While reading Paulo Coelho’s novel, Aleph, recently I came across a new term I found to be inspirational — “A Bamboo Year.” As the story goes, the bamboo looks fairly insignificant in its first five years. It’s really just a small shoot that barely grows. However, what it’s really doing is establishing an impressive network of roots, finding the nutrients and water supply it will need when it enters its accelerated growth phase. This growth phase typically begins at the end of the fifth year.
Coelho coins this sixth year, the year when exponential growth begins, as the Bamboo Year.
Is this actually true? I don’t know, but I love the imagery.
Why did I find this so inspirational? Well, the lifecycle of the bamboo closely resembles that of a small business, doesn’t it? We spend the first few years building our networks, finding clients, and establishing business practices that we hope will develop into thriving enterprises. We struggle away, horrified how the bills seem to always outnumber the invoices. And then one day, it happens. The tipping point. Our Bamboo Year.
Make This Your Bamboo Year
There are a number of things to get in place in preparation for your Bamboo Year. Interestingly enough, these are also the activities that will speed you towards that sometimes elusive-feeling tipping point (isn’t that always the way, after all?)
- Review your processes: I know this is right up there with “get a root canal” but there’s almost nothing more frustrating than realizing that your invoicing system isn’t going to be sufficient to deal with your busy client list in the middle of serving your newly added clients! Take a look at your processes — invoicing, bookkeeping, online payments, webinar provider, mass email provider, web host, and project and people scheduling. Do you have the tools you’ll need for when the busy season hits?
- Beef up your help: Few of us can afford to hire team members when we’re starting out, but consider what would happen if you had a super busy month and no one waiting in the wings to help out? What if that month extended into forever? Would you be able to hire and train people properly? I’m betting not. While you’re growing, find a cost-effective way to ensure you have some back up. Be creative. Look into part time help from students, source out some great sub-contractors, or find a virtual assistant.
- Streamline your marketing and sales: While it definitely requires time and energy to hook customers, most of us are less efficient than we could be. Take some time to review how you get sales. Is there a better way? Consider writing a marketing calendar to keep your efforts consistent so your not stuck in a cycle of highs and lows. Make sure that everything you do is measurable and that you make the effort to follow up. Follow up can mean phone calls, an email, or even a postcard. The most effective follow ups find a way to keep your hard-earned client engaged and buying.
- Innovate: It’s so much easier to sell a new product or service to existing clients who already love you than it is to bring on new clients. Brainstorm 10 things you think will make your clients’ lives easier. Narrow the list to the one or two things you can provide with your usual level of high quality and service and develop it! Don’t waste the good will you’ve already painstakingly built with your customers.
- Network: Networking is not just about finding new customers. It’s also about meeting potential contractors or vendors, hearing about the newest “thing” on the street for your industry, and spending a little face time with those who can recommend you and your business to their networks. This is about building and maintaining relationships. When you get busy, you may just need these contacts to get the job done on time and on budget.
Pebble Road Marketing is 5-years old this year (I’m in shock.) I’ve had a great time working with my fantastic clients, watching my business grow and expand. Of course, there were frustrating moments…this is being an entrepreneur, after all. But I would do it again a thousand times and I’m so excited by what is waiting around the corner.
I hope we all make this our Bamboo Year. Whatever your current level of success, it’s time to sprout even higher!