What do you say when someone says, “So, what does your business do?” Communicating what success looks like for your customers is key.
We don’t sell anything popular like pizza or chocolate. We aren’t spies or secret agents. Or superheroes who wear capes.
For almost 21 years, we’ve run a software and business consulting company that quietly serves other businesses.
This line of business is not as glamourous and sexy as it sounds. Really.
It is complex.
How Communicating Usually Works
Unlike financial planners, real estate agents, or insurance advisors, when I am at a networking event, people don’t run away after telling them what we do. Mostly we quietly change the topic back to what they do. I’ve gotten pretty good at that.
Which was fine by me. Not everyone is a match and you can’t help other people solve problems without first learning what they do, and their goals and challenges. We get to spend more of the conversation asking questions. And we are skilled at listening, learning, and asking questions. You can’t build good software without that ability.
Even though most people use software and technology regularly these days, most people have no idea how to build complex software. It is a little like magic. Though, they do care about what software looks like and does.
The Reality of Being in Tech
Unless you are a techie, few people code for fun on the weekend or to save money on a contractor.
Nope. Homeowners finish the basement or paint a room. Or build a deck. Anyone can do it. Except for the previous homeowner who constructed mine – with multiple building code violations and several gaping design flaws and shortcuts.
Or pursue medical expertise via Google and YouTube and share it on Facebook.
The hobbyists mostly leave us alone, except for the odd tangent about 5G or Bill Gates’ vaccine microchips. We can’t talk about that stuff – look up NDA. Kidding. Mostly.
My parents have no idea what I do.
Our company is not a household name or otherwise well known outside of the Illuminati or our clients.
Whose Fault is That?
Well, that is partly our fault. We’ve been quietly building software for others for many years – the white label builders, if you will. You may have used our software, but you were likely unaware you were doing so.
Primarily, our market is other businesses who need a problem solved. Similar to, but different from, the home contractor example, business folks tend to know when they need help for these sorts of projects. They usually have the budget to hire a professional.
Not always, though. We’ve seen some fascinating examples of home-built systems.
Lessons for Change
If you are quiet about what you do in business, you have to work harder to find people who need you. You can’t take time off from public relations, marketing, and sales to deal with financial disasters and pandemics without impacting your sales.
All that changes here and now!
Well, it didn’t just change.
However, it will be changing because we’ve made a few critical choices to move to the front of the stage in the future.
We need more business name recognition (Sunwapta Solutions) for the organizations in our target market. So, we need to talk more about how amazing we are. Or at least, quite handy.
Better than duct tape.
Where It Started
Before starting Sunwapta Solutions, we built an application to gather the performance data from hundreds to thousands of servers, analyze that data, and then flag and report on the problem areas so you could do something about it. It was exciting for us and provided the motivational fuel to start our own business even if the press was not pounding down our doors.
Our early history focused on building stuff our clients wanted. So, our expertise developed in practical (less glamourous) directions.
Our first big company solution was a Workplace Safety and Incident Tracking system for a non-profit providing extended-care and seniors’ facilities. The savings in insurance premiums paid for both the program and for the person running it. See? Practical.
The Big Company
Then we connected with a Big Company that did consulting work for lots of other large companies. Companies you would have heard of, but we are not supposed to mention. Companies like… nope, taking that info to the grave. We keep our promises.
They kept us quite busy in our early days. So, we ended up heads down and quiet as a habit.
Data is never as clean as organizations say it is. Mergers and acquisitions. Multiple systems. Errors. All these factors lead to poor quality data. So, we built a tool to compare data from various sources and decide, person by person, which source to use. We’ve done a lot of data work over the years.
Then we built pension and retirement modelling tools for Big Company’s clients. Lots of them. These were for the employees of companies to make better choices about retirement planning. We became very good at putting Excel on servers.
And we built many employee and retiree self-service tools.
Then we built tools for workforce planning for Big Company USA. Tools that allowed smart people to program complex calculations in Excel. We coded the user website to use the analyses to make better decisions. Again, you would recognize the names if we could share them.
We did some workforce projections and analytics directly for a local City. Twice.
Then, we did something we could put our name on.
PenForms – Our First SaaS Product
We built a tool to allow organizations with federally registered pension plans to file their annual returns to the Federal Government electronically.
