The past 10 years, I’ve been working to grow my software services firm personally. Every day I got down to the action and pushed my company forward. It ain’t easy, I found out. You always read a lot of stories about startups achieving world domination and riches within 2-3 years. But if you’re in a software service firm or off-/nearshore outsourcing firm, stuff is different (now that I think of it, I guess it’s different from those stories for 99,99% of us).
The first big thing is that it’s a very crowded market
. In the past, most service businesses were local. Even in the 90’s, IT service businesses served mainly local customers. Today, the competition is global, especially in the IT industry
, where India showed the way and some massive companies rose from nothing to billions in turnover within 10-20 years (TCS
). A lot of people got inspired by this and hence the market became very crowded. Today, outsourcing is a mature, commoditized offering. This means it’s hard to stand out and differentiate.
The second thing is that in a service business, you’re depending on people. It’s hard to get talent and IT talent is scarce everywhere on earth today. People also make mistakes, so hiring the wrong people can set you back on your growth track. On top of that, you’re dependent on personal, direct sales to bring in customers. And it’s not easy to find good sales people + hiring them in Western countries is expensive.
Third, if you’re in the outsourcing industry, servicing customers from abroad, delivering quality is a massive challenge. Customers are often not used to work with providers abroad. Every collaboration is across geography, language and cultures. And that doesn’t always match or communicate smoothly.
So if you want to grow your company, you need to find something unique that can set you apart in the commoditized market. And you need to get a machine in place that has the right people in the right seats doing the right things.
Ok, that was all the whining and negative stuff. Now, what can we do about this?
I believe entrepreneurs can always find a way around, over or under any barrier. So do great marketing and sales people.
During the years, I’ve found a couple of tools and frameworks that have helped me to grow my company (and myself) step by step. Here’s a couple that really worked for me.
This is old stuff. They didn’t teach me in MBA (I wish they had!). It’s a book written by Stephen Covey, a sequal to ‘The 7 habits of highly effective people
‘. I’ve started using this 15 years back and still apply it on a daily basis. The core is: every day, every moment, ask yourself ‘what’s the thing I can do right now that will have the most positive impact on my goals’. And then do it! The method uses 4 quadrants to structure ‘things’ according to their level of urgency and importance:
I’ve noticed that a lot of people have challenges in defining what is actually important. They fiddle away with email, calls, Skype and don’t focus on the main priorities that will help them along their paths. We’re biased towards doing the stuff that keeps us busy as opposed to doing the most crucial stuff. And all our Twitter, Facebook and email streams don’t help.
It might be odd to have this in this post, but I just love this book. I read it 6-7 years back and it really had a big impact on me. Of course, most people believe it’s not possible to just work 4 hours a week. And in a way, the message isn’t to work 4 hours, but to challenge your thinking about productivity. It’s also about choosing the right goals in life and creating timelines of 6-12 months to get them accomplished. And about the goal to earn enough money on a monthly basis to finance all your dreams. As opposed to endlessly wanting to earn more money to collect more stuff you actually don’t need. Collecting life experiences instead of collecting stuff. I think this book is a must read for anyone in whatever role.
6 years back I was frustrated about the growth of my company. And I was tired of doing it all alone. Earlier on I thought I was so smart I could figure out everything by myself. But I got stuck like anyone does at some point in time (or you don’t?). So I joined Entrepreneurs Organization
, a network of entrepreneurs who gather monthly in groups (called forums) and have events with great content regularly. They use ‘the Rockefeller habits’ (now called Scaling up
) as their bible. When I first read the book I really thought ‘wow’. I heard Verne
, the author, speak again a couple of weeks back in Amsterdam and I still think ‘wow’. He developed a method aimed at helping companies scale up. The core is the one page strategic plan
. All your plans, from long term BHAG
to daily actions, on one page. Which gives you and your team so much focus
! And then it has a rhythm. Yearly, quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily meetings. The dailies are 5-10 minute standups like scrum
I will use Alexander Osterwalder’s
tools to facilitate the thinking about the value proposition and how to reach out to clients:
This tool helps a company think through their entire value proposition and path to market. I hosted a webinar last week and someone said ‘you are using startup tools’. I’ve just seen Alexander speak a few weeks back and he’s using this stuff with the biggest companies around the world. It’s not about startups. It’s about re-thinking how you bring value to the market. And it’s about coming up with new ways of delivering value. What I like about the tool is that it’s about a canvas, which you stick on the wall and then you use stickies to brainstorm. And it’s tangible. You get actionable ideas from doing the work with the canvas. I bet you’ll get 25 times more value in 1 afternoon than reading a book, which typically takes you weeks.
This tool replaces the earlier empathy map. It’s basically a deep dive into customer segment – value proposition combinations. It’s about figuring out how to create product-market fit. And you get a kind of buyer persona along with it (because you map out the pains and gains of your customers + ways to relieve/serve them).
If you’re in Ukraine, check out the event pages
. If you’re outside Ukraine, check out our other courses
or drop me an email
(a lot can be done remotely:)). Or have a look at me explaining the workshop: