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Managing Growth: Invest in Infrastructure Before Moving Forward

Posted on September 3, 2008 by Archives

Fish or Cut Bait?  This phrase came to mind this week as I have been putting off some new development to assess our website’s infrastructure. Lately I’d noticed more and more lag time and performance issues and wanted to take a look under the hood before it became a serious problem. Since our current systems were developed, we’ve added scores of thousands of products, orders, and customers to our databases, and experienced high site volume and traffic growth. And while things are still working pretty well, I thought it was time to address these issues.  That is before we hit that next level in daily orders, data storage, etc., and overwhelm our current systems.

Fish or Cut Bait? 

For you land-lubbers unfamiliar with the term “fish or cut bait”, this term refers to the age old fishing operational dilemma: Is my time better spent catching more fish now, or cutting bait so I can catch more fish later? If I decide to fish now, I may catch more fish, but soon I will run out of bait. Or I could cut bait right now, but that means I will not be catching fish. It is a valid question, and one that is almost as inextricable as the “Tastes Great – Less Filling” debate. 

My Son Fishing

Running an eCommerce business is very similar in that regard, especially if you don’t have the resources of Amazon. Do you fish (go after new sales, new business, and develop new projects) or cut bait (optimize and stabilize current systems and regroup)?  Both fishing and cutting bait are very important to the success of the organization.  

Obviously, fishing is far more appealing. We all get excited when sales pour in, new suppliers are established, new markets are tapped, and new systems are implemented. Fishing is fun. Fishing feels good. Fishing is what makes the world go ‘round.

By contrast, cutting bait is not as exciting. Making the decision to slow growth, delay new supplier relationships, and hold back products until we stabilize shipping performance does not feel very rewarding. Putting off new development projects so that we can optimize database and site performance can feel like we are spinning our wheels and spending time and money on something that “already works”. And cutting mackerel and cod leaves your hands feeling slimy, and you smelling like, well a dead fish.

Why Not Fish and Cut Bait?

In a perfect world, we have fishermen AND bait-cutters. OK, pop quiz: raise your hand if you live and run your business in a perfect world. Unless your hand is raised (and by the way, you probably look a bit foolish to the person sitting next to you), you have to spend some time fishing and some time cutting bait just like the rest of us.

By nature, we want what’s new and exciting. We want to keep pushing ahead, keep forging new paths, and keep growing at a break neck pace. But in reality, sometimes that is the worst thing you can do. We’ve all heard stories of businesses that fail because they grew too fast. That seems paradoxical on the surface, as “growing too fast” generally means more revenue. But if you aren’t prepared to handle the rapid influx of business, you can get buried in the avalanche that you worked so hard to create.

So I encourage you to take a brief time out to sit back, evaluate your operations, and do a quick SWOT analysis before leaping into that next venture. Make sure your systems, procedures, and employees are prepared to handle the growth before you get there. Make sure your site, server, and databases can handle all the traffic you want to drive to it. Invest in the resources it takes to ensure solid operational performance for the sales you want to get. Make sure you are staffed to handle the influx of orders so you don’t overburden your employees. Then rinse and repeat as necessary.

It may not be as thrilling as landing Moby Dick, but then again that didn’t end well for Ahab.


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