“Why should I tell my secrets on my website, a number of competitors will see it?” Joel, a New York business owner and friend exclaimed to me a few weeks back. I had started an informal conversation with Joel regarding the different moves he could make to raise the profile of his business and Joel wanted no piece of it. You see Joel had just celebrated his 10th anniversary in business and he should have been happy with the success he had so far, but instead he wasn’t. A number of competitors from both larger firms as well as smaller firms had offers that at first glance, appeared eerily similar to Joel’s firm’s offer. Joel’s offer was great as confirmed by a number of solid client references from prestigious firms accumulated throughout his 10 years in business as well as a loyal and competent staff that fulfilled the work that Joel and his small sales team sold, but that was it. As the market grew five-fold for the offer that Joel’s firm sold, Joel was stuck at basically the same staff level, revenue level and profit level as in 2005. What was Joel missing?
Joel’s problem is not unique and in fact, his situation is quite normal. In the beginning, Joel like most business owners that bootstrap their business was both selling and fulfilling the offer. His initial clients liked the offer and recommended it to their business colleagues. Joel had cleared the first step: he had an offer that clients wanted. Joel worked hard on the design and implementation of the offer and soon Joel had enough staff to fulfill the offer without his involvement. Joel had scaled the next step in creating a valuable business: a great offer fulfilled by others. Joel then attacked the next step: developing a sales team to sell the offer. By developing a sales staff Joel made his company even more valuable. At this point Joel was no longer the primary cog in either selling or fulfilling the offer. Then Joel got stuck. He could not get his revenue to rise even with additional sales staff. His sales were essentially flat even though the market his firm served was considered hot. In particular one large competitor and one small competitor were growing faster than everybody else, they were winning a majority of the deals and to make matters worse for Joel, these two firms had higher price points than Joel’s firm.
“What’s going on,” I asked Joel. “For some reason, these guys get all the attention, my clients know them, my partners know them, they keep improving their offer, announcing new client wins and partnerships, and they are always in the media as well as speaking at a number of high profile conferences.” “How do you know all of this?”, I asked. Joe replied at first with rapid excitement, “Well, I go to their website…” and then his voice trailed off as he said website. “That’s right Joel, the same way a prospect and others evaluate your firm based on every interaction with you [from how your staff answers the phone, to the way a sales person runs a meeting as well as their follow-up], your website tells prospects, influencers, and yes competitors, plenty about how your business is doing. A website that looks small is most likely shorthand for the people visiting your site that, in fact you are small. What is small: unfortunately, you know it when you see it. People who visit your website come to find out more about your offer, what clients use your offer and why, and what you have recently done and what is on the way. If your website tells them nothing about your firm, what do you expect them to think?”
“By striving to have a website of a market leader Joel, it will force you to do the tactical hard work of clearing the next hurdle in creating a valuable business; being a market leader in your industry. Market leaders share and because they share, they typically attract the best staff, customers, partners, and get the most attention from the influencers, the media, and yes, the competition. Market leaders get that by sharing they are helping their industry grow and as the or a market leader they will share disproportionately in the value created.”
As we concluded our conversation Joel indicated to me that he got the message although he did not appear ready to act on it. Joel “wanted to think it over and see how 2010 ended up” for him. I speculate he will have to see his revenue decline and/or talented staff leave before he acts. Unfortunately by then it may be too late for Joel.