Tag: organization

Go Pound Sand. Moving Sand Around the World with Taylor Robinson of PLG

Today on the Edge of Innovation, we are talking with Taylor Robinson of PLG Consulting about the business of logistics and moving sand around the world.

 

Introduction

Go Pound Sand. Moving Sand Around the World with Taylor Robinson of PLG

 

Paul: Hello. My name is Paul Parisi, and I’m here with Taylor Robinson, the president of PLG Consulting. Hi, Taylor.

Taylor: Good afternoon, Paul.

Paul: So what else do you cover in logistics? I mean, is it just… I don’t want to say “just” what you do, or is that one segment of what you do at PLG or are there other things?

Taylor: Yeah. That would be one-third of what we do. One-third is we help people improve their logistics. We bring experts that have been in those industries for 30 to 40 years come in and quickly solve their problems.

Paul: What kind of problems do they have?

Taylor: Cost, efficiency, waste, poor pricing on their services that they buy. So we’re helping them get better. And you call them…those are shippers. They’re the ones that are using…they’re paying for the freight. They’re paying for the logistics and the handling. They need to lower that cost to be competitive.

Paul: And how far can you go? I mean, do they have to revisit this? Or is it something that they do it once and I do this in 2017, and I don’t have to do it for another 20 years, or is it a constantly changing…

Taylor: It depends on the industry. Some of the industries don’t change much. And we will occasionally find a client that, we look over them at a very deep level, and there’s not a lot we can help.

Paul: Because they’ve done a good job.

Taylor: They’ve got the great team. They know how to do the right processes. They’ve got good technology. So therefore, they’re best in class. But that’s pretty rare because people haven’t kept up. Logistics is kind of sometimes a lower-tier job or, in the organization, it’s not as prestigious. So therefore, it gets kind of put in the corner, so we can usually go in and help folks, with our experience. And it also helps that we see multiple people in an industry, and we can take those learnings and apply them and really look at what’s best in class versus this is the way we’ve always done it.

Paul: Right. Yeah. So rather than knowing just one way to do it, you’ve seen what works and what doesn’t work across industries. So that’s really cool. So you don’t have to make mistakes on me.

So now, alright. I’m somebody. I’m working in a big company that does this plastic stuff. I make the bags that wrap bread, let’s say. Who am I? Am I a vice president, a CEO? And, what do I do? Because I know that’s only one tiny part of their job. Or is it that that’s all they do is worry about the logistics?

Taylor: Mostly we start out with the people that have logistics folks on their team. Usually it’s a C-level person that we find a way in. Sometimes we’re brought in from the working team. They just can’t find a solution, and they get permission to go find us. But normally, they don’t want us in there if they’re not a good player, they don’t want us to come in.

Paul: Right. Well, okay. So there, there’s a crisis that occurs. What manifests that crisis? Is it that we just can’t compete on price or I’m hearing rumors? So I’m the CEO, let’s say. How is that crisis going to get to my desk? Is it that my competitors are beating me all the time? Or is it that, gee, I talked to Joe at that other company, and they’re getting it there for half the price? How does it actually occur? What manifests the inflection point that makes me say, “We’ve got to do something about this?”

Taylor: Usually something’s changed. Leadership has changed. The industry is changing, and they can’t keep up. Tthey’re no longer competitive.

Paul: Dig into that a little bit — the “I can’t keep up.” What does that mean?

Taylor: That means their competitor is getting the products there cheaper, faster. They’re better.

Paul: So I’m, I’m losing out.

Taylor: On sales.

Paul: The person who is buying it is going to buy from Joe because he got it there for $10 cheaper than me. Or maybe a day earlier than me.

Taylor: Exactly.

Paul: Interesting. So I’m talking about not just one bag a flour, I’m talking about a train-load of flour that’s been processed and turned into bread or something.

Taylor: Or there’s a crisis, as you said. The supply chain breaks, and they’ve made a mistake, and they’re totally losing business, you know.

Paul: So they didn’t plan well. They didn’t predict that they need a million loaves of bread on this day?

