Two Trailblazing Lessons From Patagonia

Many business leaders that I work alongside have long referred to Patagonia as an aspirational example… a family-owned company that is run on its values, and known for this in a way that connects with consumers; its actual authenticity makes it enormously successful and profitable. The latest move by the Chouinard family cements their trailblazing approach to a new form of values-led capitalism, and there are lessons here for all of us.

Since I heard the news about the founder of outdoor apparel maker Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, giving up ownership of his family’s company, it has stayed with me. 

Many business leaders that I work alongside have long referred to Patagonia as an aspirational example… a company that is run on its values, which connects with consumers and actually leads to its success and profitability. The latest move by the Chouinard family cements their trailblazing approach to a new form of values-led capitalism, and there are lessons here for all of us.

If you haven’t read the details of the exit or Chouinard’s message to Patagonia employees, I highly recommend digging in. The cliff notes are:

  • Chouinard is 83, and his family and the board have been wrestling with what would happen to Patagonia after his death for years. The company was 100% owned by the Chouinard family (Yvon, his wife Melinda, and their two children).
  • The family has created a unique structure in which they have donated 2% of the company (the voting shares) to a trust, and the rest of the common shares to a new 501(c)4.
  • The trust serves as a governing board for the company, and ensures that all excess profits (about $100 million annually) of the business are donated to the nonprofit in order to support a variety of environmental and grassroots programs and organizations. 

As Chouinard put it: “Now I could die tomorrow and the company is going to continue doing the right thing for the next 50 years, and I don’t have to be around.”

Lesson #1: Constraints beget creativity

One of the most inspiring aspects of this story for me was the reminder that limits or constraints can actually make us more creative. 

As business leaders, we often complain about needing more time, more money, more options… and we forget that sometimes less time, less money, fewer options are actually where our genius and the genius of our team can shine. 

Chouinard put very specific constraints on the team that was in charge of coming up with a satisfactory transition option. They needed to come up with a solution that met the non-negotiables to ensure that the purpose and ethos of the company would not be lost, and that the proceeds not just benefit the family, but the planet. 

As David Gelles points out in The New York Times article that broke the news, the easiest paths, selling the company or taking it public, would have enabled Chouinard to fund conservation initiatives from the proceeds. 

But Yvon did not believe that Patagonia would be able to prioritize things like worker well-being and funding climate action as a public company.

“I don’t respect the stock market at all,” Chouinard said. “Once you’re public, you’ve lost control over the company, and you have to maximize profits for the shareholder, and then you become one of these irresponsible companies.”

Chouinard even added some time pressure to the team to find a suitable alternative for his ownership succession. As the CEO, Ryan Gellert recounts: “One day he said to me, ‘Ryan, I swear to God, if you guys don’t start moving on this, I’m going to go get the Fortune magazine list of billionaires and start cold calling people. At that point we realized he was serious.”

By taking traditional solutions off the table and making the issue both urgent and important, Chouinard forced Patagonia to blaze a new trail that satisfied all of the Chouinard family’s values-led requirements. 

Lesson #2: What makes you different is where your value lies.

Companies often think that their strategic advantage is in being “better.” Better tasting. Healthier. Cheaper. More efficient. In reality, your strategic advantage is in being different.

“This family is one of one… People are gut-checking this move because it is so unusual,” Gelles noted in a Vox interview. “This family operates on a different wavelength.” 

The Chouinard children, Fletcher and Claire, essentially renounced their inheritance of billions of dollars, and share their parents’ disdain for billionaires.

My expectation isn’t that family enterprises all over the globe start emulating the Chouinard’s exact structure or willingness to donate their fortune to a cause. But they do act as an exceptional example of when having extreme values and personalities can work in a company’s favor.

It is a stark reminder to own this truth: The quirks of a family can actually create value in the brand and have positive ripple effects. By operating at extremes, they attract customers and employees who share their values, but lack the Chouinard’s capital to act on them.

Embracing personality, values, and profitability as ingredients for a successful business, instead of choices to be made is a liberating concept. This is something that makes me excited about the unique ability of family-owned and closely held businesses to truly make meaningful change in the world.

Patagonia is not a perfect company, and Yvon Choinard is not a perfect man. He wrestles with his own values. His company manufactured products that created waste, but the proceeds allowed his family to protect undeveloped lands. They had to deliberately slow the growth of the company at times and pull out of markets where they felt their products were being purchased by people who did not share their values. 

One of the things that sets the leadership of Patagonia apart is that they are willing to engage in conversations around contradiction and complexity. They embrace it. And that is something that we all can do.

Deep Roots: Sunnyland Farms Interview

Staci Willson and her husband Alex are the 4th generation owners of Sunnyland Farms, a unique pecan farm, processor, manufacturer, and catalog retail business.

Located in what has long been known as the “Pecan Capital of the World” Albany, Georgia, Staci and Alex are continuing to honor their family’s legacy, and build a bright future.

Knowing that Sunnyland is a 4th generation family business, can you tell us a bit about the history of the company?
Sunnyland has a unique story. It started when my husband’s great-grandfather inherited beautiful pecan groves down here in Southwest Georgia, originally around 5,000 acres. Our groves today are around 1,700 acres, all planted with beautiful pecan trees. Alex’s granddad was a Harvard businessman, and after World War II decided he was gonna come down with his wife Jane from Atlanta and move to the agriculture hub of Albany, Georgia. They were already selling some of the Willson family pecans to college friends, etc., and thought there just might be something to that!

So they moved down here in the late 40s and started to cultivate the farm and started the mail-order business in 1948, just selling Sunnyland pecans. And from there it started to flourish. Then they started to add praline pecans, candies, cakes, and added other mixed nuts to their products. Developing relationships with nut farmers worldwide was crucial for maintaining Sunnyland’s standard of “Only the Best.” We still benefit from these relationships today, purchasing the highest quality almonds from California, Macadamias from South Africa, and gorgeous Cashews from India.

