Monday, May 2, 2011

Curious Business: Silver Lining Limited

Many new businesses quickly fall into a cyclical survival phase and become stuck fighting for their lives. This is the point where the business is making money, but does not have enough capital to fund further growth or fund further improvement in the business and its services. They’re stuck. There can be many reasons why a business is stuck. Luckily, there are many resources available to help these small businesses.

Once a business gets unstuck and is making money is where things get complicated. The owner needs to ask themselves what they plan on doing with the profits.  Do they re-invest in the company by improving services and their bottom line? Or do they put their profits towards growing? Businesses entering the growth stage need to be prepared for growth because taking on too many new contracts or trying to expand to quickly leads to a company that is vastly over-leveraged. In contrast to companies that are “stuck”, there are very few resources available for companies entering the growth stage.

At 22 years old, a young and ambitious Carissa Reigniger started Silver Lining Limited. She had a small working capital, a vision to help small businesses and a background in marketing. The first thing she did was pick up the phone and called everyone she knew, telling everyone about her venture – a company that specializes in helping small businesses succeed through the growth stage. Her first customer…

“It was my high school teacher's husband.”

A lot of small businesses entering the growth stage make some very common mistakes:

1. Learn to let go. In my interview with Carissa she talks of her own business, and that one of the things holding her company back from expanding – was herself. Most small businesses are dependent on one or a small group of people, and in order to achieve higher growth rates we need to let go. It happens to be one of the hardest things we need to do, but it is an absolute necessity if we’re going to succeed. 

2. Have a vision, but make sure you create small incremental goals. A vision can sometimes be too abstract, by creating small bi-weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual goals it will help us reach that vision.

3. If your business is making money and you plan on growing, don’t buy new things based on projections. Don’t lease a new Mercedes or rent a bigger office space, wait until those projections become actualized. 

My interview with Carissa can be found below.

When did you discover your passion was in helping small businesses?

CR: I had moved to Toronto and was working a corporate job in advertising.  I started going to small business networking events to meet people because I was new to Toronto and not meeting a lot of people my age at work.  As I met all of the small business owners I was so impressed by how passionate they were and how hard they worked.  But it seemed wrong that so few of them made any real money and so many people I worked with (myself included) made great money but had no passion in their careers.  I got really passionate about helping small business owners make money doing what they love.

How did you come up with the name silver lining limited?

CR: I wanted the company to be similar to silver. To me, silver is an amazing element that is used for very practical, tangible, helpful, effective uses- currency, cutlery, machinery etc.  It is also used for funky edgy things like jewelry and art.  I wanted the company I created to be both of those things- practical, helpful, tangible and fun, funky and cutting edge.

How did you establish yourself and your business – what were some of the first steps taken?

CR: I called everyone I knew to tell them what I was doing and ask if they had any ideas, connections or work for me.  You have to hustle! :)

Who was your first customer, how did you get them, how did you help them?

It was my high school teacher's husband.  Very very quickly I learnt that it is not about what you know- it is about who you know.  I also learnt that you can never guess where a relationship will take you.  It paid off in a big way to have relationships with people who I kept in touch with - even when there was no real "reason" to.

What are some of the biggest obstacles you’ve had to overcome in Silver Lining Ltd?

   CR: Myself!  It is tough to realize but I had to come to the very real conclusion that all of my own issues, insecurities and "stuff" were the things always holding Silver Lining back.  For the first couple of years I was trying too hard to prove to everyone that I was good at what I did and I would make the company work that I never asked for help.

What are some common mistakes among businesses entering the growth stage, how can they be overcome?

CR: We don't live in reality.  We are working so hard to get to our big goal that looking at the truth of where we are never feels very good.  I am a huge believer that small businesses absolutely must have a huge vision that they are fighting for- but we also have to be looking at the realities of financial goals, capacity and how much time and money we have to invest in our growth.  Many small business owners have visions that are far bigger than the amount of time and money they are able to invest.  I strongly believe anyone can do anything- but we have to be doing it within the reality of our resources and plan accordingly.

What are some companies that inspire you? How? Why?

CR: I am inspired by every small business that I meet.  Every single one of those small businesses rarely get any credit or attention- but at the head of them is someone who took a big risk to start something that they believe in.  I find that hugely inspiring.  When I see someone fighting to live a life they are passionate about and make money doing it- I love it!

What role does curiosity play in your work?

CR: It is everything.  When I meet new people my biggest thing I am looking for is what I can learn from them.  If you walk around wondering what you can learn from every single person you meet- you will realize that you can never stop learning and that you actually have no idea that you don't know what you don't know.

Favourite Book?

Integrity: The Courage To Meet The Demands of Reality by Dr. Henry Cloud.