I like picking berries in the summer. It’s one of those memories that lasts into the fall and winter, much like the frozen berries that are hidden in the freezer for a tasty bit of summer on a cold day.
I’m not sure if I was always a good berry picker but I do remember picking berries as a child and filling my belly as well as my bucket. As a teenager, I spent a few days picking berries for pay and outlasted my brothers, who seemed to tire of picking once their stomachs were full.
Berry picking is a lot like business: you need to be mentally prepared to stick it out despite the environment. You need the right tools if you’re going to be successful, (typically just a bucket but I’ve recently seen some fancy new berry picking devices). You have to work through the thorns, avoid the bears and pick where others aren’t.
And you need to be ready to work when you find the sweet spots.
Often I see businesses that, like my brothers, fill up on the fruit of their labours, and then proceed to lay in the sun and relax. If their bellies are full, they’re content enough to stop looking for more customers. They tend to be satisfied that they can pay their weekly or monthly bills and rest for a while.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that business model if it works for you. The problem can be, however, that if we stop working when we feel full, we don’t put aside anything for the future.
Businesses, like bears, need to fatten up when the feeding is good in preparation for those winter-like off seasons where we need to tighten our belts.
Finding the sweet spot for your business isn’t always easy. When berry picking, one of the best things I learned from my mother was to look where others don’t. I like to call this the sweet spot because there are often so many berries that picking is easy and my bucket fills quickly. I look high where others can’t reach, and I look low and lift the branches to find the hidden berries that others didn’t see because they were so fixated on those right out front.
When we have a business, we need to look for customers and opportunities our competition has missed because they were too fixated on the business right in front of them. While this area out front is one of opportunity and easy picking, there are often many pickers trying to fill their buckets with this limited nourishment.
When we can pull back the bushes and see the bounty hidden, it’s often so much easier to fill our business buckets.
Recently, I worked with a business that had been wholesaling its products because management thought this was the best way to fill their buckets. They liked the fact that each of these customers seemed to buy a significantly larger amount than their retail customers.
But they couldn’t quite figure out why they were so busy but their buckets and bank accounts didn’t fill up.
So we discussed how those berries that seemed to be very accessible were actually very thin while others – retail customers – that might be harvestable quite easily by looking higher were very thick and full. The company has been getting fatter as a result.
Another example is the construction company that refused to say an outright “No!” to difficult jobs. As a result, the company has become the leading authority in a large region for kinds of construction others won’t work in.
Or take the manufacturing company that started specializing in unique formulas and became experts in compounding products that others couldn’t.
Or the engineer I know who specializes in the layout of manufacturing facilities in a specific industry. Because there’s little competition, he’s sought after and well paid.
As a retailer, when others were cutting back on customer service, we added staff and trained them well, looked for exclusive products and as a result were seen as the experts in our field. That enabled us to establish profit centres within the business.
When we look for sweet spots, we need to:
- consider our abilities and build on our strengths;
- think about what we can do better than others and capitalize on those areas;
- look at our competition and see where there are gaps in the market where nobody is harvesting.
When we establish ourselves as experts in certain areas, it allows us to charge premium prices and offer premium service.
If we want to fill our buckets for the slow times, we need to ensure we pick those nice fat berries and seek areas unnoticed by our competitors!