What? Like Facebook? No, more like TurboTax but a lot smaller.
There were only a little over 1000 eligible pension plans. But we captured almost 60% of the market against some much bigger competitors.
We punch above our weight. Quietly and without violence. Stealthy like. You don’t hit elephants very often and live to talk about it. Or shouldn’t. We focused on our clients.
We had some big Canadian companies using PenForms. And lots of smaller ones. Organizations across sectors like transportation and finance.
We fell in love with both the SaaS model and serving those small and mid-sized customers. You can see the difference you are making.
Then the government changed the rules and killed it.
Manifast™ – Working on the Business
We liked the cloud and SaaS models and enjoyed working with businesses. So, we built a tool to help business owners and management teams work on their business. We got lots of good feedback on the why and how important it is.
“You are showing me all the important stuff I am not doing, but I should be. But, this is overwhelming.” ~ CEO of IT Company
But it turned out, most small business owners didn’t have the time or desire to do all this working on the business stuff. Hence, they didn’t need software to help them plan and track all the things they didn’t have time to do. Even if it is essential and they knew it. Heads down and focus on today.
We also didn’t communicate what success would look like for them.
As they say, “I can see that now!”
So, we learned. And pivoted.
Pivot is the software industry’s jargon for saying we made a big mistake and are now heading in a different direction.
The key is learning. Succeeding by failing fast. Pivoting until you achieve product-market fit.
We are pivoting sounds a lot more intentional and strategic than the alternatives.
And we are still moving and pivoting. And learning a LOT. Tons.
Events and Workshops
Along with promoting our initial Manifast™ product, we ran quite a few events, seminars, and workshops around working on your business. Things like:
- Business Strategy
- Marketing and Sales
- Processes and Teams
Along the way, I became a Certified Go-Giver Coach, and Sunwapta Solutions became a HubSpot Partner.
That timeframe was undoubtedly at the front of the stage. Or at least in front of the room.
Then oil prices dropped and stayed dropped.
How It Is Going
Our drive for continuous learning is part of what defines us. We are a bit like chameleons. I like to think this has positioned us to help businesses from many different perspectives – not just software.
Having learned a few things, we built a newer SaaS tool. Manifast™ Workflow helps companies do more stuff with the people they have. This productivity enhancement allows organizations to grow without adding as much overhead.
This time we got some traction.
Accounting firms and recruiting firms deal with lots of paperwork and forms. We help them do more with the team they already have – to innovate and reduce costs.
More recently, we’ve done some work for a well-known local grocery chain. Inventory, just-in-time electronic ordering, and supply chain management. A cash-management tool. Data integration between back-end systems and new eCommerce. Other new and emerging challenges. Great company and a lot of exciting work where we can see results.
Plus, the operations work like managing cloud-based hosting environments like Microsoft Azure.
Where We Are Going Next
Our future direction is not likely to be a competitor to Tesla, or the next Facebook, or SpaceX.
(Okay, if you gave us loads of cash, we might try out the last one. Blowing up rockets to pivot and learn is exciting.)
We’ve decided to stick with what we’ve done well – helping the companies who are good to work with and appreciate us.
We are working to help businesses grow and innovate. Looking for opportunities and solving problems. Supporting the people in industry. By creating better workplaces so everyone can improve and succeed. At the same time, we are continuing to bring our skills down to small and mid-sized businesses.
Throw in a splash of machine learning, artificial intelligence, and advanced analytics where it makes sense. Maybe even a block or chain.
So, our clients can grow, compete, and thrive in a quickly changing, global marketplace.
Who Is That Exactly?
The businesses we rely on to keep our economy running like:
- Trucking / Transportation
Plus, the organizations, companies, and people that help those companies operate and be successful.
Initially, we’ll start in areas where we already have had years of success and go from there – plenty of people and lots of data to work with.
We aren’t in it for the glamour, and red carpet walks. We are in it to make a difference and add value.
Law of Attraction Alert: And ultimately, to share in the rewards. Success is always fantastic. It’s the prize for helping others get what they want – stratospheric success.
We will be working with our customer base and building partnerships with experts to create community-driven, innovative solutions.
Communicating what success looks like for our audience.
And we are going to do it from the front of the big stage. Or a mobile stage on a 53-foot trailer. Or wherever we need to be to make the magic happen.
More chocolate, software, and pizza.