Scaling your business. Ahh. Of all the steps required to reach your Stage 2 (a decent income for a decent number of hours worked) scaling your business is by far the most important.
Sure, it’s great to outsource a little here and there. It’s great to charge what you’re worth. But if you’re going to grow to something truly sustainable, you need to start scaling.
Your business needs you to be at the helm… not the helm, the engineering deck, the galley, and the housekeeping closet. (I’ve been watching a lot of Star Trek lately.)
When you scale your business, you no longer struggle through the feast and famine cycle. You don’t tear your hair out about your marketing and promotion calendar. And you don’t look at productive people wondering how in the holy hell they get it all done.
Thinking maybe you’re ready to stop power clicking on Buzzfeed articles on the productivity tips of the rich and famous? Perfect. You’re ready to start scaling your business.
Scaling Your Business – What Does It Even Mean?
At the corporate level, a scalable business is one that can increase revenue without a commensurate increase in costs.
At the ittybiz level, it’s pretty much the same, except the goal is usually to increase revenue without a commensurate increase in time spent.
Example: Last year, Susan made $40,000, and she spent 1250 hours.
This year, she wants to make $60,000.
If she spends 1875 hours to make that $60,000, she isn’t scaling. She’ll make 50% more money, but she’ll also spend 50% more time. The time to money ratio is the same as it was last year.
If she can find a way to make $60,000 spending the same time, or only a little more, she’s scaling.
Your business needs to scale in order to be sustainable. Most solopreneurs, as they get older and more experienced, tend to want to make more money, and they tend to want to spend less time. That requires scaling.
If ten years from now, you’re spending the same amount of time to make the same amount of money, you’re going to be mad.
And if you’re spending twice the time to make twice the money, you’re going to be even madder.
Scaling your business now means less mad later.
So, what can you do? Here are seven steps you can take to increase revenue and decrease time. Some of these apply to information businesses, some of them apply to product or service businesses, but even if it seems like you can’t do any of them, stick around till the end, because there, I’ve got something that will work for truly anybody. Pinky swear.
1. 1-1 becomes 1-few
The first step for many people in their scaling journey is taking what they do for one person and finding a way to do it for a few people at a time.
Sometimes what they do in a small group setting is an identical clone to what they do in a one-on-one setting. Example: Instead of decluttering one person’s closet, they have a closet decluttering workshop where everyone brings all their stuff and throws it out at once.
Sometimes what they do in a small group setting is slightly different from what they did in a one-on-one setting. They create small online workshops or live retreats, with a curriculum prepared rather than coaching one person at a time.
If I was just starting out with scaling, and I wanted to cut back on copywriting and copyediting, I could lead a small, hands-on workshop where six participants rewrote their main pages together. I would give advice, tweak, and teach a little, and I’d help six people at once.
This takes you from the person doing to the person leading.
2. 1-few becomes 1-many
Moving up from that, with only a slight increase in difficulty, is offering a 1-many option. This could be larger classes or workshops, webinars, or events.
In many cases these events and programs are very similar to the ones offered at the 1-few level, but one thing tends to be different, and that’s your role in the process. While 1-1 has you doing the doing, and 1-few has you doing the leading, 1-many usually means you’re teaching.
There are some exceptions to this. Some 1000-person webinars are really one person leading a process, and some six-person workshops are really just tiny classes. But in general, more people in the room means less engagement with you.
3. Done by you becomes DIY, templates or white label
This is usually the method of choice for service providers. I have a template pack that means I don’t write your copy – you do. Less than a hundred bucks and you have several templates I have personally written for pretty much any digital marketing situation. You save a ton of money, and I save a ton of time.
This is also popular in anything with a design component. Graphic designers create PDF templates, web designers create premade themes, book designers create premade covers.
(Some writers even do this without any template component at all – they simply create a non-branded “white label” product that people can buy ready-made.)
4. Live becomes homestudy or drip
If you’re in any kind of training, teaching, or facilitation line of work, you don’t have to do it for very long before you discover that teaching live can be very draining. Once you reach a certain point in your career, you realize there is a tax on synchronous work – the work you have to be in a certain place at a certain time to do. This is true for live and in-person – i.e. you’re in a physical room with other people – but it’s also true remotely. Having to be there for the webinar at 4 pm has costs that, over time, add up.