Taylor: Yeah. So it could be a planning issue. It could be a whole host of things that causes something to break, and there’s an emergency.

Paul: Well let’s go to that. So let’s say there was a problem with the wheat crop, just to use something that is already identifiable by people. Wheat turns into bread. So would logistics cover the fact… Would you have thought about it? Do you have contingency plans for if the wheat crop is bad? Do you have leading indicators saying, “Hey, you know, it doesn’t look like we’re going to have a lot of wheat in the fall.” Or do you just react?

Taylor: Well, either way. You can. And usually good logistics folks are good business people, and they’re looking for those leading indicators, and they’re staying up with the market. They’re listening to their sales team, and they’re trying to gather data so that they can be proactive and ready to go so that that crisis doesn’t happen.

So it’s a combination of our talents are as logistics professionals but also with a business mindset. And therefore, we can not only help the shippers, we can also help the transportation providers that are on the other side of the table.

Paul: Okay. So I’m a trucker. I own a fleet of trucks or trains. You can help me how?

Taylor: Because we understand that market, and we might be ahead of them in saying, “You know, the trend is that you have a smaller truck that can go faster,” which is not true. But anyway, we help them with those market trends because we’ve got our eyes on the market. We’ve got our eyes on the logistics methods and processes, and sometime, when you’re doing something the same all the time, you’re missing those opportunities. You’re not looking enough ahead. You don’t know the industry well enough that you’re serving.

So again, we bring, as you think about it, the shipper, the transportation provider or logistics provider, they’re just on opposite sides of the table. So if we can help one, we can help the other. A lot more strategy work for the transportation provider, for example. We’re not going to tell them how to run their business, but we might give them a direction that they ought to be heading towards this market or talking to this type of company. Or what’s the solution you’re going to bring to them?

Paul: So let me ask this. So, sand, 20 years ago, probably wasn’t in big demand like it is now. So did somebody see that coming and say, “Oh my gosh. We’ve got to get a lot of trucks or trains ready for sand”? Because, I mean, that sounds like… Let’s assume we were at a steady state so that the trains were running with plastic and whatever they were filled with. And all of a sudden, we need sand for a completely new technology effectively. It’s certainly at the consumption levels. Well, the trains are all full. In other words, they only have so many train, and they’re delivering plastic already. And they’re delivering whatever they deliver. So is that something that you guys would have helped predict? And was that something that you helped, or how did the whole logistics community react to that huge need, sort of that inrush current? Like, oh my gosh, there’s just a huge need all of a sudden.

Taylor: Yeah. It was a really interesting thing to be a part of because if you think about how much sand has moved on rail before fracking, it was really boring and steady. You know, it was moving sand to a casting shop, or it was moving sand to make fiberglass, which are decent volumes of sand, but literally, over the past, I’d say, seven, eight years, the volume of sand moved by rail has gone up, eight to ten times.

Paul: But where did they get the trains?

Taylor: It’s that type of product, you have a locomotive. And whoever is going to move the sand, they have to buy the car, or lease the car. So there were not enough of the small…what they’re called, small covered hoppers. You have to have a small car because it’s so heavy, there’s a limit. So the size of one of these small-covered hoppers was perfect for sand. It used to be used for cement too. So those cars went from, again, building one thousand or two a year to building tens of thousands a year.

Paul: Is that really? That’s the magnitude?

Taylor: Yeah, yeah.

Paul: They’re producing them now? And so they’re rushing to build these cars.

Taylor: Yeah. And over the last seven or eight years, the frac sand world has had three ups and downs. And every time, the market isn’t mature enough. All the different aspects of that market are so immature that there’s vast over-building and then shortages. Because it moves so quickly compared to conventional, vertical drilling that was very sleepy. The hydraulic fracturing came upon us very quickly. And as people figured it out, they needed all these materials—

Paul: And they needed it now.

Taylor: And they need it now, and they never had to move anything by rail.

