In the beginning, entrepreneurs tend to focus deeply on launching their businesses--which makes sense. In the moment, there's no other goal besides launch and learn.
But what happens when the launch and the subsequent water-treading and breath-holding period starts to subside? When, after all of the hard work and late nights and boundless enthusiasm, take your business from launch to success?
I talked with a few entrepreneurs who've been there and survived that. Here are there tips for scaling like a boss.
Build a Vision Your Team Shares
While scaling a business of any size takes strategic planning and focus, going from solopreneur status to a true team is a serious leap. Andrew Dymski co-founded the digital agency GuavaBox in his college dorm room. Fast forward to today, and he's got a powerhouse global team making things happen around the world. His advice? "Spend time building out the vision for what you're trying to build." And that's easier said than done--entrepreneurs notoriously, "keep their noses to the grindstone and never look up," he adds.
It's an essential exercise especially during the all-important shift from one to more than one. "When you start scaling your team, you need to have a clear mission that others can get excited about." And, as Andrew reiterates, that impacts you, too--not just your team. "Taking the time to focus on your vision can help you build the company of your dreams," he says, "not just build out another job. You don't want to finally lift your head up in 10 years and wonder why you wasted your time and energy hustling to build a business you don't even like."
Be Endlessly Data-Driven
When you're scaling your small business, it's essential to measure and analyze everything.
"When our digital agency went through its first growth phase in 2014, our client base grew 200% in less than three months," says Lauren Davenport, CEO of the Symphony Agency. Like Andrew, Lauren launched her company in college. Now, she leads a team of 20. "We needed help--and we needed it now." Their solution? They immediately wrote up job descriptions and brought in seven new team members, seemingly overnight. The only problem? They did it without any sort of hiring framework in place. And that was a problem.
"We didn't dig into the nitty gritty of capacity planning and profit margins," she recalls. "Hiring more people solves all problems, right? Wrong." In this case, bringing on new hires had the opposite impact--the quality of their product suffered big time. "I had the pleasure of learning the age old lesson of 'be slow to hire and quick to fire," says Lauren. "It wasn't fun."
The good news? "You can easily avoid this mistake," she says. For starters, figure out your company's key performance indicators that, specifically, drive growth and cash flow. And once you do, "measure them like crazy, and you'll avoid the pitfalls that we learned the hard way."
Get to Really Know Your Audience
Scaling periods are critical times to focus on who's buying your products or services. By gaining clarity of who your audience is and where your business is going, "your employees will make decisions based on what is better for the business rather than themselves," explains Jason Swenk, an agency growth coach and mentor.
During his career, Jason successfully built and sold a digital agency and now he coaches other agency owners. "You need to drill down into a niche a couple levels where you completely understand your clients' biggest challenge and what they want," Jason says.
Don't Be Afraid to Say No
When you first launch your business, it's easy to fall into a 'yes' pattern--that is, saying yes to every client, every consumer and every opportunity that comes your way. It makes sense--beggars can't be choosers, right? While no one's advocating taking on clients who are going to endlessly drain your time and talent, entrepreneurs tend to be a little more lenient in selecting clients in those early days.
But, as your business begins to scale, that approach might actually hold you back. "At the end of the day," says Andrew, "the clients that pay you the most money will bring the least headaches. The clients that pay you the least amount of money will bring the most headaches." His advice? "When in doubt, charge more."
Most entrepreneurs, especially freelancers and consultants, "aren't accustomed to being their own boss," Lauren says. "It sounds like it should be fun, but holding yourself accountable can be difficult." While accountability is always important, it's particularly critical as you're scaling. Lauren experienced this one first-hand. "When I hired my first business coach," she recalls, "I couldn't afford it, but I scraped up pennies and did it anyway." And guess what? "It was worth it."