Her experience in an earlier consulting effort and in developing the Heart Institute at Mercy Hospital augured a speedy ramping up for her business’s consulting services for hospitals seeking to develop comprehensive heart-care programs.
What she didn’t see coming when she started the company in 2001 was the economic downturn that was soon to follow, slowing the revenue flow to a trickle.
With contracts held up because of economic uncertainty, Johnson was forced to cut her staff, then replace other employees who jumped ship out of fear.
She took a hard look at her own role in the company and opted to hand over the president’s duties to another staffer, while she became chairman and CEO. She also devised an incentive plan to spur growth, control expenses and retain employees.
As a result, sales at Corazon Consulting increased 56 percent between 2001 and 2003.
Corazon has cranked up the growth engine, rebuilding its work force and scooping up contracts at a record clip on its way to a goal of $5 million in annual sales in five years. And Johnson has learned that in the long run, it’s not how fast you grow but how you grow fast that’s most important.
How did Corazon Consulting grow so quickly at the start?
If you’ve done it once or twice, you really start to figure out how you go about targeting a market you go about it in a streamlined way, not just with marketing but with operations. There were a lot of places where we could cut corners and really go to where we could get the best return.
So the first year of Corazon, we came out of the gate running and we didn’t miss a beat. We had a very experienced consulting team, they were people I had worked with ... and they knew the ropes. That was in 2001, and it really continued to soar in 2002 and exceeded any of our expectations for revenue.
Where did things go wrong?
We were caught up in what a lot of service companies were. In the last quarter of 2002 and the first quarter of 2003, we were in a slump.
We had a war going on, there was a lot of unrest. People were uncertain about whether they could spend money because we were really all on edge. For us, it was the first time we didn’t have this up, up, up.
We tried to retrench, tried to hang tight and we had to, call it rightsize, downsize, eliminate positions.
What was lacking in the organization?
Having those two wheels of the bicycle. We had that one wheel that was so intact and perfect, as far as the expertise that we were offering, the knowledge we bring as consultants, the methods that we use to do that. But the other wheel, as far as going after business, being able to create a sales process that’s more reliable, learn from it, that wheel was much more informal. It was much more my own intuitive sense of sales.
How did the business change as a result of the downturn?
It made me realize that I was the rainmaker, and that the sales engine depended on me. This was in May of 2003, and it was a wake-up call.
We brought in a sales trainer. We ran several people who were in leadership positions or consulting positions through that program. We met periodically over that next six months to educate people, have them be more comfortable being a salesperson.
Most of our consultants didn’t see themselves that way; they thought (sales) was a dirty word because we see ourselves as consultative, building relationships, but it’s something that once you understand it, you can learn and start to use those techniques.
I was probably responsible for 90 percent of the sales. Today, I’m probably responsible for 10 percent.
How did your role change at Corazon Consulting?
For me, developing a business is what excites me. Running a business, not so much understanding the financials, but day-to-day, making sure that all the pieces are coming together and people are getting the right direction and everybody has that sense of belonging I’m not sure that an entrepreneur has the discipline or interest to do that.
I love to work with people ... but I’m not the best manager of people. I think it’s classic; the entrepreneur may be the best to develop the business but they’re not necessarily the best-equipped to run it.
How do you encourage your employees to foster the growth of the company?
Every employee in the company who meets the qualifications you have to be here two years has phantom stock eligibility. So there are shareholders who have bought into the company and there is also an opportunity for anyone who works in the company to have a feeling of ownership and a return.
I think the difference it makes isn’t just in terms of growth ... but also in terms of numbers of employees. If you’re someone who’s invested in the firm, you’re very careful about how you approach using resources.
It makes us look at that long-term growth and say it is about revenue and it’s about how you’re able to add resources and pace it so you’re being smart about it so that profit margin isn’t being ignored.
How to reach: Corazon Consulting, http://www.corazon-consulting.com