Paul: So they don’t know how to order it or move it or get it there. So what did they do? I mean, I’m sure they’re talking about millions of dollars’ worth of investments to do these new wells. So what did they do? How did they order it? And then they call the train company and they say, “Well, we don’t have any cars.”

Taylor: Yeah. Well, that whole supply chain had to get set up because the sand was mined throughout the country for these other purposes, but nearly all the best quality sand was in Wisconsin and Illinois and Minnesota due to the geology. It was needed in Ohio, Texas, North Dakota.

Paul: And were there good trains between those places?

Taylor: Not really. Not really.

Paul: So did they build new train tracks?

Taylor: Yeah, especially to North Dakota. The railroads built billions of dollars of investment to get more capacity to move sand in and crude out. So again, it sent shockwaves through the railroads because they had to improve their service. They had to go to places they weren’t used to going to. And then you think about the shippers. They had to go out and figure out how do you get one of these railcars because an oil company didn’t use anything in rail. So that’s how we started with a couple of oil and gas companies. They realized, “We’ve gotta get good at rail. We don’t know who to call. We don’t know how to buy a car. We don’t know how to schedule service.”

So, we got to help a couple folks early on figure it out for themselves. They became experts, and we’ve moved on and helped many other folks since that. That’s another way that we help people is when they’re new. They just don’t know. And working with railroads is quite unique. So we have railroaders on our team, and we have shippers on our team, so we know how to work with the railroads.

Paul: Yeah. As we talk about this, you mentioned supply chain, and I’ve never really understood that. I’ve understood it at sort of maybe a micro level that, if I’m going to make cakes for people, I need to get salt and eggs, and flour. And then I say, “Well, I’m going to be making one cake a week. So I want it delivered on Tuesday because I can bake it and deliver the cake on Thursday. But you’re multiplying that millions or tens of millions. So I don’t need just a dozen eggs. I need a million eggs. And that’s just something that I don’t think about as I’m living my day, is the magnitude of this.

So are there other things? We’ve talked about plastic and sand. Is it just that? Bulk logistics, it’s bulk. Lots of stuff. Do you guys do anything else beyond just figure out how to optimally move stuff and improve that. And I guess, a small percentage change in that, it calculates to lots of money. So there’s huge benefit to having somebody come in and look at that because if they can save one percent, it’s still a lot of money.

Taylor: Yeah. Exactly. Those two aspects, like I said, we’ve got folks from both sides of the table — shippers, transport companies. So we can help those folks all day long improve, look in the right spot for business, etc. because of the wealth of talent. And since we’re out there helping people, we’re usually in a pretty good position to know where the trends are at.

Paul: Yeah. That’s really cool because now I can hire you and sort of know what all of the best practices are out in the world. It’s sort of a way to get intelligence out there that I wouldn’t really know otherwise. You know that if you do A, B, and C, it will work. If you do it B, C, and A, it won’t work.

Taylor: Yeah. The other third of our business — and again, these are just rough orders of magnitude — are people that are investors. And they need to be smart, very fast. So they want to—

Paul: Now you’re not talking about like me, with my IRA or my retirement fund. You’re talking about commercial or, I guess, institutional investors?

Taylor: Correct.

Paul: Big, big organizations that invest.

Taylor: Yeah. Especially private equity. Private equity wants to put your money… Somebody else, some wealthy individual’s money to work very quickly with a high return. So they want to find these trends as early as they can, make sure they’re buying, they’re paying an appropriate amount for this company that they’re buying or investing in and do it in an extremely fast manner. So they need somebody that’s an expert in one of these markets, and, as you’ve heard, a lot of these markets we deal in are very dependent on logistics.

Paul: So do you provide advice about the logistics portion of that business or the whole business?

Taylor: Could be both.

Paul: Really.

Taylor: Could be both because some of them, logistics is the business. Say they want to buy a company that cleans out chemical tanks that are on the back of a tank truck. And we’ve got chemical industry veterans. We’ve got folks that have been in the service industry. We can quickly go in and assess how good of an investment that is.

Paul: I see.

