Sometimes the tipping point can be trouble

Yesterday we talked about the word-of-mouth tipping point. This is the moment where our networking starts rolling almost under its own power and the benefits start rolling in almost without us having to try at all. Believe it or not, this can actually be a mildly perilous time for some folks, especially self-employed entrepreneurs.

Yes, I said perilous.

You see, when we do finally hit that tipping point, work is going to start coming in faster and faster. Yay! The problem is that if we aren’t ready for that steady increase, then our network actually works against us. If we unintentionally damage someone else’s reputation because we are unable to take care of the business they hand us, two things will happen. First, that referral source will dry up, but quick. Why would they continue to deal with us and risk our further damaging their reputations?

The second thing that will happen is that this one failure can taint the rest of our network and we may be back to struggling to get the referrals.

The good thing is that if we are aware of the situation, our network and the techniques we used to build it can help us stay ahead of the game. So what should we be doing?

  1. Maintain good communication. If we are so overbooked that we simply can’t take on any more work, we must be honest with our referral partners should they bring us something new. It may be hard to turn away work, but better that than poisoning the well by doing poorly on a project.
  2. Talk with your “competitors”. I’ve always maintained that unless our product or service is a true commodity — ours is indistinguishable from anyone else’s — then we have no competition. Still, it is always good to maintain cordial relationships with those who do things like what we do. That way, when those projects start coming fast and furious (or at least faster than you can handle), you know people to whom you can refer the excess business.
  3. Ask for help. By this I don’t just mean asking for specific advice, though our network can be good for that, too. In this case I mean “help” as in “help wanted”. If the amount of work has grown to the point that we can consider expanding our business through hiring, then our network can help put us in contact with the quality employees that we’ll need to succeed in that endeavor.
Of course, we always want to increase the strength of our network in order to achieve greater success in our lives. We always have to remember, though, that success doesn’t always mean “more”. Trying to take on more than we can handle can end up hurting us in the long run. We’re better off calling on our networks to help us achieve the right level of work to achieve our goals of long-term success.

Photo credit: Flickr user Graham and Sheila