Small Business

Four Tips to Take Your Company to the Next Level

Minda Zetlin, INC
Peter Dazeley | Getty Images

You've built a pretty good company. You're finally turning a modest profit. But now you seem to be stuck in a holding pattern. Have you reached your capacity or is there a way to take things to the next level?

That was the question facing Jacquie Berglund, founder and CEO of Finnegan's. She'd began in 2000 with a grand idea: create a local brand of beer and ale, and donate 100 percent of the profits to charity. "We do what Newman's Own does," she said. The company was modestly profitable by its third year, and had donated a total of $150,000 to various charities by 2009. But that year, for the first time, revenues fell compared to the past. Berglund wondered if this was it or if there was a way to go from good to great.

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Fortunately, one of Berglund's college friends was Buffie Blesi, a business coach and a franchise owner with AdviCoach, which provides counseling to small businesses. Berglund began meeting regularly with Blesi, and the two worked out a strategy to take a plateaued company to the next level:

1. Set specific long-term goals.

"We're creating a strategic plan that centers around her mission and then how to scale it," Blesi said. "What does she want to accomplish in two to five years? Next year? She sets quarterly goals and if there are obstacles, we spend time working through them."

Finnegan's revenues had hovered between $500,000 and $650,000 annually. Working with Blesi, Berglund set a long-term goal to increase that number to $1 million and to meet increasing goals for profits (and thus giving) as well. In 2011, the company gave away $45,000 and it's setting future goals at $100,000 per year and more. As of 2012, Finnegan's is Minnesota's fifth largest beer company.

2. Find a simple mission.

One problem for the business was not how much money it was donating, but how it was donating that money. "We were giving to dozens and dozens of very innovative programs that were working on poverty," Berglund said. But at the company's 10th anniversary celebration, as she tried to describe the difference Finnegan's had made, she found it was difficult to articulate. The company needed a more focused strategy.

Now, Finnegan's donates all its profits to a program that purchases produce from local farms and delivers it to food pantries. There are multiple advantages to this approach. It provides fresh fruit and vegetables to people who can't easily get them while supporting small farms in a tough economy. Also, Finnegan's can target its donations to specific locations, and can thus give back to the communities where its beer is sold, strengthening the connection between drinker and recipient. It's easy to track specific metrics—every $1 donated equals two pounds of produce--and that helps Finnegan's set financial goals.

Finally, because "turning beer into food" is an attractive proposition, Finnegan's is now able to form partnerships, for instance with a local pizza company that makes a donation for every large pie sold on a Monday, or a local liquor store that sells Finnegan's at cost. Some farms, too, are matching Finnegan's donation with additional donated food.

3. Get a simple message.

Now that Finnegan's had focused its mission, it was time for an equally focused message that would get the idea across quickly to the drinking public. "We connected with an ad agency and they created a visual that allows everyone to get it," Blesi said. The new Finnegan's graphic incorporates a shamrock with a halo floating above it and the slogan, "Here's to doing good."

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4. Don't go it alone.

In order to meet its goals, Berglund knew Finnegan's would have to scale. Since the company uses a contract brewer, scaling production was no problem, but sales and administration presented more of a challenge.

"I was the sole employee until 2009," Berglund says. "I had bootstrapped and didn't have investment capital, and I was afraid to take the leap of hiring anyone else." Instead, she relied on the help of a network of volunteers. "With volunteers, we could only get to a certain level," she said now. "They were donating their time when they had time. We weren't optimized for growth."

So Blesi helped Berglund work through her fear of hiring by calculating how much additional revenue a salesperson could bring in. Today, the company has two sales representatives, a sales coordinator, and a volunteer coordinator who works with its volunteers. Berglund plans to hire two more sales reps in 2013.

Growing beyond a one-person company has not only helped Finnegan's reach donation goals, it's good for the company's long-term prospects as well. "Because Jacquie now has a team doing a lot of the work she used to do, visiting distributors and going door-to-door at restaurants and liquor stores--she can spend her time developing those relationships in the community," Blesi said. "That helps build beer sales."

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