Breaking Big: The “Ready-Fire-Aim” Strategy That Took One Company From $8 Million to More Than $1 Billion

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Chapter 1, Part 1

The 5 Stages of Entrepreneurial Business Growth

Delray Beach, FL.- For the first half of my business career, I spent almost all of my time doing. I was an incessant innovator and that required a lot of practical thinking. But I eschewed the theoretic. My M.O. was experimentation: Begin with a hypothesis about how to make something new or better. Test it to a reliable degree. Then make adjustments.

Since I knew very little about business, I had the advantage of testing theories that were outside the box of recognized business truths. This taught me two things: Traditional practices are usually there for a good reason. And when new ideas work, they can work big.

In the year 2000, I began to write a blog (called Early to Rise) about what I had learned about business. It forced me to think more abstractly about my experience, and gave me an opportunity to step back and see patterns. And after doing that on a daily basis for five or six years, I was able to see patterns in the patterns.

One of the great pleasures of writing those daily essays was knowing that I was refuting some long-held beliefs and introducing (what seemed to me to be) new ideas about how to launch and grow businesses in the digital age.

It was then that I got the urge to host a very special, very high-priced seminar where I could explain my insights to smart and successful entrepreneurs who wanted to grow their businesses.

The goal was not financial. I could have charged little or nothing to attend. But I wanted to attract serious people, entrepreneurs with enough success in business to challenge my ideas if they didn’t make sense.

It was a four-day event and the fee was $10,000. Since this was the first time I would be charging this kind of money for my expertise, I was more than a little worried.

But I told myself that I would be okay. All around me, self- proclaimed business experts were charging $1,000 to $5,000 for seminars and getting plenty of eager people to pay up. I knew many of those experts. And most of them, in my humble opinion, were one-trick ponies – zero-down real estate gurus, direct-marketing pundits, or motivational speakers. Few of them had my depth or breadth of experience. If they could get away with charging as much as $5,000, I reasoned, I should be able to charge $10,000.

So I spoke to MaryEllen Tribby, the woman that was running Early to Riseat the time, and she helped me put it together. Three months later, she had everything set up and 30 tickets sold.

[Marketing Tip:The easiest way to create profits in your business is to sell your best customers a higher-level version of something they have already bought. MaryEllen’s marketers did that by sending out a special invitation to a limited number of Early to Risesubscribers who had already spent $2,000 on a three-day conference with various business writers. My seminar was positioned as more (four days) and better (with me only). And it sold out in a matter of weeks.]

The only thing left was to come up with an agenda that would justify an investment of $10,000 by each attendee. When I reviewed the credentials of the 30 people who had signed up, doubt once again gripped me. What could I do for them that would be worth what they had paid? The saying “Pride comes before the fall” haunted me.

Aside from the fact that all 30 had achieved a great deal in their careers, each had a different sort of business. Some were beginning new businesses. Many were growing modest-sized companies. And some had well-established $10 million to $25 million enterprises.

And if that were not challenging enough, their businesses ranged from professional services to publishing to manufacturing. Even to restaurants!

On the one hand, I had, by that time, such wide experience in business that I felt confident I could be helpful in some way to each of them individually. But this was a group event. And we had limited time.

I certainly could not dumb down the discussion to the basics of entrepreneurial success. Most of these people were well beyond that. I had to create a program that was both high level and fundamental, with ideas that were universal to all entrepreneurial businesses but also specific enough to satisfy each and every attendee.

I thought about it for several days, but I could not come up with a satisfactory approach. I called in two colleagues – senior writer Charlie Byrne and contributing business management expert Richard Schefren (both superstars in their domains) – and I explained my problem to them.

The specific question I posed was:

What is it that all entrepreneurs and/or businesspeopleregardless of what kind of industry they are inwant to know?

“It seems to me,” Charlie said, “that novices want to know how to start up a business from scratch.”

“And people who are already in business,” Richard added, “want to know how they can take their businesses to the next level.”

Both answers sounded right.

Starting a business is its own special challenge, and I had ideas for the novices about how it should be done – ideas that were very different from the conventional wisdom of the time. I also had ideas about the fact that most start-ups fail for all the wrong reasons.

Meanwhile, more than half of the attendees had already started their businesses, so they would be looking at taking them up to the next level. And it occurred to me that they would not be taking this time out of their busy lives unless they felt stuck in some way and were hoping I could help them get unstuck.

Charlie and Richard and I talked some more about what I could do to accomplish all of their needs… and we gradually came up with a solution.

That solution was “Ready, Fire, Aim.” Not the book (I hadn’t written that yet.), but a thesis about starting and growing entrepreneurial businesses that was the foundation of the hundreds of specific thoughts and suggestions that became the book.

I knew that I didn’t have the one and only answers. (I don’t believe there are such things.) But though the ideas I had developed contradicted so much of what the mainstream business media were publishing at the time, they were based on reality… the reality of my personal experience.

I structured the agenda for the seminar on my observation that, despite their many differences, entrepreneurial businesses go through four distinct stages, from infancy to maturity. Each stage presents the entrepreneur with distinct challenges and opportunities. And if he has a full understanding what he is likely to face at each stage, he will be able to focus 80% of his time and resources on overcoming the challenges and seizing the opportunities.

In the next installment of this series, I will share that agenda with you and explain how it worked for every attendee, whether he was just starting out or already had a $10 million company and wanted to grow it to $50 million.