When Your Business Has Warts


Most businesses go through an uneven – some may even say random – growth process. You start with one thing, then you add this client, that offering, move into this neighboring domain, and pretty seen you have…not growth, but growths.

Lots of things sticking out. I call it growth by accretion (def: the process of growth or increase, typically by the gradual accumulation of additional layers or matter).

Now, in fact, this actually can work…for a while. But over time, a company becomes unwieldy with all the attachments; focus is lost, direction is scattered, and messaging is foggy.

Business WartThat’s when it’s time to go through a wart removal process (otherwise called settling on your core offering/market/message and starting to streamline).

Many companies that end up stuck and struggling are in that position, not because they’re doing bad work, but because they’re doing too many things for too many types of clients. It starts as a revenue play; but pretty soon, you’re tying to keep way too many balls in the air, and the inefficiency is choking growth.

I was speaking with one of my large healthcare clients recently, a company that expanded over the years through a whole bunch of acquisitions. When the number of overlapping/redundant systems and programs was described to me, my jaw went through the floor, down into the basement, and halfway into the planet’s crust. As each company or franchise was acquired, there had been almost no streamlining – all accretions.

But this isn’t just a big-company problem. It’s actually very common with startups also; many of which, in the early years of trying to acquire clients and generate revenues, tend to take on projects that are out of the “sweet spot” of their core competencies. At some point, you have to decide to either be a commoditized generalist (with everyone as your competition), or narrow down your focus to a clearly defined and differentiated niche.

At one point, I added a job board/matchmaking service to my offerings. It seemed like a very natural and potentially scalable addition in my biopharma marketplace. It “should have” worked! -but it ended up being an unproductive distraction. Even some really great-sounding ideas (at the outset) end up needing to have the plug pulled.

This is where leaders have to be willing to step back from emotional attachments (to projects, groups, clients, products, or offerings) and make a cold-eyed assessment of what really has the best business potential. That’s not easy. But wielding the scalpel to prune occasionally is critical to ongoing success.

Does your business have a few too many warts? Here’s some advice:

Previously in the Stuck and Struggling series:
The “Can’t Let Go” Leader
Direction Attention Deficit Disorder
Navigating the Whitewater
Misplaced Persons

Here are some of the upcoming topics:

  • Inconsistent Revenue Model
  • Commodity or Poorly Packaged Offerings (differentiation issues)
  • Operational Vacuum (insufficient structure/process to enable growth)
  • Bad Clients/Wrong Clients
  • Bad-Apple Employees
  • Broken Internal Communication (multi-faceted topic)
  • Scalable/Configurable vs. Custom Offerings (the craft-work, time-for-money trap)
  • Foggy Marketing/Messaging (failure to communicate clearly with clients and referrers)


Too many accretions clouding your business? Get Business Clarity. And, subscribe to the weekly Clarity Blend e-newsletter here.

Photo Credit: appletonrc via Compfight cc

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