Gini Dietrich

Predictable Success: The Lifecycle of Successful Businesses

By: Gini Dietrich | March 31, 2010 | 

Never have I felt so normal in the five year life of Arment Dietrich. I’m reading Les McKeown’s book, “Predictable Success” (due out in June, but you can get a copy of it electronically now), which is about the stages businesses (and their leaders) go through as they grow.

The drawing above is of the business stages Les discusses in his book, but I’d like to devote today’s blog solely on the stage he calls “fun.”

Sounds like a good stage to be in, right? Why would a business leader ever want their business to reach beyond the fun stage? 

For us, 2007 was the fun year. We were growing by leaps and bounds. We couldn’t lose a new business pitch. We were adding talent to support the growth. We added a leadership team to help free up my time to do what I do best. And then the recession hit.

We had to ask employees to pay half of their healthcare expenses. The leadership team took a 20 percent pay cut (and I stopped paying myself). We removed culture benefits, such as summer hours and company-paid wine:thirty. We no longer had groceries delivered every week. We stopped baking cookies every afternoon. We stopped winning new clients. In fact, clients were cutting their budgets and we had a bad streak of receiving letter after letter from clients saying the recession had hit them badly and they could no longer use our services.

We hit the whitewater stage in the middle of the worst recession our country has seen since the Great Depression.  Les explains in his book that the whitewater stage in when a business goes from feeding sales and creating phenomenal client experience to fighting fires and finding mistakes and emergencies daily. I remember having a conversation with our president when she said, “I’m no longer doing my job. I only fight fires.” How depressing. At the same time, more than one client told me that if I didn’t get back to working directly with them, they’d find an agency where they didn’t expect to have a relationship with the CEO. I’ve blogged here a lot about what that did to my psyche…and I knew I had to do something.

That’s when I began to have thoughts of the fun phase. What did I do right back then? What did clients get from us that they no longer had? What did we do so we were able to enjoy the little perks? At the same time, I was having fun learning about social media and applying the platforms to business growth. And I decided to make some pretty drastic changes to get back to the fun.

If I were to put us in a phase, according to the diagram, I’d say we’re coming out of early struggle (again) and entering fun. But what Les is teaching me through his writing is that the fun lasts only so long and I have to get through whitewater to get to predictable success.

I’m ready for it this time. I know what changes need to happen and I know which flags to watch for so I can lead us into predictable success. Plus I’m reinstating summer hours!

Anyone want to place bets on how long it takes us to get to predictable success? To heck with that! How long will it take YOU to get to predictable success?

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

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  • Deb Morrin

    Wow, great blog for us entrepreneurs and wannabes out here. Helps you keep going, thanks for posting this!

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  • Great post. Even better self awareness by CEO Gini. I’ll apply this to our firm even though we’ve been alive for 21 years. I’m sure we go in and out of all these phases.

  • This is good stuff. But least I point out what W. Edwards Demming said:It’s not enough to do your best; you must know what to do, and THEN do your best. In addition to the cycles of predictable success is the intersection of vision and reality that I call “Deliberate Leadership” – it’s a matter of having a firm control of the fiscal rudder that sustains the great ideas we generate and value we create. For too many CEOs – success is rather accidental. And for one of my very favorite quotes, Mark Twain warns that ” It’s seldom the things you don’t know that gets you in trouble. More often it’s the things you do – that turn out not to be true!”

    Entrepreneurs need to balance their excitement, passion and creativity with Fiscal Leadership if they want to stay clear of both the ruts and the Great Abyss… remember it’s not the fall that kills you – but the rapid deceleration at the end!

    Let’s keep the ship afloat – AND sailing in the right direction towards success!

    IMHO – of course!

  • Mike Koehler

    Honestly, you can also apply this to an individual’s career. This model is totally applicable to all roles I’ve had at my Co. It certainly applies to the 2 paths I want to pursue going forward. Career mapping/pathing is something my Co. has not done a very good job with and this is something Managers and Directors there could use when helping to identify when it’s time for that employee to think about making a change. In my area, being stagnant and complacent (I would imagine The Big Rut stage) is really a very bad thing.

  • A lot of valuable introspection lately, thanks for sharing!

  • Les


    Great post. I’ll have to add his book to my reading list. Best part is I’m right around the corner from the “fun”. Thanks for another great post.

  • Gini Dietrich

    If you haven’t already, download the electronic copy of the book (they send you a hard copy when it’s published). It talks a lot about being properly funded and having big company financials in place as soon as you have your second customer. I focused solely on the fun phase of the book in this post, just because it’s where we are (again) and I wanted to share my learnings. But Phil is right…it’s not just about the excitement, the passion, and sales.

    More to come when I finish the book.

  • It is always a tough thing — how to balance the needs of the business and clients and still create an atmosphere where everyone wants to come to work everyday. I am big believer in what you called the culture benefits — it is amazing what an afternoon off can do to morale. We made a commitment that no matter how tough things got, we were still going to have fun. We still do our annual spring training game, we still have casual Fridays and summer hours and maybe not as extravagant, but we will always have a holiday celebration.

    So I commend you for bringing back summer hours and fire up that oven — chocolate chip cookies for everyone!

  • Gini, my friend, I have no doubt whatsoever that you will always find your way to success, whether you have 20 people, or just you. It’s the way you are wired…I recognize that in you.

    Plunge forward doing what you love, and the cycles will be chasing you!

  • An amazing blog written right from the heart, thank you Gini.

    What if you had been part of a What If Group of your peers from non competing businesses to ask you the difficult questions and tell you what you needed to hear not what you wanted to hear?

  • Thanks a million Gini – this post has given me enormous ‘food for thought’ at such an important crossroads in the journey of my PR agency. Recession or no recession, it’s vital as business owners we remember what gives us a buzz and what keeps our clients coming back for more. I have a lot of thinking and soul searching to do!

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  • The purpose of management is to keep the business alive. To produce a result, administer or control to doing things right, create new ideas, not fixing old ones, and to ensure the organization has the values to sustain itself.

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