Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Are You Building Your Business Like a House of Cards?

You know the game.

You start with a deck of playing cards and slowly begin to stack them together, carefully leaning one card against another at just the right angle, until you've created a solid wall of cards. You build the house higher and higher, one card and one row at a time, all the while moving around carefully so the whole thing doesn't come crashing down.

Building and growing a business can sometimes feel like building a house of cards. If you have one or two clients providing the bulk of your revenue, your business can begin to feel as precariously unstable as that playing card wall.

Wal-mart is a giant corporation. Stories abound of how they've made and also broken some of their vendors. But you don't have to be a Wal-mart vendor to find your company in this tricky situation. No matter how safe you think your relationship with a large account might be, life tends to throw you curveballs. There are no guarantees. If that one large account leaves for any reason and you face ruin, then you have built a house of cards.

After the initial start-up phase is over, running a successful business becomes a matter of managing risks. Having a few clients account for the bulk of revenue can happen slowly over time, or it can come about in a flash. The role of the owner and directors is to recognize the inherent risks, then go about managing them.

The obvious solution is to find more clients in order to broaden the customer base. The trick is to do this while managing larger customer expectations and not failing in product and service delivery.

No one said being a company owner is an easy thing to do.

In financial circles, astute financial planners recommend owning a predefined percentage mix of stock and bond funds based on your age and risk tolerance. As you add more funds, the percentages can get out of balance in one part of the portfolio. A periodic review shows which part is out of balance. The solution is to sell the overloaded part and buy more of the other in order to bring the portfolio back into balance.

Owning and running a business correctly is similar to having a financial portfolio. You must understand and realize what your goals are at the beginning and review them regularly. Successful owners realize when one metric has gone out of balance and take immediate action to bring it back in line.

A business built like a house of cards will have no choice but to crash back down to earth no matter how high the stack has grown. Broadening your customer base while providing excellent customer service and product delivery will ensure that no wind of change will affect your business.

When you do that, you will have the added bonus of sleeping much easier at night.

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