I’m sure you’ve probably heard the following quotation before – sometimes it is attributed to the Bible, and other times to an ancient Chinese proverb…
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”
But what you may not have heard – or at least I hadn’t until yesterday – was another quotation you would have thought may have come from the mouth of that master of wit, Groucho Marx but is in fact fully attributed to no other than the famed socialist Karl Marx, which draws a little on the original and goes something like this:
“Sell a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you ruin a wonderful business opportunity.”
Now I really do like that, and it carries a very important message for anyone in any kind of business. And if your business is one where you provide a one-time-once-and-for-all solution for your customers (a business just like mine say), then you’re probably going to struggle (oh noes!!).
Why? Because you’re missing out on the most important factor responsible for a business’ succesful development and growth… Repeat business and what is known as a residual income.
The best example of this would be the one sitting right next to your computer in your very own home. Somebody somewhere once sold you a printer for your computer, and without you even knowing it, has set you up for a lifetime’s purchasing of printer inks for that printer. Your printer manufacturer, in supplying said printer, has guaranteed himself a steady stream of future sales (through ink sales – residual income) in order for your printer to keep on just doing its job for you.
And this is where I really struggle with my business… I mean, if your customers have no reason to come back to you after the original transaction is all done and dusted, then you will (and I do) face a constant and ongoing battle to attract a constant stream of new people to take advantage of my once in a lifetime, ‘Permafix’ solutions.
So if like me, you do have that sort of business (which I unfortunately do), what’s to be done about it?
Well first, let’s take Karl Marx’s analogy in its most literal sense.
All of those people we’ve just taught to fish are going to need some form of fishing tackle, and maybe a boat too. Can we diversify our efforts (and sales) and supply these to them, or enter into a joint venture with someone else who can?
And then when they get the fish back home, they’re going to need a knife to prepare it with, and something to cook it in. They have to buy it from somewhere, so why can’t that somewhere be me too?
When they start catching their own fish, they’ll be quite satisfied at first, but pretty soon they’re going to get sick of just eating basic fish. They might want to buy some exciting fish recipes, and now they’re going to need other ingredients to cook those fishy recipes with.
At the very least, they’re going to want some potatoes to make chips with (because I’ve just decided we’re doing all this in Blackpool where fish and chips is king!). Somebody has to supply them all. So it might as well be me again.
And then, some of the people I teach to fish will be so enthused about how it’s changed their whole lives that they’ll be keen to spread the word to others – to make a business out of teaching others to fish. I could teach them how to become teachers – maybe even set up a franchise and take a cut of the profits that way.
I’m sure by now that you get the point that even if you offer a one-hit solution for your customers, there are bound to be other opportunities and transactions branching off the original one (spin-offs), from which you can further profit (well if you don’t there’s no real hope for me and you’ll soon know why). We just need to think about what those opportunities are for us and how to best capitalise on them.
And this I’m afraid, is where you come in.
You see, as good as I am at what I already do and as good as you may think my mind is at thinking outside the box, I really am struggling with this concept…
Maybe after performing my permafix solution, I should walk through your home and suggest your kitchen is a bit naff and should therefore be replaced. I think not.
Maybe I should hire out my tools while at the same time hoping I’m not going to need them myself? Or maybe I should develop a property Insurance scheme where you pay in advance for my services? Or fixed price recurring service contracts might be the answer? Even though already low sales in gift vouchers would suggest that this ‘pay in advance’ methodology might not work.
Should I write ‘How to’ manuals and sell them from this website? Detracting from the site’s already awesome content. Should I sell teaching to other’s only for them to become direct competitors and leave me struggling to find fresh faces to service?
What do you think I should do? All suggestions would be gratefully recieved.
And in the meantime, who would have thought we could seriously learn anything so capitalistically real about making money from someone like the world’s leading socialist Karl Marx? I know when I was at school (yes, it is going back a bit now), all I ever remembered learning from him was why I should give all my money away.
Maybe there’s been a big mix up, and it was indeed Groucho Marx who said it instead! But whoever said it, it is truth. And I need to find me a realistic way through it.
So which of you guys can or are indeed willing, to help me find a solution?