company. There are trade-offs to each option. How do you fund business growth?
Advice from the CEOs:
There is a question that should be answered before talking about funding: what is the vision for the business?
Think about building the business that the founders want to run. What size company feels comfortable from an operational perspective? What does it look like?
Does the company have the right people and infrastructure to support planned growth? Are current direct reports capable of taking on additional projects and monitoring both current facilities and additional sites?
As the company grows, can the bottom line be increased as fast as the top line?
Commit the 5-year plan to paper. Before deciding how the company will grow, determine the vision, the growth rate to support that vision, the organization required, and the strategic plan to get there.
The funding decision is an investment decision. What’s the return for a multi-million-dollar investment? What incremental revenue and earnings will it produce?
Estimate how much revenue the investment will generate in 5 years. At the current gross margin, what is the incremental gross margin per year.
Given this estimate, what is the projected EBITDA? Does the annual EBITDA represent a reasonable rate of return on the investment?
The investment ROI must be known – both from the company’s perspective and for any lender or partner who invests in the planned expansion.
How high do the company’s relationships extend in key client companies? Do client upper management realize how critical the company is to them?
If the answer is not high enough, develop these relationships. This could open new funding opportunities.
For example, if the CEO knows the right people at a key customer, let them know that the company may want to build a facility near them. The customer may be interested in partnering with the company to finance the facility.
A multi-million-dollar joint venture plant investment is a modest investment to a large customer if it gains them a strategic advantage.
A CEO struggles to balance time and responsibility commitments to his business
with demands of his family. This is not an uncommon struggle for executives.
The question is: what strategies are effective to address the needs of both.
How do you balance the demands of work and family?
from the CEOs:
Member: It takes a plan to find a solution.
what you want and write a business plan to get there.
relationship do you want with your soul mate? Make this part of the plan.
a conversation and test whether your and your spouse’s long-term visions are
take on additional work – this is good both for family relationships and the
role as CEO.
Member: My spouse and I talk about this a lot – particularly around time.
have agreed on how the week is carved out – family time/work time.
agree to honor each other as we are – not how we want the other to be.
work commitments because – long-term – your spouse and children more important
and more lasting than work.
Member: I’ve lived through the same issues.
probably erred on side of family vs. career. The benefit is that now, I can’t
get enough time to play with my kids. It’s great!
to children is very important during the early years. While infants are not as
capable of communicating as they will be later, the basic emotional and
learning patterns – as well as affection patterns – are created early in life.
It’s like the foundation of a building – not much to look at from the street,
but it allows the whole building to stand.
same mind that developed your business can solve this.
open to solutions.
is uncomfortable, but not bad. The struggle proves that you care.
your spouse as somebody who cares enough about herself so that she thinks she deserves
a class act from her mate. Isn’t this what you want in a mate?
Situation: The President of a professional service company and his team are considering adjustments to their business model. The alternatives under consideration are a client-centered model and a service delivery model. What’s the right model for a service company?
Advice from the CEOs:
In the client-centered model, the emphasis is on maintenance of the customer relationship by the responsible manager, with support from the group to optimize service delivery.
Consider the service being provided and the client’s expectations. Does the client want to have a principal point of contact – a client manager – to address their needs?
This model centers on the key manager creating and maintaining an ongoing relationship with the customer, including rapid response to inquiries from the customer.
In the service delivery model, the emphasis is on a developing and maintaining a high standard of service delivery so that multiple individuals can deliver the service rapidly and reliably.
As in the client-centered model, consider the service being provided and the client’s expectations. Is the customer’s principle concern functionally rather than personally oriented – for example keeping a system up and running in the fastest time with a manageable expense? In this case, the individual technician is not as important as speed of response and assurance of a quality outcome.
The service delivery model centers on standardized and predictable delivery of a defined service, with high responsiveness to the client’s needs. Those who deliver the service are paid variably based on their skills and assigned to deliver service consistent with their abilities. A benefit of this model is that business maintenance is not as dependent on individual service providers as the client-centered model.
In choosing between these models, it is important to speak with your clients and to understand their needs and priorities. Is your model a direct business to customer relationship or a business to business relationship? Is your offering perceived by the customer as a service or a product with tangible results? Is your customer more interested in meeting short-term needs or developing a long-term relationship?
