Is your business in No Man’s Land?


We’ve only just put down Doug Tatum’s latest work, “No Man’s Land”, and it’s made us realise more than any other piece of literature that more businesses than you might expect may actually be in ‘no man’s land’. What is ‘no man’s land?’, well, it’s a period of adolescence as Tatum explains; that volatile time a business faces after experiencing growth; both rapid, and more conservative growth.

Tatum sums it up as companies that are “too big to be small” but remain “too small to be big”. Consider for example financial lending as a small business, where you’d be in a position to use personal possessions as collateral for the bank. As you expand however, and you require more capital this is no longer sufficient for the bank, and you find yourself in a new state of financial purgatory where you’re now looking to borrow larger sums of money. This is a good example of the too big to be small, but too small to be big concept.

We’re not trying to frame business growth as a negative thing, far from it, but it is important to take note of the author’s guiding principles that this period of growth does bring a whole raft of challenges for your business, regardless of the environment in which you operate. Tatum likened this to the analogy of a crowded stadium in an interview with Forbes: “One day you make a bet that all of a sudden leads you into a stadium full of new customers. It drags you into growth and it's very hard to say no.”

If your business is doing well, first off: congratulations, but secondly, we’d like you to be at least aware of this troublesome period of business adolescence and the challenges it can present. As you grow, you’ll be making new promises to new customers, all the while maintaining the existing promises you’ve been making to your long-term clients. If you fail to meet this first prerequisite, you could be risking the loss of your customer’s trust which could manifest into them taking their business elsewhere. It’s important to note if your stakeholders are interested in your business because of the promises you’ve been making, the scale of your operations – if you’re still quite small, this allows you to be more customer-oriented – as well as how your business is perceived. A journey through no man’s land will almost certainly impact one, if not all three of these unique selling points for your business.

Three ways to get out of No Man’s Land

Tatum explains that three things can happen to your business during this testing time. The first is that the author notes many small businesses end up failing because of the new-found pressures now being applied to the business with additional customers, more extensive supply-chains, and extra demand put on to maintaining the promises you’ve made to existing customers. This is often the case with businesses that have found rapid growth, and failed to implement the perquisite systems and processes that would help deal with the sudden growth of the company; and the demands that accompany it.

The second thing that could happen is that as a business finds this new growth, it ‘retreats’, consolidating its operations to become what’s known as a small giant. We’ve covered the phenomenon of small giants before, and we’ll leave you a link here. In short, the choice to hone-in and improve your operations rather than simply expand upon them can be a life-saving decision in regard to business expansion; too often a business gets over-zealous and over-expands, leading to financial detriment.

The third and final result that Doug Tatum specifies is the choice of a business to continue in its expansion plans, but with the right set of procedures in place that can adapt to changes as the business grows. The author notes that nearly every big company in the world has gone through this phase at one point or another in their life. This option often proves the most problematic for entrepreneurs as they dream of expansion, due to the fact there’s no shortcut or cheat-sheet; it demands a high level of preparation, market research, self-awareness as a business and particularly the appropriate policies and procedures implemented ideally before the expansion plan.

In terms of the latter option, that’s where we at Best Practice are happy to step in and alleviate some of the pain. Implementing a quality management system like ISO 9001 – preemptively in particular – can save you some serious headaches as you navigate through no man’s land. ISO 9001 is designed specifically to assist you in some of the more troublesome stages of outgrowing the pains of business adolescence and will help prepare you for some of the challenges you’ll face as you expand. Better still, we’re here to help you through every step of the process as you implement, monitor, measure and adapt your quality management system. Contact us if you’d like to find out how an ISO quality management system can transform the way in which you operate your business.

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