Taylor: So we also might help them with their strategy because we’re so advanced in understanding the world. Their sharp analysts might take a year or two—

Paul: I see. To come up to speed.

Taylor: —to get there, and we can get in there in six weeks.

Paul: I see. Well that’s a huge benefit. So I’m an analyst at an investment firm, and I’m thinking about buying this type of company. I identify several of them, and I can come to you to say, give me the inside scoop on some of their costs and their expenses, even where it’s going, as you could project that.

Taylor: Or how are they perceived in the marketplace.

Paul: Oh, that’s a good point. Yeah.

Taylor: How, how efficient are they? What’s their infrastructure look like compared to the competitor? All those different aspects, we can help them assess it very quickly. And as you can imagine, when a company is for sale, they put together a wonderful marketing package that always has the same forecast. It’s always going up. And many times, it’s probably not going to happen. And our folks can go through the assumptions and look at the market and say, “Boy, yeah. I think they can do it.” Or, “You need to pay less because there’s no way they’re going to do that.”

Paul: I see. Well, that’s cool because everything else they’re consuming is historical. You know, it’s looking at what they did last year. It’s looking at how they did it, maybe their competition last year. But it’s nothing really looking forward. Or just an analyst sitting there saying, “Oh, I think they’re going to do this much looking forward.” Here’s tactical, right on the ground, to say this is what’s really happening. That’s very cool.

Taylor: Yeah. They might consume a lot of forecasts. And they pay tens of thousands for those forecasts. But it doesn’t mean they’re right. It doesn’t mean that they’re directionally correct, or they might have a flaw in them that nobody else realizes.

Paul: So for the normal, on-the-street person, this is a thriving business that has one aspect of the machine that is our economy. And you focus on making sure stuff gets there when it needs to get there at the most optimal way it can get there. So it seems like a niche but it’s integral to everything that happens. So if that, as you said, if that supply chain breaks down, there’s huge ripple effects, I would imagine. Businesses can’t deliver their products. People can’t buy bread, and supermarkets can’t stay in business, if we don’t have plastic for wrapping food. And so it’s really cool to me to be sitting here talking to somebody that focuses on this seemingly small, maybe even esoteric, from the pedestrian, just a normal person walking down the street. But this is so integrated into everything we do. And it’s sort of part of this big machine that goes on, that delivers all of the things that we’re used to getting.

Well, we’ve been talking with Taylor Robinson, President of PLG Consulting, experts in bulk logistics.


Also published on Medium.

A Case Study: The “Why” Behind the “What”

On Episode 5 of The Edge of Innovation, we look at a case study of a client and understand how to find the “why” behind the “what” in web presence. We are also talking about how to set smart goals. Many projects fail because expectations weren’t set well.

Transcript

Sections

The “Why?” behind the “What?” in Business
Our Case: The Need: Client Website Must be Mobile Friendly
Our Case: The Business Side
Small vs. Large Businesses

Introduction

Paul: This is the Edge of Innovation, Hacking the Future of Business. I’m your host, Paul Parisi.

Jacob: And I’m Jacob Young.

Paul: On the Edge of Innovation, we talk about the intersection of between technology and business, what’s going on in technology and what’s possible for business.

Jacob: Historically, we’ve done episodes looking at specific topics. Today we want to turn to a special episode looking at a case study. Paul, would you talk you through who is the focus of our case study today?

The “Why” Behind the “What” in Business

Paul: Sure. We’ve been working with a client who is a personal services firm. It’s a single owner and worker, one person. She provides services to pregnant women. So, it’s a doula. What that basically is, is a coach, or somebody to be there to help the mom out throughout the pregnancy the really through the delivery. It’s primarily for that delivery time. It is a benefit for the mom who’s doing all of this work.

So, she came to us. She had a website, as lots of people do, a few years old and said, “Gee, I want to improve this.”

So, we looked at it and said, “Why? Why do you want to improve it?” I think that’s an important aspect that a lot of people don’t ask, especially in business, and I’ve sort of made it one of my hallmarks, is why do you want to achieve what you want to achieve? And you get lots of interesting answers. I could imagine anybody saying, “Well, I want more business.”

