Service Minded

Debra Helwig on Marketing & Leadership in Professional Services

Avoid the Perilous BIG

Posted by debrahelwig on March 10, 2009

Yesterday I was planning my five year old’s birthday party. So I called Jeff the Balloon Guy.

Jeff comes to the party in his clown costume with a dozen balloons. He makes balloon animals, does face paint, and plays games. He’s awesome. Having Jeff at my daughter’s party will rock her little world.

But then I start arguing with myself. “One dozen balloons isn’t enough,” I waver. “We need mylar fairytopia. Two balloons per kid. Three. It’s got to be big to make her happy.”

Uh, no. Hold the phone. My girl would be happy with a homemade cake, two balloons total, and a cheap piñata.

The problem is me. I’ve been sucked into the cult of the perilous BIG.

So have a lot of people. I see it on signs all over town. HUGE sale. BIG markdowns! GIGANTIC savings. It’s like trying to shout the loudest in a noisy room. The more people are talking, the louder it gets, and the more you have to shout. Be bigger. More huge. The Gigantic-est.

We’ve absorbed this concept and it ceases to amaze us. On some visceral level, Americans have internalized the idea that BIG thinking, shouting the loudest, is what gets you eyeballs/profit/fame/success, both at home and at work.

But I have news for you.

You don’t need the 75” all singing, all dancing plasma TV, not even for the big (AH, there’s that BIG again) game. You don’t need 25,000 followers on Twitter to reach the people that care about your message. You don’t need to bring in dozens of new clients from every seminar you hold or every networking event you attend. And you don’t need 20 percent growth year over year for your firm to succeed.

If you believe that you do, you’ve fallen prey to the perilous BIG. And you’re in trouble.

Why is BIG so bad? Because in economic times like ours today, it’s not sustainable.

Clients are getting slower to pay. They’re scaling back on projects. It’s looking like it might be a little lean around the clubhouse after April 15. If you’re a believer in BIG, this turn of events appears to be utter disaster. A quarter, or horrors, a year of flat or incremental growth will be the death of the firm.

But will it? Really? Really?

Or is it an addiction to the supersize fry when a regular size will do? Three dozen balloons for a kid’s party when a dozen would suffice?

Think about it. Because your answer to that question will drive your firm’s business development for the forseeable future.

If BIG is the goal, then you’ve just entered an “eat what you kill” world. You’ll have to seek new markets and new clients at an unprecedented pace. Go for the huge one-time projects and then on to new clients who will give you a big cash infusion. At that point, you’re chasing dollars, not winning hearts and minds. And when the downturn becomes the upturn, these folks won’t have reasons to stay with you. You’ve become strictly a commodity player.

Uh oh.

My advice? Ignore what our society tells you is good related to growth and success. Don’t buy into BIG for BIG’s sake.

Figure out what you really have to have to sustain through the downturn. Be flexible enough to measure success by something other than growth alone. Invest your energy in caring for the (hurting) clients you have and help them with their needs. Build relationships with new clients in a nurturing way for the long term. Understand that tiny growth is still growth – and perfectly acceptable, no matter what your television tells you.

It’s a tough patch now, but it won’t be forever. Until things bounce back, you need Mr. Jeff and a dozen balloons for the party, not a truckful.

Reestablish your firm’s expectations.

Avoid the perilous BIG.


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