Money mills – spinning up the machine

My ideal business would be a money mill that turns and makes money without any effort once it’s built. Obviously I’ve never seen this mythical machine but having seen thousands of businesses and having worked with the people who built some great ones I want to explain why it’s a useful target.

First time entrepreneurs often see company building as a steeplechase; you jump some hedges and scramble some ditches but eventually cross the finish line, collect a medal and retire with your pot of gold. I get told “We’ve invested a lot in R&D but we won’t need to spend so much now the product is ready” or “Megacorp just signed a strategic distribution deal with us so sales won’t be a problem”.

In reality you’re building a mill that grinds customer problems into customer satisfaction and they are paying you to turn the mill. No matter how many times you turn it you’re going to have to go round again to keep them happy and get paid. Your job as an entrepreneur is to turn this money mill faster and faster while reducing the effort that takes so hopefully one day it runs without the sweat off your back as the fuel.

Think back to the version 1.0 shipped to your first paying customer. It was held together by sticky tape, your engineers spent a week teaching the customer to use it and you slept under your desk because the system kept crashing. You successfully turned the mill and got paid but this would never work if you had to do this fast enough for ten customers at once.

The nice thing about doing a full turn is you find these bumps in the process and can work to smooth them other. Version 2.0 used glue instead of sticky tape, the engineers wrote a manual and you upgraded the system so you didn’t have to sleep on the floor any more. Turn the mill a few more times and now you discover (not for the last time) that you’re the bottleneck, maybe you’re the only salesperson or demand to approve every deal but you need to smooth out those bumps! Having worked with businesses from 10 to ten thousand people I can promise that every time you go faster new pieces of the machine will start to break.

The best teams and businesses always look ahead to the next turn of the mill and think about how to go faster. They’re smoothing out those bumps before they hit them hard enough to break the business. Don’t get too distracted by the future – if it’s a donkey turning the mill don’t worry about tuning the solar powered version! Just keep thinking of every step in the process from getting the lead to closing a customer and work out how to make the mill turn faster and easier the next time.

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