In that case, the move is from live to homestudy (or drip). Instead of you (and everybody else) showing up at 4 pm, you create an evergreen course, class, or workshop that people can take at home, in their underwear, at 2 in the morning.
(This is also many ittybiz owners’ first foray into truly passive income. Because people can take it at 2 in the morning, they can also buy it at 2 in the morning. That means you wake up to a fresh, delicious sale in your inbox.)
(Pro tip: Turn off email notifications on your phone, as well as any Zapier-style automation shenanigans you have going on.)
(I’m serious. Do it.)
5. Done by you becomes done by OAP (Other Awesome People)
If you live in the United Kingdom, OAP means “Old Age Pensioner”. For the rest of us, it means Other Awesome People, and it will change your life.
We all understand having assistants – people who help with administration and customer service. But at a certain point, we may want to expand beyond the simply administrative and give the people on our team some actual power.
My client Jenna runs the Called To Write Writers’ Circle. When you sign up, you get a personal writing coach. That coach is not Jenna. It is one of Jenna’s OAPs.
Generally, when I launch a new class or product, I’ll suggest people email us if they’re not sure if it would be a good fit for them. Sometimes I answer, particularly if I know the person very well. But in general, that’s Kris’ job. She looks at a person’s situation, website, past purchase history, and gives them her honest assessment. She’s not just answering my email. She’s a product concierge. (Seriously. It’s on her business card.)
OAP work can run the gamut from subcontracting service work to having a team of trained Mini Mes and Oompa Loompas doing exactly what you would have done. Either way, more people get served, and you’re not always the one doing the serving.
6. One time revenue becomes continuity.
For many ittybiz owners, this is where the real money starts to get made. Graphic designers create monthly packages. Photographers create memberships. Web designers create ongoing support packages.
Even some product companies do this when they give you the option to purchase one time, or to have a product sent to you regularly. While this seems like the profit margin is the same – a candle every month is the same candle, and therefore costs Aveda the same amount to fulfill – it drops marketing costs considerably. When you know you’ve got somebody buying a candle every month for a year, you don’t have to do all the work to upsell them a second, and third, and fourth candle later. Lifetime value of a customer goes up, so marketing costs – money AND time – go down.
The most obvious incarnation of this is in the information industry, where people subscribe to a monthly membership site. But really, it’s not the only way to make it work.
7. Delegating on steroids.
Last, I promised you an If All Else Fails option. If, for whatever reason, your business is structured in such a way that none of the other options apply, you now have an opportunity!
You have the opportunity to become the very best in the world at… delegating!
If scaling your business is the most important thing you need to do to get to stage 2, the second most important thing is this one: Stop doing so much stuff.
Usually, to get to this point, the business owner first needs to do a big push for a revenue spike in the short term. They run a big sale, or do a big launch, or just work a lot of hours for a little while. Then, with the revenue they gain from that, they hire people.
My clients Andrea and Tamara are in this situation. They started small, and they’ve grown. And grown. And grown. Andrea is pregnant with her fifth child. She can’t be the one designing every Facebook ad and packing every pair of tiny undies. Tamara is a jewelry designer, not a packer, shipper, and click-heart-on-every-Instagram-commenter.
For them to scale, they must ruthlessly delegate every task that does not absolutely require them. That requires money and time, but that’s what that big push of revenue was for. Use that money to buy yourself some time and some help.
Scaling your business can be done, and it can be done in stages.
Your homework for today is this:
Go back over this list, and see where you could do some scaling. Your business wants to grow sustainably, and it’s your job to figure out how.
Get yourself some tea or some wine and really think about it.
Some of your ideas will work in the short term. Maybe you could put together a little workshop, or offer some of your existing clients and customers a continuity option.
Some of your ideas will need some logistics to put into place. You’ll need to train those VAs before you can start delegating like a boss. (Get it? Like a boss! Never mind.)
But every single business can scale. It’s only a matter of choosing where you start.