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July 2022

Channel your inner hedgehog!

27 Jun 2022, Business Tips, Learn, Prove Your Know How

The Successful Builder business coach Graeme Owen says that being busy isn’t always the road to maximum profitability

Finding yourself running in all directions? If so, you’re not alone. Many builders I speak to are run off their feet keeping up with the demands of their business in the current building industry climate. 

A common question I get asked is: “so, can I do anything about it”? The answer is yes, you can! 

In his book Good to Great (2001), Jim Collins draws on the old fable about the fox and the hedgehog. The fox hunts the hedgehog. He runs around every which-way, darting in here, sneaking up and jumping out there, trying to capture the hedgehog. He tries all kinds of tactics, but he fails every time – because the hedgehog is a master of one thing and one thing alone: defence. He rolls into a ball and sticks out his spines. It wins every time! On the other hand, the fox is a master of none. 

Now Collins draws on the story to formulate his ’Hedgehog Concept’.

It’s in busy times that business owners tend to act like a fox – rushing here and there doing heaps of different things without any clear focus. The result is often lots of energy expended, yet very little achieved.

When that same business owner focuses on what they (and/or the business) does best and gives it their full attention and enthusiasm, they tend towards better results. Just like the hedgehog – it is safer to do one thing really well than heaps of things not so well. So how do you apply the lesson of the hedgehog? 

1. Find your passion

It’s always hard to do work about which you’re not passionate. For example, many trades people I know didn’t really enjoy sitting at a desk in school. It was boring. But put them in a garage with tools and materials and they’d turn out all kinds of stuff. What’s more, they’d stay in that garage for hours on end – even missing dinner – because making things is their passion. 

So, what is it that you or your company does that you are really passionate about? And don’t tell me ’good quality work’. That’s too vague. Go for the stuff that really gets you going. Start talking with your team about their reasons for going to work (your company purpose) – about what makes them willing to go the extra mile (their passion), about what excites your clients (your company mission). Get these things aligned and you will locate huge resources of untapped energy and power.

For example, one of my clients decided that what really lights his fire is visualising innovative solutions for his customers. It’s something his design team gets excited about and it’s what makes the foreman’s job interesting and challenging. His clients buy into their enthusiasm and love interacting with them. 

What difference would it make if you were able to unlock the full passion potential of yourself, your team and your clients? 

2.  What you do best

The hedgehog does one thing better than all others. So, think about what it is that you do better than anyone else – in your world. It may help if you eliminate the things that you are not the ‘best in your world’ at doing, as it helps you focus. Sure, it will take time, but when you locate one thing that you and/or your company are really, really good at, you can then grow your sense of success by being repeatedly successful in that one thing. 

If you can build your marketing and sales around that one thing, it will set you apart from all others. 

For example, another of my clients discovered that in his area, he was the best re-roofer. By utilising his building and renovation skills with the relatively straightforward work of roofing, he was able to quickly teach his team how to become really, really good at it. And then he was able to market it with confidence. 

3. Profitability

Study the metrics of your business to discover what your main economic engine is. You may discover that one aspect of your business is way more profitable than another. 

Some time ago, one of my clients realised that he was extremely good at training 3rd and 4th year apprentices to lead small teams of 1st and 2nd year apprentices on standard group home new builds. At that time in his area, while new builds provided steady work, they were not highly profitable. However, when we analysed his teams’ performance, we discovered that the new-build part of his business was the most profitable. 

So, it can be very worthwhile to discover what parts of your business are the most profitable. 

4. Overlap

Once you have identified the above three things, then look for places where they overlap. That area of overlap can become your ‘Hedgehog Concept’. 

Once you know it, you can then shape your company vision around it and start to focus your thinking about how to work that vision out in all areas of your business. 

Go the hedgehog! 


Graeme Owen is a builders’ business coach at thesuccessfulbuilder.com. Since 2006, he has helped builders throughout New Zealand get off the tools, make decent money, and get more time in their lives. Grab a copy of his free book: The 15 Minute Sales Call Guaranteed To Increase Your Conversion Rate: thesuccessfulbuilder.com/book-15-min-sales-call or join Trademates and connect with builders who are scaling too: www.facebook.com/groups/TradeMates

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