Giant pumpkin - the model for colossal business growth
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Giant pumpkin

Try the Pumpkin Plan for Practice Growth

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Dec 3rd 2015
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The Great Pumpkin was an inspiration for Linus in Charles Schultz's Peanuts cartoon, but consultant and author Michael Michalowicz picked up and ran with the idea as a model for business growth.

Leafing through the Boonton Gazette, the community paper at his New Jersey home, Michalowicz spotted an article about growers of colossal pumpkins. He decided to find out more and became a “lord of the gourd” himself. Eventually he developed his ideas into a book, The Pumpkin Plan.

“I spent 1998 studying colossal pumpkin farming,” Michalowicz told delegates at the recent QuickBooks Connect conference in San Jose, California. “And how do you grow a colossal pumpkin? I just changed the growing by 5 percent.”

Improving every step of the process by 5 percent adds up over the lifecycle of a pumpkin to dramatic extra growth for the individual fruit. What colossal pumpkin farmers fight against is the curse of volume, Michalowicz explained, and the same factors apply to the wider business world.

September and October represent 80 percent of sales for pumpkin farmers, who sow as many seeds as they can. Around 30 percent to 40 percent of the pumpkins get abandoned because it's a “quantity game.”

Seed Selection: Maximize the Potential

The colossal pumpkin farmer starts by being selective and picking seeds that best match the climate and soil conditions where they will be grown.

Applying the colossal pumpkin growing philosophy to more general business environments, Michalowicz described three intersecting circles of uniqueness, client demand, and systemization. The biggest growth potential lies in the small area where they intersect.

To remain competitive, most organizations strive to be better. But “clients can't see better,” said Michalowicz. “What they can see is unique. Colossal entrepreneurs know this.”

Colossal entrepreneurs learn to exploit difference. Make your business an expression of those differences and you'll stand out, he argued. “That's a colossal seed that can grow to any size that you determine.”

Sprout Review

When ordinary pumpkin farmers review their sprouts, they want to encourage the weak sprouts. So they loosen the soil around their roots and give them extra water. Colossal farmers do the opposite and focus on the strong, Michalowicz explained.

“The strongest one has the most potential to become colossal. So tear out and throw away the weak sprouts,” he said.

Most business owners follow this pattern and focus on their weakest team members and try to make them better. But the colossal entrepreneur focuses on elevating their best employees. “They know that weaknesses can be improved by inches, but strengths can be magnified by miles,” he said.

“Clone your best clients,” Michalowicz urged the practitioners at QB Connect. This can be achieved by sorting clients by revenue and then assessing how enjoyable they are to work with. “The intersection of clients who spend most and you enjoy doing business with most are your ideal clients.”

Watering

The differences between normal and colossal pumpkin farmers continue through the nurturing process. Normal farmers will rig up huge “saturation systems” of automated sprinklers to rain water down on plants after sunset, when the water won't evaporate. Sometimes the deluge can drown some plants, but enough will grow successfully to justify using the technique. “It's a very effective method in quantity,” Michalowicz said.

Colossal farmers don't use saturation and instead rely on a “quenching” system to give optimal amounts of water for the plant to absorb. Quenching can involve watering the pumpkin up to 15 times a day â€“ and sprouts can grow as much as 10 times faster than ordinary pumpkins as a result.

Ordinary business owners typically use saturation methods in their marketing. They'll burst into networking events and bombard other attendees with their business cards and tweet them like crazy afterwards. They'll then sit at their desk and wonder why no one calls. According to Michalowicz, this technique is too fast and too intense and kills the roots of relationships: “Quenching is much more effective. Say hello, meet, and greet.”

As with his pumpkins, Michalowicz aims for frequency with his prospects. “Behavioral psychology tells us that the more frequently we encounter something, the more we trust it. If you appear in front of clients where they congregate, you will get more trust from them and the experience with them will be better,” he said.

“Ask your best customers where they go and find out the magazines they read,” he added. By finding where they gather and appearing in the pages of their favorite reading material, they will get to know you better.

Root Analysis

Where ordinary pumpkin farmers don't care about roots, colossal farmers use special subsoil analysis spectacles to examine the root systems of their plants. “A colossal pumpkin can put on 50 pounds a day with a root system the size of a softball. They're looking to see if there's any damage underground,” Michalowicz said.

Translating this approach into normal business activity, Michalowicz opened fire on the traditional approach to referrals: “The most common surface technique is to ask for referrals. When they hear the trigger words, they go with the referral sequence, ‘Would you have any friends or family who would be interested in the service we provide?'”  Big mistake.

“Usually when you get a referral, you get a marginal-to-poor referral,” he argued. “It's a bit offensive â€“ I just took your money, but your check isn't good enough. If you refer someone to us, I haven't got as much time for you. It doesn't make sense for them to make referrals.”

Instead, he suggested asking good clients what other vendors they depend on. When Michalowicz ran a computer security company, if he knew the company that cleaned his clients' carpets or installed their new systems, he could collaborate with them to provide a better service for the ideal client and organizations like them.

“The vendors they depend on are a gateway to cloning customers,” he said.

After working with a trading desk installer introduced by his best hedge fund customer, they introduced Michalowicz to similar companies for more than a year. One of these companies was Goldman Sachs, which put him in touch with 50 more hedge funds.

Pruning

Ordinary pumpkin farmers don't do much pruning. Colossal farmers do lots of it. Every time anything grows on vine, it takes nutrients away from the fruit. Ordinary entrepreneurs allow everything to grow. They see opportunities everywhere and dissipate their energy and time trying to win them all.

But what they need to learn is that colossal growth comes from narrowing your focus to the customers who give you the most value, Michalowicz argued. “Protect that pumpkin!”

Michael Michalowicz's Colossal Growth Tips

  1. Business owners only need to make a 5 percent correction in their business to achieve colossal growth.
  2. The biggest limiter of growth is the recurring behavioral patterns of the business owner â€“ because they're comfortable with what's familiar.
  3. Better is good, but different is better. That is who you are, and your clients and prospects can see it.
  4. Difference comes from delivering a unique offering to your top clients and systemizing the entire process.
  5. Clone your top clients. The best clients are the ones who buy most from you and buy repeatedly.
  6. Ask your best clients who their best suppliers are as a gateway to similar clients.
  7. Prospects will trust you the more they see you. Appear where they congregate. Repeatedly.
  8. Asking for referrals offends your clients and dilutes your attention.
  9. You will never grow colossally if you try to grow in all areas.
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