As an example, is the customer expecting a personal, customized service and desirous of maintaining a long-term relationship? For this, a Nordstrom-like model may make the most sense – a highly personalized level of service where the relationship managers on the sales floor keep detailed records of individual customer’s tastes and past purchases and will even have items pre-selected prior to the customer’s arrival at the store.
This model implies that the most important assets to client development and retention will be your account managers. A business development manager may bring in a new client and then hand off that client to “one of my best managers” who will develop the long-term client relationship. The account manager will become the principal point of contact for the client; however, they will bring in other expertise or assistance to handle specific client needs. When a customer calls in, depending on the immediate need, that customer may be triaged directly to their manager or to an individual who could, for example, perform a transaction for them. Responsiveness by the manager within a defined time frame will be an important metric to monitor.
Situation: A professional services company wants to grow while maintaining the small company atmosphere that has been the key to its success. There is a limit to how many clients a manager can manage, and with this the reality that if the firm is to grow they will have to bring on more client managers and support personnel. How do you maintain your culture as you grow?
Advice from the CEOs:
To maintain your boutique atmosphere, consider hiring to fit your needs rather than to maintain a culture. Use team meetings to direct team members while communicating and instilling the culture that you wish to maintain.
Don’t risk diluting the strength of your client relationships. A $250K client who is fully committed to your service may have more demands than a $1M client for whom you only represent 10% of their business.
Service companies with the highest profit ratios rotate customer contact among several qualified people. What matters is the level of service provided, not the individual providing the service.
Grow by adding locations. Instead of growing vertically in the same office, grow modularly by spawning additional offices.
Create an optimally sized model for the level of service that you wish to deliver.
Design the organizational structure for this model and identify the order in which slots will be filled as business grows through each office.
Develop a service and organizational template with standard operating procedures, metrics, technology, and reporting.
Once the model is created, spawn it.
Focus your business. Define a niche that you can serve better than your competitors. Focus on this niche and develop a sustainable advantage over your competition.
Assure that your service delivery is seamless to the client and make sure that it remains seamless.
Offer a menu of service options and price options by the level of service delivered. Some will want to buy a Mercedes, and some will be happy with a reliable lower priced sedan.
Situation: A tech company competes in a rapidly changing marketplace. The companies they serve constantly evolve their platforms. The company must respond rapidly to assure compatibility with both hardware and software innovations. Users adapt to new platforms at different rates, and the company must address their needs, as well. With so much time spent tending these diverse needs, how do they plan for market evolution?
Advice from the CEOs:
In the market you serve you must constantly reinvent yourselves as technology changes. Some platforms make changes on a 5-year cycle, while mobile platforms are currently on a 6-month cycle. This may force choices as to which platforms to serve. You also may want to focus on platforms where what you bring to the table is most useful.
You have made the strategic choice to tie the future of your company to a few large companies that dominate their markets. It is imperative that you cultivate close relationships with the technology as well as strategic leadership of those companies. This will give you more advanced insight into their plans, and they may even involve you in discussions about how the market evolves. If so, you will have positioned yourself for that evolution. These relationships may also become your exit strategy.
Businesses run on cash, or access to cash. As you cultivate relationships with your key customer companies, look for opportunities to invest in developing markets on a subscription basis which will provide ongoing annuity revenue. Figuring out how to leverage advertising or positioning options into your offering offers an additional revenue stream.
Situation: A CEO is renegotiating the company’s agreement with a sales person. The sales person wants a declining residual commission on sales from past customers, regardless of who is servicing the account. A consultant who knows the industry advises the CEO to focus on new sales. What are the implications of each choice? How do you manage residual commissions?
Advice from the CEOs:
There are two types of salespeople: Hunters and Farmers.
Hunters focus on new business and generally get paid first year, then in later years only on sales that come specifically through their efforts.
Farmers focus on ongoing relationships with existing customers and are the service people for those customers. If they are paid commissions, they get paid on the ongoing sales that result directly from their efforts.
It is rare to find a salesperson who can manage both of these roles well, so companies often divide responsibilities, and any commissions paid, according to responsibility.
Decide what behavior you want from your sales person and pay for this – make the distinction between hunting and farming. Then ask the sales person which they want to be. If they say “both,” challenge this and let them know that they need to make a choice.