In the seventies, Larry, Alex’s dad, who is the third generation, came back and started to help his dad modernize the growing operation. He was one of the first pecan farmers in the industry to implement irrigation. He planted new and upcoming pecan varieties, which we are bearing the fruit from now. Pecan trees take 15-20 years to mature, so you really have to implement a long-term plan to see it through fruition.

With that long legacy, what are you and Alex doing now to keep it thriving?
Right, so Alex is the fourth generation. We moved back about six years ago and since we have been involved, we’ve been working on really modernizing the catalog business, the online business, the SEO, and all of the digital marketing and sales aspects of the business.

My thumbprint has been on most of the catalog business, recipe development and PR/Marketing. Our catalog is still a huge part of our business, we mail almost 3.2 million catalogs a year nationwide! You would think in the modern age, it might not be, but it is. And we’re really trying to minimize packaging and become greener. We’re working on sustainable energy as well, using some of our pecan shells to fuel our shelling plant.

Is there anything else that is unique about the company and your team?
I know I focused on the Willson men, but a legacy that Sunnyland has always had is a husband and wife partnership. And that started way back with Jane and Harry. They really were ahead of their time and Jane took such an active leadership role in the business. It continued with Larry and Beverly in the seventies, and now it continues with me and Alex, so it’s really a joint partnership and a beautiful legacy to continue.

We’re very, very proud to say that most of our workforce is 80% female. We have had really wonderful lifetime employees across the board as well. We just celebrated 44 years of retirement last week with one of our very best long-term employees. And that’s really something we’re proud of. It’s not an uncommon thing to have multi-generations working here, like we’ll have a mother and a daughter working in a department together.

How did you and Alex decide to come into the family business? Was that an easy decision?
We were living in Nashville at the time when Alex and I met, he was in the financial industry and I was working in the food industry. We were in our late twenties and I remember asking him, as you do in planning for your future, do you ever wanna go back and step into your dad’s/granddad’s footsteps? And I was asking myself, do I want to go back and be a part of this farm, this business, and this family? He never would rule it out and I wouldn’t rule it out either. It took us probably about five more years to make the final move down here from Atlanta.

In the end, the one thing that we wanted to do was make a difference. We love this community, and wanted Sunnyland to grow and thrive as an employer. We decided we can make a bigger difference by moving to Albany than we could by working in our respective industries in Atlanta. We can make a difference and continue a beautiful legacy of giving back.

And I was just fascinated with the farm, and the recipe development is something that I loved. It was really a no-brainer. It was a beautiful lifestyle change from Atlanta down here, and a great place to raise the family, and really put our roots down and give back.

On a personal note, is there someone who you looked up to as a hero growing up?
I would definitely have to say Julia Child. I come from the beverage and food hospitality industry, and she was just such a pioneer and leader. As a female within that industry and gaining the respect she did and continues to have, she is someone that I’ve always looked up to. I’m not a chef, I’m a cook, and I love all of her recipes, and her personality, and just her fearlessness. She had so much courage to lead in the male-driven, culinary world. Man, what I wouldn’t give to have a cup of coffee with her and discuss these things!

What is the biggest leadership lesson you have learned along the way?
Definitely flexibility. Since we’ve moved back, we’ve dealt with devastating weather events, like Hurricane Michael where we lost 5,000 trees, a whole crop. Then we are dealing with the new digital marketing landscape that exists now. And then COVID. So we’ve been in constant crisis management since we moved back.

Now dealing with inflation and production shortages that affect our business from start to finish. So I have really had to work on flexibility. Things are always going to change. The life cycle of the business cycle is going to go up, and it’s going to go down.

And you manage that through embracing leadership within. We are very, very big on individual voices and we appreciate honesty and directness from our management leaders. We couldn’t do it without them.

What do you want your legacy to be?
Wow. I would probably say commitment. Commitment to things that matter. Commitment to quality. Commitment to roots, to people, our team, to family, to Sunnyland. I moved around a lot in my life prior to this, and joining this family and this business and everything… roots mean a lot to me. I want to invest in people’s futures. We’re going to figure out ways to thrive in the middle of these crises. I think that’s something that we’ve done and will continue to do.

This is Women’s History Month, so is there a woman in your life who’s made a big impact on you who you want to acknowledge?
Oh my goodness, there have been so many. I would probably go all the way back to my middle school chorus teacher, Miriam Walton in Richmond Virginia. She was so dynamic and so energetic. She led by example and encouraged my growth as a performer and singer. She had so much energy and passion for what she did. We still keep in touch and I’m proud to know her.

She encouraged me to step out and have courage, and believe in my talent. Getting up and singing a solo was difficult in middle school, but she encouraged me and gave me the opportunity to do that. And I think that honed some amount of leadership, learning to push through fear and knowing what courage looks like. And I know that may sound silly in middle school at a spring concert, but I look back at that and I really appreciate the influence she had on me.

That’s great. I think middle school is one of the most difficult times to stand up yourself, but if you can do it in middle school, you can do it forever.
Right. You know if you can do it in that moment, then you can do it forever, and in many other eras in your life.

Staci and Alex Willson are co-owners of Sunnyland Farms, a 1,760 acre farm nestled in the heart of Pecan Country in Albany, Georgia. Since 1948 Sunnyland has been the premier provider of gourmet Georgia Pecans, nuts, chocolates, dried fruits, and assortments of gifts for all occasions. Their incredible gourmet, heart-healthy and Kosher-certified snacks and pecans are the perfect treats. To learn more about Sunnyland Farms, visit their website: sunnylandfarms.com

Photography by David Parks

Brand strategy is the missing link between execution and result

During the past month, I have heard the same situation over and over. It goes something like this:

“We keep trying different things, and some of them seem to work okay, but we just aren’t consistent, and there is definitely no strategy. It feels like we are just throwing stuff at the wall. There is no clarity or consistency in what we are doing.”

Or maybe something like this:

“We just invested in a big new initiative (launched a podcast, redoing our website, updated our packaging, launching a new product), but I am worried it might not be right. We still don’t really have a succinct, compelling message, or any clear plan to get the word out about it or use it to generate sales.”

