Be aware of the traps most new business owners fall into so you don’t make the same mistakes as you scale your business.
Think back to the moment you first became self-employed.
Remember that rush of feeling like you’re finally your own boss? That sense of freedom and breaking free from the monotony of the rat race?
Yup, it can be a great feeling.
And those exhilarating emotions are exactly what motivate many people to pursue self-employment – along with the desire for financial freedom, flexibility, and a sense of ownership.
Maybe you decided to start freelancing so the amount of hours you work will be directly correlated to the money you earn, instead of working around the clock for a measly paycheck.
Or maybe you’re not after the moolah, but wanted the flexibility of spending more time with family.
Maybe you just couldn’t let your dreams of making the world a better place stay a dream and decided it was time to get out of your cubicle.
Whatever your initial motivation, if you’ve been on this journey long enough, you know that the initial rush eventually wears off. Reality sinks in, and you realize that your ambitions of growing are limited by the fact that you’re only a one-person team.
If you’re a freelancer who happens to be really good at what you do, chances are you’ve hit a peak where you are at maximum capacity. You find yourself having to turn down new client opportunities while the line between work and personal life begins to blur.
Perhaps that’s when you set your sights on building a team to scale your business. Or perhaps a trusted friend or mentor has told you, “Maybe it’s time to think about growing a team.” But where do you start when you’re used to wearing all of your company’s hats from productions to sales to support to accounts?
From solopreneur to team: 6 lessons on how to scale your business
If you find yourself at that pivotal point in your journey where you’re: a) struggling to adjust from being a one-person show to managing a team or b) deciding if you’re ready to make the leap to hiring a team, this article is for you.
Here are the 5 most important things I’ve learnt about making this shift. Some of them I’ve learnt the hard way from my journey as a #creativegirlboss since launching Vangoh Creative in 2007. Others, I’ve had the fortune of learning from other entrepreneurial rockstars that I draw inspiration from.
1. Shift your mindset from business operator to business owner
As a business owner, you are going to have to change the way you work drastically. You may be used to getting things done immediately on your own, as they pop up. That won’t fly with a team. You’re going to need to put into place team schedules, time frames, road maps, and deadlines, and let your team do the work for you.
Too many new business owners make the mistake of hanging on to their old identities of being the go-to person for everything that happens in the company. This probably goes against the reason you started the business in the first place – to take control of your time and your life instead of being dictated by a boss!
Yet too many people are not business owners, but operators – if they went on vacation for a week without being contactable, the company would fall apart. A true business owner will delegate decisions appropriately and not be the team bottleneck, as Tony Robbins reminds us.
2. Understand the mental commitment and the sacrifices you will make
While not everything in the business should depend on you, it doesn’t mean you will be spending less time or energy on your business by hiring more people!
Yes, in the long run, building a team to scale your business will give you more flexibility as a business owner. But you will be more mentally committed than ever. Why? Look at it this way – worrying about meeting monthly expenses as one person is one thing. Worrying about paying a team of ten with families to feed is a whole different level of responsibility.
As Gary Vee puts it, when you’re on vacation at the beach or watching a World Cup game – you can bet that every single minute of that holiday, your mind will be on your business – even though physically, you have the freedom to be away.
3. Hire for fit
Too many small businesses hire out of a sense of urgency and desperation. Thinking ahead and starting to screen candidates even as you are anticipating increased need will make a huge difference. Don’t hire the first person who walks through the door and is willing to work for your tiny and unknown company. Think bigger.
Hire for fit in both the “hard” things (technical skills, job requirements), as well as the “soft” things. Too many people make the mistake of focusing on one and neglecting the other. A person might have a great attitude but lack the skills needed for the business at that point of time. On the flip side, someone can tick all the required boxes but something doesn’t jive. Trust your intuition. The right person at the wrong time is still the wrong person.
4. Start creating systems for everything
As you scale up, you may hire remote team members to keep overhead costs down and provide more flexibility. This is especially important if you have even just one team member working remotely!
Start creating systems and policies for communication, file sharing, emails, meeting notes, client decks, and so on. It’s better to align expectations from the start that to go back and fix a messy system.
Make sure things are shared in a common cloud location and everyone has access to all files. Also, policies like sharing calendars with everyone on the team and making it a must to turn video on in conference call can go a long way in building rapport and transparency in remote teams.
In The E-Myth: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work, Michael Gerber (named by Inc. magazine as “The World’s #1 Small Business Guru”) outlines three systems you need to have in place to scale your business – hard systems, people systems, information systems.
5. Make training a priority
Too many business owners neglect this because it’s not an urgent priority. But as your clients get bigger and your business grows, there is nothing that will create more problems than under-trained staff.
As a self-starter, you may find yourself having natural drive and energy. Reality check: you cannot expect your team to be like you. (If they were, they’d start their own business.) Remember that they need your guidance, direction, and training.
It’s not an easy thing to devote time to as you scale your business. Yet you will never regret investing as much time as you can into training and empowering your team.
6. Don’t hold back from showing tough love
Again, if you’re reading this, you’re probably one of those highly independent and initiative personality types. That doesn’t mean your employees are built the same way. It takes time to realize that building the right company culture is not just about being a buddy to your team members. It also requires showing them tough love and course-correct them when they need it.
I’ve learnt it doesn’t pay off when I am not clear and firm about what is expected from my team. Prepare yourself to have some tough conversations – it’s part of the job. Learning how to give and take criticism while being fair and balanced is what will build you a strong, loyal, and empowered team as you scale your business.
Images sourced from Unsplash