This column was published in Auctioneer Magazine. Used by permission.
By Carl Carter, APR
Once in a while – if you work hard and have a little luck – magic happens. You get into a profitable market niche early. You establish the right contacts, hold a string of great auctions, and gain a reputation as the go-to firm for a certain type of asset. Or a specific region. Or a seller profile.
Sales come in as fast as you can handle them. So you do the smart thing and make hay while the sun shines. You target your sales and advertising at the hot market. And while you know it won’t last forever, you go with it, because you’ve worked your whole life for just that kind of market.
In other words, you play it smart. But if you’re not careful, you can step into the “good times trap.” You focus so exclusively on what’s working that you forget to hedge your bets. You stop doing things that have worked for you over the long haul, assuming that the current run will last forever. But it may not. I’ve seen companies disappear virtually overnight because the conditions that made fed their success disappeared. You probably have too.
So here are some things you can do during the good times to avoid that trap. By all means, you want to focus on what’s working. But it’s also a good time to look ahead and be ready for the changes that almost always come. Here are a few things you can do to make the transition easier, just in case the good times don’t roll forever.
Increase your marketing savvy. Good times are the ideal time to get creative with your marketing. By all means, do what you know is working. But this is also a good time to test some new ways of promoting your auction company, because you have less pressure to go for the quick payoff. Sign up for some seminars on marketing techniques you haven’t tried yet. Educate yourself on Internet-only auctions if you haven’t already. Bring yourself up to date on the current media landscape. Who’s going where for their information?
Look for logical extensions to your current success. Who has assets similar to those you’re selling now but isn’t using the auction method? Get in the habit of reading news from different types of businesses and see who’s having problems liquidating what. Where are the clogs in the the supply pipeline? Who has idle assets and needs cash? Who’s looking to cash in?
Expand your marketing reach. The time to start reaching out to new markets is when you’re enjoying success in existing ones. Maybe you have a newsletter that gets you a lot of compliments. Great! So build on that by expanding the distribution list. Identify an industry where you don’t have a presence and start reaching out to prospects there. Identify the leading trade publications and web portals for that industry and begin reading them, if possible. Join an association or two. Attend a trade show or expo in an industry you’ve never penetrated.
Keep your foothold (and reputation) in cooler markets. You never know when a dormant source of business might heat up, so it’s a good idea to keep pursuing auctions even for properties that might seem marginal compared to your current bread and butter. People quit thinking of your firm for an asset you haven’t sold in recent memory. I’ve heard many an auctioneer say, “Oh yeah, we’ve sold a lot of properties like that.” But not lately. So nobody remembers the good work they did before. They watch helplessly as the auction goes to somebody who’s sold more properties recently in that market space, and the auctioneer faces an uphill battle to re-establish a reputation for that asset.
Be lots of places, lots of times. I have a friend who – still in his early 30s – had built and sold two very different successful businesses and was enjoying a lot of success in a third. One day I asked him how he managed to do it. “The only way I know to be in the right place at the right time is to be lots of places, lots of times,” he said. It made sense. He was constantly on the phone, out at social gatherings, and busy with events and groups around town. He got in front of people. He listened. When he saw an opening, he moved boldly. While most of us are better served by a strategy of building one business for the long run, I couldn’t help admiring him, and I learned a few things as well.