These are symptoms of the same issue: No brand strategy.

Why is brand strategy fundamental to making marketing execution more effective? And what IS a brand strategy anyway?

Imagine this scenario. You are getting ready to go on vacation to Belize that has been on your bucket list for over a decade, and you are about to pack your suitcase. You stare at your closet, and realize that you don’t even know where to start. What size suitcase do you need? Do you pack long sleeves or just beach gear? Sandals, hiking boots, or swim fins? You start listing all of the things that you could possibly need on your trip. 

So here are some tips to start building a brand strategy that will give you the clarity you need to move forward with confidence:

  1. Ask the question: “If nothing else changed in our business, what is the one initiative that would make the biggest impact to get us to our goals?”

    This is an easy way to start to separate the “must-haves” from the “nice-to-haves.” Instead of framing it as what is most important to the business (which is often difficult to answer), framing it as a creative problem within the framework of “nothing else changes” starts to elicit a different kind of energy and a different response. You can still brainstorm and have heated internal discussions about what the “one thing” is, but chances are, the options won’t be a list of random marketing tasks you can spend time and money on.
  2. Talk directly to your customers or prospects, and find out what matters most to them.

    Anyone who knows me will know that I am a broken record when it comes to this, but that’s because it works so well and companies simply don’t do it. If you aren’t regularly talking to your ideal customers about what their biggest pain points are, where they learn about new products or services, and what brands they couldn’t live without and why, and what they wish you knew about them, building a meaningful strategy is going to be practically impossible. If you are ready to take the plunge, you can download my step-by-step guide on how your team start interviewing your ideal customers today. (for email, this should be a link to the download instead)
  3. Talk openly about your fears. Then make a practical plan to mitigate them.

    I see a lot of family businesses spin their wheels because they are afraid of making a critical mistake. They don’t want to offend a critical customer. Or create confusion in the market. Or waste a large, rare opportunity. These are all legitimate fears, but they can all be dealt with, usually through a clear and consistent communication plan. Figure out who needs to know what and when (and then tell them a few more times!), and you’ll be good to go.

  4. Involve an outsider.

    You can’t read the label on your own bottle, and that truth is pretty much our team’s job security. Have someone involved in the process who understands your business but who isn’t in the weeds or emotionally attached to the status quo.  It can really help you get much further, faster. (I have advisors and colleagues who I will involve in my own brand strategy work because I know I simply can’t get there efficiently on my own.)

  5. Be clear about what outcomes you will see, hear, feel, and measure if you are successful.

    It is all too common for growing companies to make an investment that they “feel should be valuable” without taking the time to clarify what success looks like. If you just end up with impressions or awareness, is that enough? I often see sales and marketing teams track metrics like impressions, open rate, or engagement, and then they are disappointed when the activity doesn’t result in any new sales or leads. Not all impacts need to be directly measurable, but at least some of them should be. The desired outcomes need to be clear in everyone’s mind before any new initiative is kicked off. 

If you can identify your “one thing,” talk to your ideal customers, make a plan to mitigate risks, involve an outside perspective, and clearly envision and measure success, you will have the clarity you need to make strategic decisions. You may not have a formal strategy document, but your team will have the guardrails they need to be able to make informed judgment calls. They will never be perfect, but they won’t be far off base.

And if you feel stuck, we do offer a three-session Build Your Brand Strategy workshop that guides your leadership team through the process and decision-making so you walk away with clarity and a road map to execute. Just respond to this email if you want more detail.

How to build strategic brand and marketing skills in your company

Growing family businesses often get stuck at a common tipping point: do I hire marketing talent internally or outsource it to an expert agency? If I hire internally, am I hiring for strategy or for execution? The answer is a third way: engage an experienced mentor to develop your internal marketing team. 

My son, Henry, is in kindergarten, and has all of the sudden gained a new confidence in and love for drawing. He was never interested in it before he went to school (and had to do it every day), so it has been so fun to see a new world open up for him. 

To encourage him, I have been finding new things for us to draw and experiment with, including, most recently, some doodling videos with Mo Willems, a children’s book author/illustrator who Henry adores. If you aren’t familiar with his books, Mo Willems recurring characters include a obstinate pigeon (from “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus”) and two odd couple best friends, Gerald (an elephant) and Piggie (a pig).

Henry and I were watching videos of Mo Willems teach us step-by-step how to draw these characters, and then trying it ourselves. There was lots of pausing, rewinding, false starts, angrily crumbled fails, and increasingly competent pigs, elephants, and pigeons. 

When we were done, I looked back at the process we just went through, and started to reflect on it. 

Believe it or not, I think there are some takeaways for family-owned businesses who have been caught between the rock and hard place of needing strategic marketing and positioning expertise, but without the budget to hire an internal marketing team. 

Here is the situation I see all too often.

  • A business has grown organically over the years. The founder or founding team has strategic relationships, grit, and a willingness to try, fail, and quickly learn that allow them to find a loyal customer base and grow it.
  • That strong foundation yields new opportunities. — new markets or new channels or a strategic acquisition — which are high-stakes and need a new level of positioning strategy and marketing support to be successful.
  • They are then faced with a hard choice. Do we pay a price premium for outside experts that leave us dependent on them while we grow? Do we hire a marketing generalist who can get stuff done, but who is looking to us for direction and strategy that we can’t provide? Do we hire an experienced VP or CMO-level strategic thinker who will command a high salary, and who will still need additional budget for execution support? 

What is the right answer? It is a tough situation, and there really is no one “right” answer. That said, I do think there can be a path that allows these growing companies to have the best of all worlds.

Which brings me back to drawing Piggie with Henry. 

Piggie is an extremely simple character to draw. Some ovals, some lines. That’s pretty much it. 

But when I tried on my own to draw some Mo Willems characters from memory for Henry, the results were hilariously bad. Not even close. 

Mo, on the other hand, has the skill to make these super simple shapes become highly engaging characters with a depth of personality and feeling.

