The Sculpture (Re) Trapped Inside Your Business

You probably have heard what Michelangelo believed about his sculpting process. He believed that the statues he carved were already inside the blocks of marble. his job, as the sculptor, was to simply remove the right marble that would set the statue free. It is a lovely image to consider but, in my experience, the opposite of what happens in most businesses. Maybe even yours.

Over and over again these past few years, my turnaround work has been less and less about pivoting a business to a new market or altering their marketing and/or sales strategy. Instead, it has been chipping away at all of the excess products, services, staff and related expenses that have been added to the business over the years.

The statue, in this case, is where the business began. A beautiful and focused core idea built on the specific talents of the founder/owner/partners and team. A problem in the market they felt needed to be solved and so they focused on doing exactly that. Some success arrived in the form of a bunch of clients/customers and maybe even, gasp, some profits.

Then somewhere it stopped being enough.

Some version of “Why don’t we get into complementary business lines” or “What if we offered more services that our clients may need or could use.” The popular but damaging idea that growth is about more of more instead of more of less. 

Every time this happened, a slab of clay obscured the business until what the business was known for and best at was obscured completely. Profits disappeared or were reduced while everyone incorrectly focused on revenue growth.

Last year I worked intensely with a business that had obscured their statue beyond visibility. They decided to follow the examples of tech startups and giant competitors as they hired for growth that matched the scale they someday hoped to achieve. They expanded into business lines that was not their true expertise and, most importantly, not businesses they cared about. Four different companies existed when I arrived, none were profitable when looked at on their own. Just a hope that, someday, with scale, they would be.

While I am thinking of a specific business as I wrote that last paragraph, I can think of plenty I have worked with that I would describe the same. Maybe you thought I was talking about yours?

In every case, there was enormous pride in being able to say how big the staff had become, the annual revenue growth and how many services they offered. But, as it says on the top of my website, Fuck your pride.

What are you the best at? Why did your clients choose you? Why are you not doing just that?

Some versions of these questions, answered without ego or pride, will allow you to cut deep into the stone. More often than not, the answers do not reveal a new business to build but the earliest days of the same business. The reason it came to be in the first place. The work that it does better than anyone else if it would just let that be enough. If it could see that innovating around what it does better than anyone else will allow it to never be done innovating, improving, evolving and growing.

How many activities is your business currently involved in that it is not great at? How many business lines generate the right amount of profit (Enough to make it worth the effort and expense)? Bonus point question so you keep fueling your passion for the business… How many do you love doing?

My hunch is that there is a core inside your business (That original sculpture) that is sharing a lot of time, attention and money with products and/or services that other businesses do better than you.

Why are you doing them?

I asked my client last year if he wanted a company with 60+ people in staff that did $20m in revenue and $300k in profit or an 8 person company doing $5m in revenue and $2m in profit.

You probably just read that and think the answer is crystal clear. I do not think it is or we would have many more highly focused businesses that stick to their craft.

Remember my newsletter from last year, revenue is an ego metric. Profit is a freedom metric. 

Sure, it is great to be able to tell people how fast you are growing revenue and headcount. The problem is when most of that is the marble or stone obscuring the beautiful sculpture that could be your ideal business.

What is the sculpture that WAS once your business?  What have you added that is suffocating it (And likely choking you along with it)?

Ironically, the more you focus on what your core business actually is the more depth you will find you can offer through it. Focusing on the business you should actually be in creates more time to figure out how to be the best in the world at one thing vs 3, 4 or 10.

Get your team together. bring your chisels and get to work.  

My client is now down to a core group of people and will turn a substantial profit this year. Everything else has been outsourced to businesses that do those pieces as their core business. It is a powerful shift in strategy that saved millions and will generate millions of dollars in profit.

it turns out that they are back to the business that they started 10 years ago, brought back to life in a more modern way today.  The momentum it has created will allow them to double their profits in 2021…. IF they do not allow anything to ever obscure their sculpture again.