I hate the term “Cash Cow”. I get it, I do. And I understand why people would want one. Having an income stream that you don’t have to think about is just smart business. I still hate it. I guess it’s because the term is so impersonal. It implies that the transaction is between two parties alone: You take care of the cow, it provides you with “milk”. End of story.
This article is not meant to bash people who have a utilitarian view of their businesses. Everyone has different reasons for starting a business and I don’t fault anyone who has the talent to tap into a specific market or niche for enjoying the resulting “milk” that they have rightfully earned. It should be noted, however, that for most small business owners, especially those who own small window cleaning companies, our businesses are not “Cash Cows”. They are usually our only source of income, we are emotionally invested in its success and growth, and we spend a lot of our time and energy keeping it healthy. Instead, for most of us our businesses are “Trees” and we are the arborist.
Think about what a tree does. Sure, we might have had a purpose for a particular tree when we first planted it. Maybe we planted a fruit tree to enjoy eating what we could harvest. Maybe it was a shade tree to sit under during the heat of the summer. Maybe we enjoyed the beauty of its leaves, bark, or flowers. Regardless of whatever initial reason we planted it, it soon becomes apparent that others see its value as well. Animals and bugs live, eat, and reproduce among its branches, trunk, and underground. As the years pass by, we become emotionally attached to trees and find happiness in their view and longevity. Appreciating the aesthetic value of the tree can help people deal with stress and depression. Many times our neighbors come to love our tree just as much as we do. If you get into the scientific angle, there are a million unexpected benefits. From the leaves filtering air pollutants to the roots preventing erosion and adding nutrients to the soil to carbon sequestration, there are so many unexpected and unintended benefits to caring for trees. Things that we may never think about or appreciate.
When we view our business as a “tree” rather than a “cow”, we start to have a different appreciation for what a small business can do for a community as well as the owner. Think about the first reasons you had for starting your company. Did you do it to provide for your family? Did you do it to have more freedom or control over your schedule? Maybe you just followed a hunch or tip that your business would do well in an area? Whatever the reason, after it matures and becomes strong enough to stand on its own, your view of it will naturally change. You begin to see that others benefit from your service. From your clients who benefit from your services by making their places of business more attractive to potential customers, to the vendors from whom you buy supplies, to the complimentary companies who you refer your customers to, many value your business. If you hire employees, you might help a family pay for their kids medical bills, a newlywed couple start out their life together, or a person weather a difficult time in their lives by giving them work to focus on and the support of a friend. Then, you have the benefits of the economy in your community. If you make an effort to buy local first, you help your fellow local business owners stay afloat. Aside from paying local taxes and contributing to the local economy, you also help provide a unique community identity. Sure, we love the nationwide brands. But isn’t there a small restaurant or store or service that only people from your city or town would know? That means something. Uniqueness adds emotion and nostalgia to your community. Your business is a part of that, especially if you are from a small town. But even if you operate in a larger city, you may hold a special place in the heart of your own community of clients, especially if they have seen you grow over the years. There is nothing more beautiful that a loyal customer that stays with you for years because they see you as a friend rather than a vendor. That is one type of “milk” that a “cow” will never produce.
Once you realize that your business is a “tree”, your next realization is that you are the “arborist”. It is your job to keep the business healthy, growing, and beautiful in appearance. Thinking about all the different beneficiaries of your business will help you to have more respect for the honor and responsibility that you have as a business owner. You will be eager to trim the branches, make sure it is properly fed, and eliminate any pests that might damage its sensitive roots or bark. You will be able to appreciate the beauty of a well-run company in a way you might not have before.
It can be very sobering when you understand how wide the canopy of your business is spread and how many lives your business has touched. It can also make you the most appreciative, benevolent, and impactful business owner that you can be.