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The million dollar question

million dollar questionOver the years I’ve worked with a number of clients who are thinking about the next step. Sometimes that meant an acquisition. Sometimes that meant new staff, or additional marketing. But it usually meant – at its core – growth. These clients wanted to grow, and they wanted to do it deliberately and effectively.

Thinking about growth can feel overwhelming – after all, you’re in the midst of running your business and dealing with client issues and fixing problems. No matter if this is your first try or your fifteenth, taking a business from point A to point B is complicated!

So here’s a way to simplify your thinking about growth: ask yourself the million dollar question. Specifically, if you were given 1 million dollars today, and the only requirement attached was to use the money to grow your business, how would you use it? There are no right or wrong answers – but different choices will usually yield different results. How might you answer the million dollar question?:

  • Spend it all on marketing: You could call this the ‘ZipRecruiter approach’: carpet-bomb your audience so that there is NO CHANCE that anyone could possibly miss you! This is a classic move for growth, and one often seen from startups flush with VC cash. The downside? Sustaining growth once the money runs out. You’re making a bet that that $1 million will ignite greater sales, which will in turn provide more funding for future growth. Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way.
  • Spend it on product: Call this version ‘the ElevatedCareers approach’: put your cash into building a mind-blowing new service or product that will revolutionize the recruitment marketing industry. (OK, maybe keep a few dollars back for the product rollout!). This can work if the product is truly revolutionary and something that employers (or possibly candidates) want. You can probably guess the downside: a) the product/service doesn’t get finished before the money runs out; b) no one actually wants it; or c) it isn’t actually that unusual or revolutionary.
  • Spend it on acquisitions: Call this the ‘Dice approach’: buy up other services/sites/etc. (ideally on the cheap) that you feel will expand and extend your grip on the market. Hey, Microsoft bought LinkedIn, didn’t they? The downside? Um, see ‘history of Dice acquisitions’…or Monster…or….
  • Spend it on staff: Call this the ‘Indeed approach’ (at least at certain points in their history). Staff up A LOT – specifically, with salespeople. In general, more salespeople = more sales.  The downside? Well….a) salespeople are VERY HARD TO HIRE!; b) there is a lag between when you hire a new salesperson and when they start producing results; and c) salespeople are VERY HARD TO HIRE!
  • Spend it on all of the above: Call this version ‘the most typical approach’. Whether you truly believe in covering your bases, or you just have trouble making decisions, spending a bit here and a bit there seems to be the default. It makes sense: you’re limiting your risk, you’re increasing the likelihood that something will work, and you’re (possibly) moving forward on multiple fronts. The downside? You’re also limiting your ability to grow. Putting $200K into marketing will almost always yield less than putting the full million into play. And so forth and so on.

So how about it? Go ahead and ask yourself the million dollar question! (And if you discover someone handing out million dollar checks, please let me know!).

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