It’s time to stop scrambling

Karl Palachuk

Most small businesses start out in a mode best described as “Scrambling” for business. Scrambling means doing whatever it takes to establish yourself, pay the rent, and live to see another day. Eventually, your business matures and you can stop scrambling. But it can be hard to break the scrambling habit.

Every business that wants to be truly successful has to get past the scrambling stage.

Scrambling-for-businessIn the big picture, “scrambling for work” can be a good thing. But most of the time we use that term when there isn’t enough work. Then it’s a bad thing. Here are the fundamental traits of scrambling, ordered from positive to negative:

  • Eager or “hungry” for work
  • Willing to do whatever it takes
  • Willing to take on jobs that are a stretch
  • Often charging a very low price in order to get the job
  • Working job-to-job (and living month to month)
  • No time to do marketing
  • Not saving money

When people talk about small businesses being nimble and agile, they often point to some of the more positive attributes of scrambling. But you can be nimble and agile without also being scrambling. Scrambling has an element of desperation that is not healthy for you or your business.

It’s a Two-Way Street

Two-way-streetMany of the elements of a solid, growing, successful business evolve from scrambling. When we’re eager for work, we’re motivated to get out there and find it. Many of us, when we started our businesses, knocked on doors and asked for work. We walked through office buildings and distributed our brochures. And to be honest, many of us would have a few more clients today if we went out and knocked on a few more doors.

Another trait that many of us started out with is the willingness to say “yes” first and then figure out how to deliver afterward. That can be a big opportunity or a huge debacle. As our companies mature, we become more cautious about figuring out how we’re going to deliver a service before we quote a job. Ideally, we still stretch to the next level, but we do it wisely and make sure we’re going to make a profit.

The problem with scrambling is that scrambling behavior is self-perpetuating. Even the positive traits tend to have a common result: We work more than we should for less money than we deserve. And the more you do that, the more you need to do that, because you never make enough money to stop scrambling.

Oddly enough, breaking the cycle only takes one simple step: Commitment.

When you commit to stop scrambling, one absolute truth emerges. The truth is, you need to charge enough money to make a decent living. If you don’t do that, then you’ll scramble forever. If you do it, you’ll instantly make more money.

When you charge what you’re worth, you won’t seem desperate to prospects, and they won’t push as hard about pricing. Even if they push a little on pricing, you can simply stand firm and they’ll know that’s not negotiable.

When you charge what you’re worth, another important thing happens. You stop having both sides of the conversation and let the client speak for themselves. When you have both sides of the conversation, you state your price and then immediately start second-guessing. “My client won’t pay that much. I’m not worth it. That job’s easy. No one will pay a premium for that.”

Having both sides of the conversation is never good. You can speculate about what the client will say, but don’t accept it as fact until you actually ask the client! Time and time again we’re amazed when we say what we want and the client simply says, “Okay. Let’s do it.”

I don’t mean to suggest this is easy. But you need to commit to a business that’s prosperous. And businesses cannot be prosperous when the owner is scrambling. After all, if you’re living month-to-month, you’ll never have cash flow for marketing or hiring someone to help you. In other words, you’ll never grow your company. Period.

What Does Non-Scrambling Look Like?

A non-scrambling (or post-scrambling) company knows what it’s worth. There’s some flexibility on price, of course, but there’s a solid floor. If you say your price is $150/hour, you might give non-profit organizations a price of $135/hour. But you don’t let anyone buy your labor at $75.

A non-scrambling company stretches their level of knowledge and experience profitably. That way they make money on every job instead of not knowing whether they’ll make money. It means they slow down a bit and are more deliberate with job quotes. It means they spend money on books and training (a luxury when you’re scrambling).

A non-scrambling company builds long term relationships. Interestingly enough, that means the client expects to pay enough to make it worth your while. The client understands that you have to earn enough so that you will be around when they need you. When they under-pay a technician, they expect to go shopping the next time they need someone. It might be an old cliché, but it’s still true: The best relationships are built when both sides win.

A non-scrambling consultant sells quality hardware and software. They don’t assume the client wants the cheapest option available. They sell business class hardware. They quote the kind of equipment they know is in their client’s best interest. And, again, they let the client ask about alternatives rather than having both sides of the conversation.

A non-scrambling consultant invests in good tools. That means RMM (remove monitoring and management), PSA (professional services automation), spam filtering, service desk, finances, and more. Yes these are investments. But each of them will pay for itself once implemented properly.

A non-scrambling I.T. consultant is self-confident and is seen as part of the team. The client truly looks to you as an outsourced Chief Information Officer. They expect you to give your opinion and to recommend improvements to help them stay competitive and productive.

Oddly enough, many companies scramble for years – sometimes five or ten years. They get in the habit and they never get out. Unfortunately, that’s when the worst part of scrambling becomes apparent: They’ve never put aside any money. They’ve never saved for retirement. They have aged ten years but have nothing to show for all the scrambling.

The funny thing is that, after then years in the business, they have no excuses for scrambling. They have the experience to quote jobs properly. They have a good sense of what the best consultants are charging. They know what to sell and how much margin they need.

They’re just entrenched in the habits of scrambling. It’s what they’ve done and what they know.

In technology consulting we’re always going to be scrambling a little to keep up with new inventions, new interfaces, and the next big thing. But we shouldn’t be scrambling to manage our business, price our services, or build relationships with our clients.

If you’re scrambling simply because you’ve always worked that way, I invite you to look at yourself and your business in a new light. Commit to a more secure future. Believe in your value and the value you bring to the client. And enjoy a more profitable future as a result of these commitments!

Do you have any advice to help break the scrambling habit? Share your tips in a comment below!