Well, first of all, do you have the capacity to do business? If you’re successful with the outcomes, basically what is your expectation? And if we meet those expectations, is it going to meet… Are you going to be able to deliver that?

As an aside, before we get into some of the details in this particular case study, the pattern I use in consulting for businesses is you often have businesses come to you with knowledge of the solution they want. They come in a say, “I want you to do this for me.” And many people are very happy to do that.

I always – I don’t know why – but I want to understand why you want this solution, really to get to the underlying “What’s the goal? What’s the need here?” Many times, almost the majority of them – an overwhelming majority I would say – is the case where the solution they have chosen is not the solution that will meet their goals.

So, that’s a huge thing. A lot of technology projects fail. And they fail primarily because the expectations weren’t set. And the goals weren’t set properly. And I think as simple as it sounds, these are the question you need to ask before you start a project. Why do you want to do this? What are you expecting?

Jacob: Well, sometimes it seems like a solution becomes the shiny new thing that somebody wants rather than not only understanding who they are and what they’re about and what they’re trying the accomplish but what exactly is going to help accomplish those specific ends. And not everybody has the same ends and goals in mind. So, what you’re trying to do is figure out what exactly are you trying to accomplish.

Paul: Absolutely. And it’s not even that understanding, but many times I’ve found that business owners or business principals or managers don’t understand what they really want. They don’t even know, because they’re so heads down, doing their daily tasks that they can’t step back and say, “What’s the goal here? Why am I doing this every day?”

That, I think, is one of the differentiators between businesses that are successful rather than businesses that are just plodding along. They’re successful, but they’re going one step in front of the other, just plodding along. And that may be fine, and you may want to optimize that. But let’s understand that before we get started.

Our Case: The Need: Client Website Must be Mobile Friendly

So, this particular client came in and had a website. And one of the things that’s interesting in the web economy – and I use that term fairly loosely – and that is post-traditional advertising. You are basically judged on what’s on your website, unless you have a business that people just happen to know about you.

Jacob: Right. Like Coca-Cola. I don’t know if I’ve ever been to their website.

Paul: Right. You’re the five million pound gorilla, that’s fine. But if you’re trying to get market share or make people aware of you, especially in this context where it is was we have this woman who delivers these services, happens to be in New England, will go to Boston, North Shore, that kind of thing. And usually, if you sell your services, in her case, helping deliver a baby, you’re not going to have another chance to remarket to that mom for another year or so, and that’s optimistic. So, you’ve got to find new clients. It’s really got to be that.

One of the things that’s critical in this, again, sort of web economy, is that you have a nice shiny website. And people, just like they like shiny objects and brand new cars “Oooh! It’s nice and shiny. It’s really cool and everything is sparkly.” That has to be the ethos on your website. And the minute you put it out there, you’ve got to start planning for your new one. It’s just the case.

I like to ask business clients, “How long are you planning to stay in business?” Because if you’re just saying you want a solution that’s going to get you past two years, that’s fine. But the fact of the matter is you’re going to have to reinvent your website every couple years to make it fresh, to make people feel like, if they’re coming back, “Wow. That looks cool. Oh, you painted your room.” They come into your house. They don’t see all of the old things. You’ve improved it. You’ve made it better.

But now, you have new people coming in and they’ve seen better websites. Amazon looks better than it did five years ago. They’re tuned, they’re hyper focused on getting those visual cues and getting that clear information across. So, if you’ve got a website from the ’90s that has a menu across the top that doesn’t look good on a phone, you’ve got to change it. It builds your market persona.

Jacob: Yeah. I immediately, almost invariably, whenever I visit a website and they aren’t updated to being reasonably modern, like you say, since 2007, I just immediately assume either they aren’t in business anymore or they don’t care about my business, and I go someplace else.

