Here is a true story we can all learn an important lesson from. We will use an analogy of the chicken and the egg.

In this case the egg is a customer. Most businesses spend their time and money constantly searching for more eggs. This makes sense because we all need to eat to survive.

The chicken is what makes the eggs appear. Smart business owners do not chase the eggs. Instead, they build a chicken coop, find a few chickens and feed them until they start laying eggs. Once they start laying eggs, the chickens do not stop. Pretty soon the business owner has more eggs than they can eat.

In this case, the chicken represents a referral partner. This could be a professional in a related business who can send you streams of future business.

One day the chicken showed up to a scheduled meeting with a marketing director of a local business. This chicken had a history of laying more eggs than virtually any other chicken. They were an amazing referral partner.

The two of them were going to discuss how they could send streams of business to each other in the future. Suddenly an egg appeared in the lobby unannounced. The marketing director was immediately attracted to this new potential client. They were so mesmerized, they asked the chicken if she could come back later.

The chicken left feeling totally ignored and undervalued. She did not want to live in that particular chicken coop. She reached out to a different company and built a home there. The marketing director lost streams of future business and gave their competitor a distinct advantage.

The moral of this story is to teach your staff the difference between the chicken and the egg. Be sure to develop systems to take good care of the chickens, even when an unexpected egg appears.

Bill Nordbrock is vice president of community relations for SCORE Southern Arizona, a nonprofit that offers free small-business counseling and mentoring by appointment. For information, go to southernarizona.score.org, send an email to mentoring@scoresouthernaz.org or call 505-3636.