Follow the Pumpkin Farmers and Grow a Multimillion-Dollar Business

Small business owners can learn some surprising lessons from the pumpkin farmers.
June 26, 2012

About twelve years ago I stumbled upon a powerful formula for growing an industry-dominating business in the unlikeliest of places: a pumpkin patch. I was working 25 hours a day, eight days a week to keep my moderately successful business going. That's when I read an article about the farmers, who grow those gigantic, prize-winning pumpkins.

I realized the same process these “crazy” farmers use to grow their colossal forces of nature could be used by entrepreneurs to grow wildly successful businesses. I started applying the method to my own business and it took off. Once it was generating millions, I sold it to private equity. Then I repeated the process, along with a partner, and grew a second multi-million dollar industry powerhouse, which was acquired by a Fortune 500 company in just over two years.

Here’s a brief overview of the growing strategy that, when implemented, will help you grow your business and secure its place as the leading company in your field. (I write about it in my new book called The Pumpkin Plan.)

Step One: Start With Promising Seeds

Prize-winning pumpkin farmers don’t plant the same tired old seeds every other pumpkin farmer uses to grow everyday carving pumpkins. Instead they plant special seeds, which they know have the potential to grow as big as your car. Likewise, successful entrepreneurs should never follow trends or the status quo. They should instead plant their own promising “seed,” building a business that fits three parameters:

  • Something they are passionate about
  • Something for which there is strong customer demand
  • Something they can scale through systematization

Step Two: Nurture the Strong and Discard the Weak

You wouldn’t know by looking at them, but those pumpkin farmers are ruthless. To grow a gigantic pumpkin, they know they have to give all of their time and resources to the strongest few, and remove the weak and rotten plants from the vine. When I focused on attending to the needs, challenges and wishes of my best clients and similar prospects, and “let go” of my “weak” customers (those who distract, demand and disregard), my business grew by leaps and bounds. Fast.

Step Three: Develop Your Root System

The root system provides the steady stream of water and nutrients plants need to live. A few days without sun, and a plant will survive. A few days without the root system, and the plant is rotting in the field. For entrepreneurs, the “root system” is a steady referral source of new clients. Rather than ask for referrals from clients (which, if any, typically yields bad leads), the wildly successful entrepreneur generates leads through their clients’ complementary vendors. A growing network of complementary, industry-specific vendors is the strongest root system you can have.

Step Four: Prune and Weed

Farmers who grow extraordinary pumpkins are vigilant; the moment they spot a weed in their pumpkin patch, that sucker is out of there. Similarly, entrepreneurs who grow extraordinary businesses adhere to an almost maniacal “kill” strategy, removing “weak” or “rotten” clients from their roster. Often the weeds blocking an entrepreneur’s path to success are labeled as “opportunities,” but are really just distractions.

Following the “Pumpkin Plan” strategy I developed yields success more often than not. It will also help you stay sane in the process.

Mike Michalowicz is the author of The Pumpkin Plan (Penguin Books, July 2012) and The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur (Obsidian Press, Sep. 2008). He is a nationally recognized speaker on entrepreneurial topics and is the CEO of Provendus Group—a consultancy that helps companies whose growth has plateaued to move forward again. His website is full of the latest tips and strategies for entrepreneurs.

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