Paul: The minute you say these things, they’re obvious. But they’re not obvious beforehand, because you’ve got this woman who has this business, and she is getting enough clients to keep her busy. Why do I need a new website?

Well, we don’t know. If we could fork reality and say one reality where we don’t change the website and one where we do, they’re going to have different outcomes. Now, it may be people look at… Let’s say she had a five year old website and the text on it is so good that they look past that. But studies say that people come and they bounce. Half of the people that come to your website are going to go away. And that’s because in the three to five seconds they’re looking at that website, something didn’t hook into their mind to make them go to the next step.

So, we looked at some of her analytics. She had some rudimentary analytics. I think her site was actually hosted using GoDaddy tools, which, again, simplifies things. But in that simplification, it makes things minimal. And it didn’t provide the depth of insight we needed.

We were able to find out, for example, with her particular thing, is mobile important. Well, it was only like 20% of the people went via mobile. That is right in complete opposite of what we’re seeing across every property. Now, why might that be the case? Well, this is a pretty heavy decision you’re trying to do that. And you wouldn’t equate… People do dating apps on mobile, like Tinder and two second judgement. If you don’t know what Tinder is, it shows you a picture of somebody, and you basically say thumbs up or thumbs down. Swipe right or swipe left. And if you swipe… What is it? I don’t even know.

Jacob: I’ve never used it.

Paul: Swipe right and you say you like that person. It’s very superficial, obviously, because you’re just looking at a picture. But we saw that in this case, a lot of people weren’t sitting down on the bus or in those mobile moments where they were choosing a doula, a person to be there and help them deliver their baby. They were taking time out and spending time on a desktop.

So, that told us, well, we certainly do want to make it mobile friendly. We don’t want somebody to have a bad experience. So, if your website isn’t mobile friendly right now, you have a serious problem. You need to fix that. You’re saying to the people out there, “I don’t really care what you think or what you’re interested in, but we don’t care enough to make it easy for you to get to know us.”

Jacob: We want to be irrelevant in the next five years is what you’re saying.

Paul: Well, right now, honestly, if it’s not mobile friendly. I would say that irrelevant in the next five years is how often you reinvent your site, re-optimize it, and show that your innovation is continuing, and that you’re relevant.

While mobile wasn’t our first thing, we found that the overwhelming majority of her clients said, “I felt like I got to know you by reading the website.” So, that didn’t me that we throw away all of her content, because that content is very effective. So, we needed to optimize that so that it was easy to read, easy to consume in a friendly, conversational way, both image-wise, friendly fonts, friendly colors. Because this is a relationship that they’re starting. So, as we re-architected that, we wanted to make sure we kept that.

Additionally, we want to have new content delivered through multiple channels so that people can discover this person. So, if you’re a mom and you’re thinking about having a doula, you might like to find out from this experience that this doula has, this is a really good thing to think about when you’re going to the hospital, or when you’re going to be there, it might be good to have this with you or this with you. Things that you might say, “Well, that’s obvious,” but it would be really nice to hear that from an experienced professional that says, “Hey, you’re going to do this. Do this, this, and this.”

So, we’re encouraging this client to commit to developing content. Now, the difficulty with developing content is just like when you were in high school and you had to write a report, and you’re staring at a blank piece of paper. That is the most difficult thing to do in writing.

So, we develop content calendars which says, “Let’s look at the year. Let’s look at the holidays that are in the year.”

Jacob: For a doula, Mother’s Day is coming up. What are we going to say about that?

Paul: Exactly. It’s the summer. If you’re pregnant and you’re going to be delivering in the summer, how do you beat the heat? Those kinds of things. So, those are one level. The content calendar is relevant in time, but there might be trends. Doctors are indicating that there are more this or this or this. Or what about medications. All these different things that you bring in. This particular professional can bring a comment to that, to say, “Here’s what I’ve found has been helpful. Here’s this.” Or, “You’ll encounter this.” A lot of these are certainly going to be first-time moms. But they’re also going to be second-time and third-time moms.

But that information is hugely valuable to them. And if you have any trust with your client, your opinion on your expertise is hugely valuable to them.