Situation: The key to a career development company’s growth, historically, is leveraging relationships with insiders in potential client companies who know the needs of their own companies. The key benefits to these people are access to good people, no recruiting fees and feeling good about the experience. What is the marketing message to this group? How do you market to company insiders?
Advice from the CEOs:
Ask them. You already have a number of company insiders who work with you. Develop a detailed survey to query what they see as the key benefits of working with your company, and which of these benefits are most important to them.
Consider a broad quantitative survey that you can administer via the web.
Complement this with a smaller in-depth interview survey to understand qualitatively how they benefit from their relationship with your company and the service that you provide.
Your equity is the experience that these people enjoy when they work with you – this is your leverage.
Your pitch is emotionally oriented. Stick with this. Saving recruiting fees will not be as important given your focus and the company insiders that you are likely to attract.
Situation: A company has remote employees who are on a wide variety of schedules. Retaining great employees is a challenge, and with this consistent service due to turn-over. How do they improve the relationships that they have with remote employees? How do you assure consistent reliable service?
Advice from the CEOs:
Guarantee employee income for a period after they lose a client and as you seek another assignment for them. Limit your exposure by setting hurdles – an employee must have served the company for X time to qualify for this benefit.
Create your own “down time” bank. Say you pay an employee $10. Give them $9 and put $1 into a bank so that you can pay them once they lose their current client. The fact that their bank is limited to the amount of these contributions creates an incentive not to draw down the bank.
Offer a paid day off per month of service.
How do you shift your business from commodity to specialty, as a value add business?
What Peace of Mind features could you provide to your clients to create added value and stickiness? For example, can you provide a portal into your system so that clients can access information on the services that you’ve provided, or enhance their ability to communicate with their own clients? What about access to time schedules, account notes, etc.
Look for a solution that will shift the industry.
Look at menu driven packaging and pricing options. Examples include discount pricing for purchase volume commitments or iPads for a significant level of investment.
Situation: A company targets mid-sized clients with pricing that is similar to its competitors. They believe that their principal differentiation is their relationship with their clients. The problem is that this is also what all of their competitors claim. They are considering testing a new pricing concept – a monthly fixed fee that will provide a pre-negotiated set of services at a favorable discount, with a weekly presence in their clients’ offices. How to you test a new service delivery model?
Advice from the CEOs:
This looks like an appealing concept. With this arrangement there is no clock ticking and the client may view your various services as a more open menu of options available to them.
Another company has a similar relationship with their CPA firm and have both enjoyed this and are using more services from this firm.
Just a regular presence in the office is worth the retainer.
Another appeal is that this allows regular participation in management and Board meetings.
Another CEO offers a similar program for her professional service company’s clients and have found it successful.
Since there appears to be strong support for this model within the group, what is the best way to implement this new offer?
Negotiate an initial monthly rate for a set level of services as a retainer without a clock.
Agree to a periodic review and adjustment of services and pricing – perhaps quarterly – based on the time and services that have been provided during the preceding period.
How do you sell this program to those within your own company who are skeptical?
Try the program with three clients on a limited trial basis and measure it.
Situation: A company will be losing a client in the near future. However, the client is still buying from the company as sole source supplier while they develop alternate suppliers. Should the company raise prices, and if so by how much? Is it timely to raise prices?
Advice from the CEOs:
A factor in this decision will be your history of raising prices in the past. If you have increased prices to keep pace with inflation and your costs, look at the frequency and magnitude of these increases. Provided that the increase that you are considering is not out of line with past practice, it should not come as a surprise to your client. If you have not raises prices in the past, be prepared for push-back.
However you decide, be sure to maintain the relationship. You have a long relationship with this client and you never know what their future needs will be. As to the amount of the price increase, if they are reducing the volume of their purchases, you can raise your prices by 10-20% based on the loss of volume to cover your overhead.
Be prepared with logical arguments to explain the price increase to the client.
If your discussions with the client’s representative have become tense, it may be better to have someone else within your company lead this discussion. It’s OK to tie the emotional component – having to lay-off employees, etc, – into your story.
If you have an advocate within the client company, involve them in the discussion and give your advocate the ammunition that they need to support your case.
Adjust your staff and costs to fit the new reality.