Accepting that the grass isn’t always greener

When business is great, when lots of prospects are a good fit for your offer and when you’re running at 100 miles an hour to keep up with the growth, you probably don’t spend much time gazing over the fence at the next field.

If business is tight, if you’re losing a lot and if you’re beginning to doubt whether you have the right offer, even an innocent question from a customer or prospect along the lines of ‘Do you do so-and-so?’ can make you wonder whether, even though you don’t do so-and-so, easy money is out there.

The correct answer is ‘no, we don’t do that’. Better still, ‘but we can refer you to someone we trust completely’. If you’re tempted to say ‘yes’, thinking that you must get money in the door somehow, stop, at least long enough to read this blog.

Considering adding services to your offer can be tempting. From your position, that company in the next field seems to have lots of business in that so-and-so service area. Apparently, a lot of demand exists for that service out in the marketplace.

When you eye a new service offer to consider whether you should be doing that too, it’s called diversification, namely offering something different than you do today. The thinking is that offering different types of services is a hedge against one area not doing so well.

If you’re General Electric, with billions in the bank (I’m just guessing here, I know nothing), you can afford to diversify. If you make a bad move, you can just back off while the rest of your empire is still humming along. But you’re not GE, so behaving like you are is a bad idea.

Doubling Down

If you’re tempted to grow by expanding your services, here’s a list of reasons why that may not be a good idea. If expanding still looks like a good idea after considering these items, by all means go for it. Just don’t jump in naively thinking you’re going to find any kind of quick fix:

  • You’re in a panic. One or two customers asked you for ‘so-and-so’ and you start to wonder if you offered that, maybe it would be a fix to your near-term revenue problem, maybe even bring you lots of new business.
  • You think that more business is ‘over there’. That other field may look greener, but it’s not. Walk over and see. The field is full of mud and stones – it’s more brown than green! Talk to someone in that business who offers those services and ask whether it’s really so easy. If the area is highly lucrative, you can bet on a lot of competition – you’re the newbie and you’re likely to lose a lot before you win, maybe even your shirt (and it’s chilly out there!).
  • You think you can do that service. You probably know something about what it would take to become a so-and-so company. Problem is that what you don’t know probably outweighs what you do.
  • You think you can slide into it quite easily. Likely not. You have to retool a lot of stuff: train or hire staff, create a new methodology, invest in new tools, create a whole new offer (market positioning, presentations, proposals, contract formats, and on and on). Starting a new service area can be a major distraction, a real money sink, and can even take your business down.
  • You think you can create a product. This one’s a real gem for service firms. If your service (or some part of it) lends itself to productization (such as a book, a training course, a do-it-yourself process, a software solution), unless you’ve done productization before, take it from me, you know next to nothing about what it takes. Services business is extremely flexible, you can shift and change it, compensate for any shortcoming or minor customer dissatisfaction. Products are nothing like that – they stand or fall on providing enough value ‘out of the box’ to compensate for any deficiency in the product. Before you consider it, talk to people in services who’ve tried to productize some aspect of their businesses. Ask them how it went.

The bottom line is that fixing what you have is the fastest route to growth. After your business is performing and you have some capital to invest in a new offer and time to dedicate to shepherding it through, go for it. Don’t try it when your business is struggling, cash flow is tight and you’re already working 12-hour days. Tread warily.