We had another client who asked about a time card system and emailed and said, “Do you know anything about time card systems? Have you ever done any work with them?”

I wrote him back and said, “Well, no. I haven’t done directly, but I did some research.” I took five minutes and did some research and found one, and I said, “This one, I think, based on these factors, might be a good choice for you.” And they were so appreciative of that. Now that, if it were in my sweet spot, I might want to make a blog post out of and post that.

And then, where do I put these blog posts? A lot things, if I put them on my website, that’s okay. That might be a good place to store them. But I really need to find places in which I can stand on top of the roof and shout. And you do that through Facebook, certainly for this personal services firm.

For a doula, Facebook is perfect, because I can both put it there, I can have my friends like it, and then it gets to be cross-pollinated by friends and referrals. But I can also buy directed advertising on Facebook to people that are pregnant, that are in 30 miles of me. It’s beautiful to do that.

And then I can also use Twitter, and I can use Pinterest in this particular way, for this genre, if you will. But the point is you have to be willing to create content and then socialize it. That is work. There’s no getting around it. You can Tweet little things. That’s one of the things. If you have a pithy thing to say, you can do that with Twitter. You can even find good articles out there and tweet about them. Say, “Hey, I found this good article.” Same thing with Pinterest.

But you need to commit to making your constituents aware of neat things.

Our Case: The Business Side

Jacob: So, Paul, you just mentioned all these dynamics that are in play with the website and web design. How does this affect the business she’s trying to build?

Paul: So, you want a nice new shiny object called a website. What are you going to do? What is your expectation of that? If you had one client last year, do you want two this year? If you had 10, do you want 20? That might sounds doable for a single person. If you had 20, do you want 40? That’s still even doable. Maybe one a week. If you had 40, do you want 80? Wait a second. This is going to be hard.

Jacob: Are you trying to acquire another person to work with you?

Paul: Well, that’s the whole thing now. Are we building a business or is this me as a professional, personal service? And that’s the crux of the matter. Because some people, having 80 moms giving birth over the next year would be overwhelming.

Jacob: Right. And you can’t necessarily push off those clienteles.

Paul: No, you cannot. Sorry. We have space for you.

Jacob: In six months we’ll have…

Paul: Exactly. We have an opening. So, what are you going to do if success strikes? We’re helping work through that, looking back and saying, “How many contacts have you had and then how many of those turn into clients?” And then we look at how many website visits have you had and how many of that turns into clients. So, if we quadruple that, and she quadruples the number of clients, then how do you deal with that? What if it wants to go to the next level? Well, maybe she has to raise her rates. And that’s not a bad problem to have. She can pick and choose. “No, I’m sorry. I’m not good.” Maybe she makes a relationship with another doula and gets commission.

That’s way different than talking about “build me a website.” That’s vastly different. And most people, again, I’m an engineer type, and if you ask an engineer for a solution, if you ask a software developer for a solution, a programmer, their solution will be to program something. If you ask a marketing person how to solve a problem, they’ll say you have to market something. If you ask a carpenter how to solve a problem, they’re going to say you need to use wood and nails to do that. That’s typically what we do.

What I’ve tried to do is think outside of the box and say, “Why do you want to do it?” And then how do we want to achieve what you want to do in the area that I may not know. We’ve got to figure that out though.

Small vs. Large Businesses

Jacob: Are there questions that come to mind in terms of helping understand the why of a company? Of a business?

Paul: I think, again, a lot of these things are obvious when you say them. I think it’s profoundly simple. What is it you want to do? Especially in small businesses, when you get into sole proprietors and things like that, you have to figure out a way to scale your business. But you may not want a scaled business. You may be comfortable with the level of business you’re at.

But let’s say you want a company that has 30 employees, and you want to expand your market. You need to be prepared to be able to fulfill that plan. That doesn’t mean you have to do all the engineering work and all of the decisions, and how are we going to add 600 people, and what place are we going to have picked out for office space and all that. But you have to have those notions that if my growth is incremental or exponential, how will I react in those.

