RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. (
) -- There is an old adage about a cobbler whose children were always without shoes because he focused all his time on making shoes for other people and their children. In business we often do the same -- work on other people's businesses, problems and issues and fail to spend time on our own until we get a wakeup call we can no longer ignore.
If you are focused on working on outside business and forget (or neglect) to work on your own, you may find that the business is not as solid or successful as it once was. For instance, let's say that your business has been blessed with a single, large customer who requires 60% of your company's resources and generates 80% of its profits. In addition, you have 30 other customers who take 40% of your efforts and account for the other 20% of profits.
Don't take success and long-term customers for granted, expecting things to go on as they have. Clients can leave, resulting in a wakeup call you can't ignore.
You focus on getting the work done for these existing clients. You are working hard, getting the projects done on time, and the clients are happy. Then one day, your major client informs you the next major project has been awarded ... but not to you! A competitor has actually picked up the next project, and it's one you didn't even know about. What happened? Here are some possibilities:
- The project bid or proposal requests are posted on the client's Web site, and you are expected to monitor the site for opportunities.
- The client sends out requests for proposals to qualified vendors, but because your vendor file was not current (it was something you intended to get to, but never quite found the time to do it) you were overlooked.
- While you thought the last project was going great, the client did not agree.
The bottom line? You blew it!
Whatever the reason, in this situation your business shifts from being 100% committed to client work to having only 20% of your resources used and billable. What must you do to fix the situation? There are a few steps you should consider.
You can assess the current state of the remaining clients' projects; ask directly about pending projects and be sure you know what the client's needs are; check the client's Web sites, do an Internet search and be aware of your client's operations; review prospects and past clients to contact for new projects and orders; and work on your business:
- Understand the fixed costs of your business, including the ones you cannot change today or in the next 30 days.
- Assess your business operations. How will you reduce the costs of business until new projects come in?
- Do your housework and update registrations, vendor files and other information your customers and prospects need to send you proposal requests.
- Look for bid and proposal sites and sources so you do not miss opportunities again.
- Select some fast-acting tactics that could lead to small opportunities or have quick turnaround times to use your idle capacity, including LivingSocial, Groupon and other Internet marketing tools that may generate immediate sales.
- Develop a marketing strategy and lead generation system (or revamp the one you have).
- Increase visibility through social media, email newsletters and other in-person and virtual contact mechanisms.
- Network, network, network.
For the long-term health of your business and finances, it is important to take steps to mitigate your risk, especially when the majority of your business is dependent upon a single customer. Keep your relationship with that primary customer a high priority; treat them with respect and never take their business for granted.
In addition, make sure you are continuing to focus on your own business!
Maintain your marketing and business development efforts even when your big customer seems to be locked in. Don't get in the mode of overspending on wants versus needs. Keep sufficient funds available to keep the business going through a two- or three-month period -- minimum -- as an emergency fund just in case something goes wrong with the customer relationship, project or business.
And develop a solid relationship with a smaller bank that can get to know you and your business personally.
Sometimes we take success and our long-term customers for granted, expecting things to go on as they have. That is one of the biggest mistakes we can make.
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Lea Strickland, M.B.A., is the founder of
, a program that helps entrepreneurs turn their ideas into businesses. Strickland is the author of "Out of the Cubicle and Into Business" and "One Great Idea!" She has more than 20 years of experience in operational leadership in Fortune 500 and Global 100 companies, including Ford, Solectron and Newell.