In his videos, Mo Willems breaks down the shapes, and their placement. We start drawing “lopsided donuts” and adding elevens for nostrils and for eyes. We learn that you need to beef up the elevens for the eyes so they get a bit fat, since the eyes are the most important part of the character. You get the idea.

Henry and I are far from doing what Mo Willems does in his books, but with some step-by-step videos and about 90 minutes of iteration, you can see the progress in Henry’s artwork. 

Not bad, right? 

He is getting more and more confident with his drawings, experimenting with Piggie’s eyes and mouth to see if he can more closely mimic the expressiveness of the storybook characters he loves.

Okay, so what is my point? The solution for companies stuck with the choice of the agency hamster wheel vs. hiring either strategy or execution internally is this guided development.

Brand and marketing strategy is pretty similar to Piggie. How you successfully enter a new market or reposition a decades old brand for growth is a step-by-step process. The fundamentals are simple. Knowing how you apply them to various real-world scenarios takes more experience and finesse, but it is still just variations on and application of the fundamentals.

This step-by-step process for positioning a brand for new growth is no different than Mo Willems process for drawing Piggie out of simple shapes. Manipulating those simple shapes into a more complexly textured brand and strategy takes practice, but it isn’t impossible to learn.

Here is what a “third way” scenario could look like:

  • The company hires a marketing person who can get stuff done internally who matches their values and really “gets” the brand and the vision.
  • They have an experienced external guide “show their work” to this internal resource. 
  • The two collaborate, giving the emerging marketing talent the opportunity to experiment and learn, but with the guidance they need to not waste years of company growth opportunity and tens of thousands of dollars guessing.

This could be done in a number of different ways. 

An experienced mentor could be found in alumni from some of the goliath brands in your niche. I just talked to a company founder who contracted the former head of global brand marketing of Reebok and the head of global digital advertising of Adidas to support a promising employee who now handles their marketing full-time. He said that her capabilities have blossomed, and he feels great about the investment in her future and in growing that resource internally.

You could also find a “fractional CMO” who could work on a part-time contract basis, and make mentorship part of their scope of work for your marketing team. 

At Six-Point, we have also developed our own solution to support family businesses: a “do-it-with-me” version of our Solve for Y strategy system that provides six-week guided sessions for internal marketing teams. We work with the company leadership to set objectives, and then work with your marketing team of one or more employees to create a strategy and tactical plan to meet those objectives. The employees have understanding, buy-in, and ownership, and they are accountable for executing the plan and tracking agreed upon lead metrics. 

The important thing is to remember that this critical junction in your company’s growth does not have to be an either/or. There is the opportunity to have both. 

Investing in talent can be a bit scary, but not as scary as hiring a great person and setting them up to fail. As the business maxim goes: Don’t ask what happens if I invest in developing my employee and they leave? Do ask what happens if I don’t invest in developing them and they stay?

If you want to talk about how we can help you develop your internal marketing team, send me an email or schedule a call with me.

(Now, was that too much of a stretch to share Henry’s awesome drawings? This proud mama says no way!)

The worker shortage: how to attract great people

The Great Resignation and current worker shortage may seem like a roadblock to getting great talent, but if your company has a strong culture and values, you may actually have a great opportunity. By clarifying your focus, aligning your values with what your employees value, and communicating it clearly, you can attract people who are looking for what your company already does well.

A word of warning: if you have a toxic culture, floods of backchannel internal communication, and values that drive self-interest, you can stop reading now. Nothing in this article will help you address worker shortage until you attend to those deeper issues.

All businesses are feeling it right now. The worker shortage. The Great Resignation. In the last dozen conversations I’ve had with family businesses, it is the same refrain: “We don’t lack opportunity. We lack people.”

Or, more specifically, the right people.

The problem is, when a qualified workforce seems so hard to come by, holding out for just the right fit seems like a luxury from a bygone age.

But like in all challenges, there is an opportunity here for businesses who have been doing hard work on their culture, operations, vision, and values over the years.

It is time to make all of that investment, all of the blood, sweat, and (likely literal) tears pay off.

As I often repeat, your brand is your reputation. You can’t control it, but you can influence it. And in the case of employer branding, the process of influencing it is the same as for a customer-facing brand.

Step 1: Get clear on your focus, and make sure you are solving the right problems in the right order.

I often hear many companies asking the same question: what platform should I be using to attract the right people? Indeed.com? LinkedIn? Zip Recruiter? But it is the wrong question. Or, at least, a question that can’t be answered without raising a number of other questions. (It is comparable to that other question I hear every day: Should we be on TikTok?)

You need to get clear on your audience, your goals, your media, and your message. It may sound basic, but in my experience, these basics are rarely applied to recruiting and employer branding. Our team at Six-Point Creative specializes in providing family-owned businesses with this clarity. If you’re feeling unsure where to start, schedule a discovery call with us to get unstuck.

Some questions to ask that will quickly clarify your focus:

  • What does success look like? What would you be seeing, hearing, and feeling if you had an employer brand that was attracting the right people?
  • Who are you trying to attract? Think about the people in your own organization who are successful, and also what you are trying to accomplish that might require different skills and experience.
  • Where have we seen success attracting great people in the past? Look for patterns in what has worked.
  • Where have we made recruitment mistakes or wasted time and money? Learning from the past can make sure you don’t repeat it.

In our clarity exercise with a client recently, we dug into their recruitment efforts addressing the worker shortage and realized that referrals from employees have been by far their most successful hires, both in terms of skills and cultural alignment. Employees hired out of a slim pool of online candidates have been hit or miss at best. But the number of employee referrals they have been getting has been trending downward over the years.

This line of inquiry surfaced a new initiative: Get the number of employee referrals up.

It gave them laser-like focus on the next steps, and stimulated a lot of creative thinking as to how to get those numbers up: employee referral contests, best place to work awards, reviewing the referral bonus structure, an internal recognition and communication plan, referral templates and training, and more.

