Lessons in Small Business Growth from Bluemedia in Arizona
One of the unique facets of the CEI program is the ability to share the successes and struggles of other companies, particularly in the Phoenix area, to our entrepreneurs to help them better manage their own small business growth. It is through these shared experiences that the greatest lessons are learned and, perhaps most importantly, the biggest mistakes are avoided. Recently, we visited Bluemedia – a large-format signage company whose marquis project was the signage for Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale, and gained some interesting insight from Bluemedia Co-founder and VP of Marketing Darren Wilson:
1) “Make it Perfect:” Setting a Clear Company Vision
The mantra behind Bluemedia is “Make it Perfect;” a fitting slogan for the high-quality print graphics produced for their impressive corporate clientele. However, it also explains a larger purpose and attention to detail behind the company to which their employees and clients must both subscribe. It has become ingrained into the culture and filters down from the leadership to the workers on the front line.
Your mission, vision and values are the foundation for your business. In a guest blog for Ideamensch, Jason Halstead of Gist Brands illustrates that defining a clear mission and vision for your startup helps communicate where your business is today and where it expects to go in the future. It is especially effective for pre-revenue companies looking to generate stakeholder support. Take the necessary time to develop these founding principles because they will be guiding your business practices at all stages of development.
2) Be Honest about the Limits of your Business and Have the Courage to Say “No”
A few years back, Darren and his co-founders realized that it was no longer viable for them to serve smaller clientele because they, in effect, lost money on those deals. This meant a company-wide shift to focus more predominantly on higher impact and higher volume customers. This showed a clear understanding of their ideal client as well as their biggest market opportunity. Furthermore, Darren stated the need of a growing startup to know their own internal capabilities and not take on too much because it can ultimately cripple the company.
It is no secret that growth kills companies; in fact, the Startup Genome Project recently reported that the primary reason for failure among the 3,200 technology startups it analyzed was a result of premature scaling. It is therefore imperative for companies to stop selling and start ALIGNING – which means serving the right customers as opposed to trying to serve all customers (Jason Blumer, thoughtlegion.com).
3) No Guts, No Glory
We have a little saying here at CEI: “hope is not a strategy.” To take it one step further, hope is also not a business model. However, there are times when an entrepreneur has to trust his or her instinct and show a little creativity in order to survive and succeed. After all, confidence, creative thinking and risk taking are three of the top characteristics of successful entrepreneurs for a reason (Forbes). In the case of Bluemedia, the company had to get creative with its cash flow in order to purchase the requisite materials for Super Bowl XLIX this year. Imagine not knowing if you could pull off the most important project in your company’s history but jumping in head first with the fervent belief that it would pay off. That definitely took guts, but as Darren also said it was a “learning experience."
Be tenacious in your efforts and do enough analysis on a particular situation to support your instincts; moreover, if strong mission and values guide your business, it becomes much easier to take those risks and make those hard decisions.
4) Build a Reliable Network
It sounds obvious, but every startup needs to cultivate a database of reliable providers, manufacturers and other affiliates. These are the organizations that can make or break a business, particularly as it scales, because they affect the quality and timeliness of its products and services (Bob Reiss, Entrepreneur.com); Darren cited the need of ongoing maintenance for their high-end equipment as especially important to have a short list of “people who will pick up the phone.” Furthermore, he recommends keeping detailed notes to track and qualify trustworthy partners and vendors.
5) There is ALWAYS Room for Improvement
Although the company just undertook and completed one of their biggest single projects to date, Darren offered several areas of improvement. For instance, there can be as many as (400) touch points for any given product, which he notes can increase the chance for error, and “you can’t just call the NFL and say you’re sorry.” To that end, they are currently developing new software to improve and automate the quality control process as well as better manage their inventory of raw materials. This step will help decrease mistakes and make their operations more efficient – a significant impact the bottom line.
Never assume you have hit the zenith in your business. Although things may be working now, analyze your operations and find areas of improvement. Perhaps there is a new customer segment you can begin to target or new areas of product development that you can explore. Do not innovate just for the sake of innovation, but examining and validating new opportunities will keep your business relevant in an ever-evolving marketplace.