And if I drive you to thinking about that, that’s going to help you sharpen your focus on everything you do, because you’re telling me that’s the goal.

Then we need to look at other things you’re doing and say, “Why are you doing this? You shouldn’t be doing that.” Those can be scary things to deal with, but that’s critical. I do a review every year for an entrepreneurial competition, and I will tell you that everyone, when I ask “Why are you doing this?” — and you can ask that in a lot of different ways… “Well, I really like this” is an answer. That’s good. But why do you think it’s a business? And then they’re like, “I don’t know. I hadn’t thought of that.” Those are things that you have to consider.

Jacob: hose are the sort of things that come under fire and that are tested a year or two into the business. And it’s no longer just kind of the fun of getting things up and running. That’s the real engine that’s going to move things forward.

Paul: Right. Well, businesses are usually built to make money. That is the universal filter that says how we can say whether a business is successful or not. Even a non-profit has a money component to it. It has a value proposition there. And so you have to be very clear on how those things work so that you can understand and judge whether your business is doing well or not.

We get so close to it as business owners, and we fought and sweated so much to get this aspect of the business there, you really need to be in the situation to be able to step back and say, “Is this even worth doing?” And that’s a hard reality. But I think, especially in small businesses, you need to reevaluate that constantly.

Paul: To summarize… We had this client come to us. She’s a doula. She works with pregnant moms. She’s there to be their coach and support in the hospital deliver room. In the delivery room. I don’t want to say hospital, because many of them are done with midwives and things like that. They don’t want that tradition, sterile experience of delivery. And so, she’s very good at what she does. She’s adored by her clients. I think she wants to do more. She felt her website was a little old, which is a very important thing. That shows she has some insight there. It’s probably a little bit past old. So, it should have been done two years ago.

And I think that’s an important takeaway for business owners. A year is a long time in internet time. And you can help extend the life of your website to two years, two and a half years, by keeping content fresh, keeping pictures fresh, new pictures, things like that.

So, we’ve built a new website for her that takes into account the fact that we have mobile devices, takes in all the modern design elements that one might expect, has a plan so that it won’t become antiquated. We have new pictures, we have a gallery of new babies and things like that. We have a plan for content so that she’s going to be writing content, sharing it on social media, Facebook targeted advertising to moms that have identified as pregnant, and Twitter tweets, and also Pinterest, and blog posts on her own site. Here’s lessons learned.

Those things, we think – and we’ll be able to measure this and actually report on it over the series of podcasts – will continue to drive traffic to her. They’ll get to know as her as they’ve raved about the fact that “I feel like I know you when I read your website,” and it will reinforce that. And then hopefully they’re refer two friends, and they’ll refer two friends. And then we’re going to have to… Seriously, how does the person who’s doing this deal with the success of their business? That’s a good problem to have.

Jacob: That’s a great problem. And I think one of the dynamics that you’re pulling out, though, is that we aren’t just doing this sort of work of just nuts and bolts. Let’s move things around and update the paint on this website. Your approach is to go into the why question, understand the heart of what’s going on, and then from that relationship, build the technical components to help realize those goals.

Paul: Absolutely. Again, I have another friend who is impatient and wants a website and wants it now. And we really haven’t figured out what he wants. And that can be frustrating for him. But the problem is, once you go out there, people form an opinion and never come back. And you’ve got one opportunity to make a good impression.

Now, moms…there’s more and more of them every day, so it’s a replenished thing. But still, I think you want to have a good message that’s synergizes with the reader and says this is what I want.

What I really want to be able to measure with this particular client, is people that make a bookmark to it. “I’m not pregnant now. But, boy, this looks cool. When I am, or when I know somebody that is, I want to refer them to that.” I think that is the proof of success for us.

Jacob: Yeah. That’s great.

The Edge of Innovation is brought to you in partnership with SaviorLabs. SaviorLabs exists to help businesses mature and strategize for the future. Learn more about SaviorLabs at saviorlabs.com.

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