If this client had jumped to the solution before digging deeper, they could have wasted more time and money advertising on the already saturated job boards that they knew already would produce only mediocre results.

Step 2: Understand how to align your company values to what your potential employees value.

I know this may sound like a lot of vague nonsense, but this is truly the biggest opportunity staring family businesses in the face right now.

Quit rates right now are at an all-time high, contributing to this large worker shortage. In August 2021, a new record of 2.9% was set, meaning 4.3 million workers quit their jobs. This is the highest rate since quit rates started being tracked in 2000 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, when the quit rate was 2.4% or 3.25 million workers.

Why is this Great Resignation happening? Both because people’s values and attitudes have shifted over the past two years, and they now have the ability to do something about it.

Money and perks are no longer the only factors driving employment decisions. Like many things, COVID didn’t create this change, but it did accelerate the worker shortage and amplify it. Flexibility, growth potential, family time, and enjoying one’s colleagues are now front and center, and thanks to pandemic-relief checks, a rent moratorium, and student-loan forgiveness, people have more freedom to quit jobs that they hate and find something else. As Derek Thompson, author of Hit Makers, said: “This level of quitting is really an expression of optimism that says, we can do better.”

So how can you position your company as that better option?

Branding is the alignment of your product’s value to what your customers value. In this case, the career potential and working environment are your product. You need to know what your ideal potential employees value, understand what your company offers in terms of value, and look for connections between the two. Then you need to communicate that overlap in a way that makes the prospective employee the hero, not your company.

I have seen a number of companies take the first part really seriously — they articulate what their internal values are, and what they expect from employees. This is like a marketing campaign that talks all about the product or service from the point of view of the engineers or experts. It might work if the category is not very crowded, but we are in a different level of competition. Now you need to reach that next level of marketing, where you are talking about your business from the “customer’s” point of view. How does it fit into their lives? How does it speak to their hopes or aspirations? How does it connect to their personal values?

One of our manufacturing clients had a slew of retirements of long-tenured employees, and for the first time found themselves with a majority of employees who are under 35, and who are excellent workers with a lot of promise. We are interviewing and surveying these employees to hear what they are looking for in their job, and are going to turn these conversations into both some internal training and retention initiatives as well as an external campaign to attract even more new young talent.

Side note: If you are rolling your eyes at this, you aren’t alone. Yes, it would be nice if providing a steady paycheck was enough, but it isn’t. Not if you want to be a high-performing company with staying power. Is it good enough to provide a mediocre product these days? Of course not. Your competitor would eat your lunch. And in this case, the job is your product.

Step 3: Communicate the heck out of your value, and how it connects with your audience.

The exciting part of all of this is that family-owned businesses have always provided more than just a paycheck. Now it is finally that “more” that people are really looking for.

In the old model, you would need to compete with the deep pockets of larger corporate competitors. Now that people aren’t only considering wages, family businesses who can articulate just what makes them special places to work actually can have a competitive advantage.

80% of employees surveyed by Edelman value and expect wage growth, training, career growth, and work which they find interesting & fulfilling from their employer. Respondents answered you would either need to pay them a lot more (42%) or it would actually be a deal-breaker (32%) to work for a company that does not offer them.

Similarly, 74% of employees expect employers to offer a voice in key decisions and a culture that is values-driven and inclusive.

If your company offers these aspects, make sure you are talking about them in ways that are concrete and easy to understand for your prospective employees, and that your current employees can speak to them as well. And be sure to talk about the family aspects of your business. In the U.S., family businesses enjoy a 24% trust advantage over businesses in general, which is a major leg-up on the playing field right now.

We have seen a marked difference not just in the response rate but also in the candidate quality for job postings that start off speaking to what the employee is looking for and is passionate about (in plain language) vs. the traditional ads that lead with what the employer is looking for or industry jargon.

So, to recap, here is the game plan to find great talent during this worker shortage:

  1. Get clear on where your best opportunities are for attracting right-fit candidates beyond just the job posting platforms and whether or not to use a recruiter.
  2. Find connections between what your company already offers and what your right fit candidates are looking for. (Don’t be afraid to have some conversations about this with both current and potential employees.)
  3. Articulate the value connections in clear language in all job postings, website content, and internal documentation, making the prospective employee the hero. Clarity and consistency is critical.

If this sounds great, but executing it feels overwhelming or impossible with everything else you are juggling…schedule a discovery call to see if our Solve for Y process might be a fit to help you accelerate your employer-of-choice branding efforts.

Breaking Through Business Growth Plateaus

Cap’t Jim Palmer, best known internationally as the Dream Business Coach, is the creator of the Dream Business Mastermind and Coaching Program and host of Dream Business Radio podcast, interviewed Six-Point’s CEO, Meghan Lynch, about helping break through business growth plateaus.

Hosts & Guests

Jim Palmer

Meghan Lynch

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podcast transcript

business growth plateaus

Jim Palmer:

Good afternoon, everybody. This is Captain Jim Palmer, the dream business coach coming to you from North Carolina as we slowly make our way north to the Chesapeake Bay. I’ve a wonderful guest today, Meghan Lynch and Meghan actually lives in the town where I grew up. It’s a very small world. Meghan is the founder and CEO of Six Point Creative, a brand strategy agency that helps second stage companies’ breakthrough growth plateaus, which is an interesting thing as part of her mission to help small business owners challenge the Goliaths, the behemoths, the big box or whatever it is in your niche. Meghan has served as an expert advisor to second stage clients in a wide range of industries from fast casual restaurants to industrial manufacturers. Meghan was named an enterprising woman of the year in 2019 and enjoys testing her limits as an endurance runner. Wow. Meghan, welcome to the show.

Meghan Lynch:

Hey, thanks for having me, Jim.

Jim Palmer:

It was so interesting, I would have killed half an hour just talking about Springfield, Massachusetts.

Meghan Lynch:

I know. I know, that was fun.

Jim Palmer:

It’s such a tiny town. My goodness. So anyway, so you were born and raised in Springfield, East Longmeadow?

