Growing Pains: Common Challenges to New Orleans’ Businesses and Non-Profits
On my first day at trepwise, I found myself sitting in a sea of rabbis eating guacamole. This was not what I expected for a first day at a consulting firm, to say the least. I was helping make patterns out of fabric, watching piles of red cups crash to the floor, and hearing how university Hillels could effectively adapt to the 21st century.
In the midst of this retreat for Jewish Design Initiative – an innovative cohort of Jewish leaders rethinking Hillel’s role in Jewish life, Kevin Wilkins, my new CEO, said, “Never forget that you have to work on your organization, not just in it.” It’s a phrase that imprinted itself on my mind.
trepwise is built for a single purpose: to build capacity in organizations and individuals. We help leaders work on their business or organization, expanding bandwidth to create space for strategic thinking. Whether it’s assessing strategic marketing or performing sales analysis on three years of data with over 10,000 clients, we want leaders to be able to take a step back from the barbecue pit and the board room, in order to gain insight as to where their organization is and where they should be going.
Over the past four years, we have worked with over 150 organizations in New Orleans alone, With our anniversary coming up in July, we decided to take a moment to document our collective learnings around common challenges facing growing organizations and how we’ve seen entrepreneurs and organizational leaders successfully navigate them.
In our ever-changing environment, much of business advice fixates on the value of “pivoting,” “change management” and “dynamic synergies that allow for responsive execution.” We don’t want to minimize the importance of adaptability, though the last one is corporate hokus pokus. However, before you can dynamically respond to the market, you must fully understand what your company values, how it defines impact, and where your collective ambition ultimately lies. With many of our engagements, we begin first with developing organizational mission, vision, and values. This work is foundational to developing and fundamental to establishing organizational culture.
“However, before you can dynamically respond to the market, you must fully understand what your company values, how it defines impact, and where your collective ambition ultimately lies”
As James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras write, “Truly great companies understand the difference between what should never change and what should be open for change, between what is genuinely sacred and what is not. This rare ability to manage continuity and change – requiring a consciously practiced discipline – is closely linked to the ability to develop a vision for the company.” (“Building Your Companies Vision,” Harvard Business Review: On Strategy, 77-78).
By defining the overarching mission, vision and values, organizations begin to identify what they are and what they are not. These will help frame strategic decisions, everything from key questions around growth models to granular decisions around discount pricing tactics. Moreover, as organizations evolve, these fundamental tenets align staff and management through growing pains.
UNDERSTANDING WHAT NUMBERS MATTER AND WHY
Profit & Loss Statements. Balance Sheets. Income Statements. No, this isn’t a quote from Dante’s Inferno, this is the chaos that descends upon organizations trying to understand the state of their finances. In age of user-centricity and design thinking, these financial statements can seem complicated by design. This is why, quite literally, people go to school to become accountants. Finding a good book-keeper can be a godsend, but even the best book-keeper cannot make strategic decisions for you.
Critical to running a successful organization is understanding how the reports interact. What numbers matter? Which line items are the difference between breaking even and going under? Where is the biggest source of growth? These are living documents. Understanding the key numbers to monitor is vital to running an effective organization.
DIVERSIFYING REVENUE STREAMS
In response to the natural disasters of the past decade, grant money poured into New Orleans, energizing the non-profit sector. Still, depending solely on grants and other philanthropy is not a sustainable model for many organizations. Innovative and successful non-profits develop both earned and philanthropic forms of revenue.
This is why we admire the innovative models some of our clients operate on. Operation Spark operates on both grants and tuition to its coding classes. Liberty’s Kitchen runs two full-service restaurants. Good Work Network has a book-keeping service for small businesses. These models allow more dependable sources of revenue and more flexibility, regardless of what the philanthropic climate is like.
Even for-profits could benefit from analyzing the diversity of their revenue streams. Does over 50% of your revenue come from a few large clients? Becoming too dependent on one channel of revenue can cause businesses to go stagnant, and if this revenue stream falls off, the business may not be prepared to pivot fast enough to survive.
SOCIAL, SOCIAL, SOCIAL
In today’s market, every business and organization knows the importance of social media. And yet, many organizations feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of platforms to push out content. Do I join Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Google +, Linkedin, Medium, Youtube, or Slideshare? All of the above?
For small organizations and small businesses, it’s critical to not let this overwhelmed feeling cause a massive social media undertaking. Do not join 8 social media platforms, unless you can commit consistent quality content. Think of each of these platforms as your first impression to your customers. If they are not maintained, what does this say about your products and services?
Instead, you should commit to one major social network, and you should strive to deliver quality, engaging content. Using services such as Buffer and Hootsuite, you can schedule your posts weekly or monthly. For small organizations, social media marketing should not and could not be your full-time job. In fact, a recent analysis by Hubspot found that the more you post on Facebook the lower your engagement rates are. For example, companies with fewer than 10,000 followers that post more than 60 times a month receive 60% fewer links than those that post 5 or fewer times per month. Quantity is not quality.
In just eleven months, I’ve been exposed to a multitude of businesses and organizations working through challenges of all sizes. Whether it’s a national PR search or process mapping in a kitchen, trepwise approaches every engagement with rigor and organization- something I’ve tried to apply to my life to my roommates’ collective joy. We’ll be continuing to update our website with more insights! Stay tuned for more posts in the coming weeks.
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