Meghan Lynch:

Yes, indeed. Lived most of my life there.

Jim Palmer:

So, you graduated from East Longmeadow High School. And then did you go to college?

Meghan Lynch:

I did go to college. I went to Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire and went to Boston College for my master’s.

So I was an English major. I had no desire to be in business. I’m not even sure how and why I got here other than I was going down a Ph.D. track and kind of looked around and was like I think academia is like more corporate than corporate America. And I’m kind of like in my day job in marketing more and that was kind of all she wrote. My kind of standard joke is that I learned to read businesses instead of books, but kind of same skills of seeing patterns and kind of asking good questions and stuff like that.

Jim Palmer:

It’s so interesting, this will be episode 448 so I’ve interviewed a lot of people and I’m so amazed at how many people went to college for something, whether it’s accounting, lawyer, political science and they turn into an entrepreneur. It’s like, well, so much for that education, right? Or I’m sure maybe it helped in some way, so you didn’t have any parents or grandparents, did you have any entrepreneurial role models at all?

Meghan Lynch:

No. It’s funny, my mom was a teacher and my dad is an Episcopal priest. So, we were about as far away from a business mind as you could get.

Jim Palmer:

So Sunday morning you definitely went to church.

Meghan Lynch:

Exactly. Like it or not, whether I was awake or not, I was pulled out of bed, for sure.

Jim Palmer:

Oh, that’s funny. So when did you start Six-Point Creative? And was there some kind of a big event in your life? I interviewed somebody, David Phelps who just wrote a book and he talked about a lot of entrepreneurs who have a cataclysmic event, some people lose their jobs, some people it’s just whatever it is. What prompted you to say goodbye to the every other week paycheck?

Meghan Lynch:

Yeah. So for me, it was being kind of young enough not to know any better. I was working with my partners who I eventually started Six Point with at another agency and they got it, well, I kind of was cheerleading in the background for them to go out, do your own thing. You guys can do this. I’ll come work for you. And so they finally were like, “No, we’re going to do it. And we want you to come with us, but come as a partner, not as an employee.” And I was like, “Sure, yeah, why not? I don’t have anything else going.”

So, we just kind of left from there and they were both much more into the doing of the work. They were more like the creative types, writer, and designer team and I was more like working on the business and leading the business. So I really started to just get into that, the more I learned and kind of that trial and error, the frustration of learning on the fly and then realizing that there were people who could help you do it smarter, faster, better.

Jim Palmer:

So were they the creative ones and you kind of ran the business?

Meghan Lynch:

Exactly. I’ve always liked strategies, so I would kind of do sort of strategy consulting, and then as I started to get more knowledge about how to run and grow a business. My partners have both retired and now I’m in my own work. I really bring the business strategy and the brand and creative strategy together and that intersection of that is my sweet spot.

Jim Palmer:

Got you. Are you the rainmaker, are you the one that brings in the business, or is there somebody else?

Meghan Lynch:

Yeah, for the most part, I do the relationship development and we’ve got a bit of a system behind me, but for the most part, I like to connect with people on a personal level and we don’t have a ton of clients, we kind of handpick the companies that we want to work with. So it’s a lot of fun to meet people and get to know their stories and see what we can do to help.

Jim Palmer:

When you started out Meghan, did you look for clients locally in East Longmeadow, Longmeadow, Springfield, just keep going out from there? Or did you, obviously with the internet, you can attract clients anywhere.

Meghan Lynch:

Yeah, I mean, again, kind of this gets into sort of like my entrepreneurial journey and kind of where now Six Point is focused but when we first started, we were very kind of like general full-service marketing. We just had local accounts, in Western Mass and Connecticut and kind of stayed pretty close to our own area. And we’ve just got a reputation of being pretty easy to work with and providing good values. You kind of grow organically just through that word of mouth, somebody tells somebody, you pick up another client, you add another employee.

Then it was also probably about eight years in, we just hit a plateau where it was like, you kind of tapped out all of the companies that you want to work within the area, and you kind of start to hit the boundaries of your own network, you kind of know all the people who you’re going to know.

For us it was kind of like as my partners were starting to talk about transitioning out of the business, I was trying to decide like, well, they’re the real creative brainpower here, what the heck is this company going to be when it’s just me? So I took those two problems and sort of mushed them together and realize that as I was kind of working on what do I need to do to grow and scale this business and kind of lead it into its next generation of our business growth.

I started doing a lot more peer learning. Like I know you lead a mastermind group, those kinds of groups where you just start to hear from other business owners who are ready to be vulnerable about what they’re experiencing.

And I realized that number one, I wasn’t terrible at my job, and number two, that we were a thing that was called a second stage company and we had very predictable business growth pains. As soon as I learned that I was like, oh man, why didn’t somebody tell me that this was going to happen? I could have been prepared.

Jim Palmer:

It’s almost like when the doctor finally gives a name to what you’ve been experiencing.

Meghan Lynch:

Exactly. Just that relief of having it named and then you can move forward and problem solve it once you know what it is, once you have that diagnosis, it’s like, okay, well, if I’m this and there’s a solution to it, well now I’m just going to implement the solution. So that was kind of what we started to do with the company. And that was where I really focused Six Point on brand strategy and helping companies solve positioning problems to kind of unlock that business growth because that was a big game-changer for us, that kind of focus and expertise.

Also figuring out oh, I actually love these people who I’m in these peer groups with, they’re good people, they care about their communities. They care about their employees. They give back, they’re working super hard and just trying to do what they love. Then I would be talking about brand strategy, kind of bringing that to the peer group. Some people were like, “Oh, this is really helpful. We’ve never heard this before.” And I was like, maybe I can kind of combine these, these two things that I love and kind of make that sort of the next generation of Six Point. So that’s what we’ve done.

Jim Palmer:

So interesting in that term, a second-stage company. In one of your blog posts, I was checking out your website, it’s like, what the heck is a second stage company and I totally get it, but a lot of people might be going, what is a second stage company? Why don’t you explain that a little bit?

Meghan Lynch:

So a second stage company usually starts around when you have 10 employees, but the definition of is 10 to 100 employees, about a million to $50 million in revenue. Again, that varies a lot based on the industry so I find the number of employees is probably a better marker.

Basically what happens is you just start to experience different kinds of business growth pains. You probably grew organically and got business organically for a certain period of time and then all of a sudden the things that used to work so well when you were starting out now just don’t have the same result. So you’re kind of like, oh my gosh, we used to send out this mailing, or I used to go to these events and it used to be so meaningful. And now I’m not getting the same lead or sales results or business growth.

Or you might find you’ve kind of tapped out a niche like your food company that’s overly invested in the restaurant business and you need to diversify into retail or family business that’s kind of grown over time into a certain market.  Then you realize, oh, there’s this whole new opportunity to do what we do in this market over here. But you’re not really positioned to like go after that business. So you start to kind of hit those business growth pains.

Then the other big things are systematic things you need to delegate the brand, the marketing, the sales, but every time you let it go as the owner, founder, other people just don’t do it as well and so it’s not as effective. It just kind of reinforces these patterns of see, I can’t give these people anything and this is why I have to stay involved. Nobody knows how to do this better than I do. When really it’s a matter of clarity. You’re not able to articulate what you want and how you want it and what the brand is and what it stands for in a way that other people can access it. It’s still kind of living too much in your head.

So,  that’s what we work with owners and founders and teams to do is to start to pull those things out of that first-generation and start to pass it on to the second generation, whatever that might look like. It’s really fun work because it both empowers, let’s say like the marketing coordinator or the salespeople who have been frustrated right along with the owner. It also helps the owner take a step back and really enjoy watching their company grow and flourish without them having to work so hard for every single lead, every single sale, all those fun things.

Jim Palmer:

So you mentioned, I have the Dream Business mastermind and I’ve been coaching for 12 years. And it’s interesting to me that one of the things I’ve noticed after 100 or so clients is that they often don’t know what they need. It’s like they’re drawn to you because they have a prior relationship, they’ve heard of you or they see what you do, but then in the end they kind of need something else. I’m guessing that you have found that also with second-stage companies, they’re kind of plateaued but don’t know what, and they think, well, do I need a new brand? Do I need new marketing? Do I need what? And really in a lot of ways they need some internal systems and ways for the owner to actually remain the owner and not the floor sweeper like he was the first week he opened, right?

Meghan Lynch:

Exactly. I mean, in a lot of the conversations I have started out with, I think we might need to update our logo or I think we might need a new website or we just need a marketing plan to get into this market. The more we kind of work with them and do that kind of root cause analysis, the more they start to see if we just did a new logo now or a new website now that is not going to number one, solve the problem.

And number two, we aren’t even set up to engage because we see fabulous design shops and really great website companies and search engine companies who try to apply their expertise to the second stage companies, but they can’t articulate what they want. They can’t articulate what success looks like,  what they do, or how they organize their products or anything. There are all these major questions that they can’t be clear on. So the person trying to design a logo or the person trying to do a website for somebody who can’t articulate what they want, it’s impossible for them to get the benefit of these people’s skillsets until they do some groundwork that really unlocks the ability to use expertise. Because that’s the other thing that second-stage companies need is they outgrow the kind of homegrown logo on Fiverr or the one that your cousin made.

Jim Palmer:

The niece who built the website, niece or nephew.

Meghan Lynch:

Those things were right for that time and place when you were starting up and that was what you needed. But then they start to outgrow them and they need somebody who really understands our ERP system or really understands how to integrate with Salesforce or you start to need specialists.  Specialists need you to be clear though about what you need. So we can basically kind of help bridge that gap between the second stage company who needs the specialist expertise, whether it’s internal hiring it or external contracting it. Then help them get the most out of their people and others who they bring in to help them grow.

Jim Palmer:

Imagine the struggle for you though, Meghan, and please correct me if I’m wrong, is the person that’s coming in or the company coming in, they don’t know necessarily what they need because they have never been a second-stage company, even if they are by definition so they don’t really know what to ask for, is that right?

Meghan Lynch:

Yeah. And I think that it’s where it just becomes meeting people where they are. I think one of the things, again, having been there and having made those mistakes myself. I recognize them when they’re coming to me. So for me, a big thing isn’t to shut them down right away and be like, hey, you’re asking for a website, but hey, dummy, that’s not what you need. Instead of just being like, well tell me about why you need a website and what problem that’s going to solve for you, and just kind of meet them where they are and ask probing questions so that it becomes self-evident to them.

I find you ask a few good questions and these people are smart, you don’t build a successful business because you don’t know what you’re doing. You’ve just never experienced this problem before. So usually through some questioning, they start to see oh yeah, I see what you’re saying. This probably isn’t what I need. Ooh, yeah tell me more about this.

I think it’s just not shortcutting that journey for them, just respecting their brain enough to say you know what you need, you just need a little bit of guidance to help you make the right decision. That’s where a lot of companies really appreciate how we and I work with them that way, because sometimes if you go to a web development company and you say, I want a website, they’re going to sell you a website.

Jim Palmer:

Yes, exactly.

Meghan Lynch:

They can’t help it, that’s their job. For us, we just have a much broader toolkit of being able to really do that, take that time and do that due diligence to really match them with a solution, I was talking to somebody the other day and I got to the end, finally, I asked,  “Have you been selling on Amazon?” And she’s like, “Yeah, our Amazon sales have really gone down over the past year.” And I was like, “Whoa”.

Jim Palmer:

Whoa, Amazon’s through the roof and you’re going down?

Meghan Lynch:

Exactly. Hold on. And she was calling me up for a marketing plan and I was like going to say you don’t need a marketing plan. You need Amazon’s help. That is low-hanging fruit sales that you need to be capturing and revenue that you need to be capturing.” So I hooked her up with an Amazon brand accelerator and I’m like, “Eventually, maybe we’ll work together, but first take care of this place where you’re just bleeding opportunity. Then let’s come back and do something.”  I think she appreciated that I took the time to get to that root cause. She’s like, “Nobody’s ever said that to me.” I’m like, “Well, yeah, because you’re asking for a marketing plan. Why would somebody?”

Jim Palmer:

Yes. So where do brand and culture intersect? I mean, I think the culture initially is obviously with the entrepreneur who starts it, it’s him or her or whatever, but then second-stage companies, I mean, it really take on a life of their own, it has the company brand to a large degree.

Meghan Lynch:

It’s such a good question because we do see the overlapping of these a lot. In order to be able to delegate a brand and empower your people, you really need a strong and clear culture, people need to feel, there needs to be a high level of trust and people also need to be clear on what the company stands for and you need those right fit people. Because if you delegate the brand to, let’s say, sales representatives or customer service representatives, those people have an outsized effect on how customers, in whatever industry you’re in, feel about the brand and the company. Any brand interaction that is with individuals is person to person and is more than a few minutes long has a really, really lasting impact on how we perceive the brand as humans.

So for me, they almost become inextricably linked. You can’t kind of separate the brand and the culture. If you have a great brand, but a terrible culture that is not going to be a sustainable position to be in. If you have a great culture, but a terrible brand, then you have this asset that you are not leveraging. I think the two really go hand in hand. And we’ve done a lot of work, we’ll partner with culture experts if we feel like, oh, this company has opportunities, but they’re just not healthy. We’ve got people who excel at that, that we can kind of bring in and introduce them to, and kind of help them get the kind of back of the house in order before we do the front of the housework.

Jim Palmer:

Got you. What have you found, Meghan, as far as some of the fears that hold back, let’s say high potential companies from business growth, going beyond their initial roots, so to speak?

Meghan Lynch:

I think the biggest one is that when you are at second stage and you’ve had success and you’ve started to build up a team, you now have something to lose. When you are an entrepreneur and it’s just you, or it’s you, and one or two other people, you’ve got nothing to lose, it is do or die. You just go for it and everything’s an opportunity and it’s kind of fun and free in that way. One of the big things that we find is that companies who start to hit second stage and get larger, you’ve got 10, 20, 30, 40 people depending on you for income, now, all of a sudden, every decision you make is loaded. And so it’s like, oh, well, we could enter this market, but these other customers, they pay everybody’s salary, so are they going to freak out when we try to penetrate this other market.  Then they’re going to leave us and then I’ve just destroyed everything that I’ve spent so many years building up?

They feel like big problems and they feel like real problems, but they can be solved very easily. Companies pivot markets all the time and it’s really a matter of putting together a strong communication plan, really training your team. These are the things that we will walk companies through of like, hey, if you want to pivot into a new market, here’s the way you do it in a way that engages your existing customers and brings them closer to you so that they become allies in it. It also opens up a new market for you with positioning and a plan. So you can have both, but I think companies often feel like they have to choose one or the other. Either I’m going to choose business growth or I’m going to choose to protect what I’ve built. I feel like our job is to say yes, we can do both of those things.

Jim Palmer:

Right. We got about three or four minutes. I want to keep jamming as many questions as I can while I have you. I know on your website, I saw this thing called Solve for Y, the letter Y. Is that like your mantra or is that how you approach business with new clients or?

Meghan Lynch:

So Solve for Y  basically is this brand program for second stagers that I developed. I developed it on Six Point when we were kind of making our big pivot, so I kind of practiced it on ourselves first of how would I, as an entrepreneur get clear, how do I empower my team? How do we pivot our positioning in a way that brings us closer together and brings our customers closer to us?

We basically just took that and then we’ve applied it on lots of second-stage companies and have really codified it and dialed it in. So it’s like our process that we walk people through how to solve that seemingly impossible question of saving what we have and grow into this new future that is going to be the next generation.

Jim Palmer:

One of the challenges I’ve helped a lot of my clients with, I’m just curious if it happens for you also is, they don’t charge enough for the value of what they’re doing.

Meghan Lynch:

Yes, and I think the brand is a big piece of solving that problem, price sensitivity, which is directly related to how strong your brand and positioning are. I’m sure this is exactly what you see too, as a marketer, that the more clear you are on the value you bring, and the more clear you are on what makes you different, and the more clear you are on who your ideal client is and how well you know that customer, that’s what allows you to charge that price premium. It also allows customers to not be price sensitive so that you’re not constantly doing that race to the bottom. And for a lot of companies, there’s just so much pressure to commoditize that in order our mantra is that challenge the Goliaths mentality. In order to challenge the big guys, we’ve got to be more focused, we’ve got to be more nimble, we’ve got to be more specialized, again, regardless of what kind of business you’re in.

Jim Palmer:

Well, I could talk to you for a long time, but the clock dictates everything. So I’m sure people want to follow up with you. I’m thinking of a website, or you mentioned you may have a landing page where people get a little more information.

Meghan Lynch:

Yeah, exactly. Our website is sixpointcreative.com. If you just go to sixpointcreative.com/dreambusiness, there is a quiz that you can take if you think you might be a second stage company, but you’re not sure, or kind of want to get a scorecard on where you stand there, we’ll put together a customized report for you for free.  There are also some other tools, a little eBook that you can download or we’ll ship you a hard copy. And a couple of other tools that those folks can use that are particularly helpful for second-stage companies that are looking for business growth. So just some tools and resources.

Jim Palmer:

sixpointcreative.com/dreambusiness, see, there’s some good creative right there. Meghan, thank you so much. Really a pleasure talking with you today.

Meghan Lynch:

Thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Jim Palmer:

Hey, folks that wrap up this very special interview with Meghan Lynch from Six Point Creative. I am Captain Jim Palmer, the dream business coach, and connect with me at getjimpalmer.com. Www.getjimpalmer.com. If you are interested in the dream business mastermind, that is dream biz coaching, dream B-I-Z coaching.com. But until this time next week, another fantastic interview. You take good care.