Seven steps to scale for success: an essential guide for small business

Seven steps to scale for success: an essential guide for small business — you know that business which others have referred to as a ‘lifestyle’ business or a ‘hobby’.

That business which has taken your blood, sweat and tears yet is not taken seriously by others…don’t worry, I take it seriously.

When you think of ‘scaling up’ this business, what pops into your head…

Do you conjure up images of expanding beyond recognition? Do you think of multiple premises, a large number of staff, you swanning around from office to office with others doing all of the donkey work? Do you think scaling may burst the seams of your comfort zone and you’re not quite ready for it? Or do long to grow your business sustainably but you’re not sure where to start because you are afraid?

For a long time, I felt those words ‘scaling up’ didn’t apply to me — and many people made sure that was how I saw myself. As a micro-business owner who is essentially a freelancer or sole trader, I employ only myself. How could I possibly scale up doing what I do?

Don’t listen to negative Nancy: any business can scale

Too often I’d heard people (usually men) talking about my ‘lifestyle’ business and how it wasn’t suitable for scaling. It’s such an easy way to dismiss someone, particularly women. I’ve heard it time and time again. Every time it disgusts me. How patronising and condescending. I once told a solicitor would he like to swap a day of my working life with his? His response — ‘oh think I’ve touched a nerve there!’. Too right, arrogant prig.

Once someone commented about how I was never going to get big — ‘after all there aren’t going to be a lot of little Fiona Scotts popping up everywhere’, he said. As if that was a given.

He was right in a sense, I couldn’t clone myself, nor do I want to, but that kind of ill-thought-out, disparaging comment had an impact on what I thought I could achieve with regards to growing my business. Although cloning myself wasn’t the answer, there was another way…

Scale up your way

Usually scaling up means growing by acquisition or through capital investment leading to expansion — or even a combination of the two. But don’t let that put you off.

There are other ways of scaling up which work for those who have different goals or desires. How about growing through offering digital products for example? Lockdown has taught many of us the possibilities around that.

For me, the key to my scaling success was building a freelance team of trusted partners. Even as a micro-business owner where you employ yourself, if you are good, your business will evolve and you will still reach a point where you have to make a decision: invest and grow or stay the same.

If you continue to take on work and stay solo, you will soon be overwhelmed, and you could burn out, then things can come crashing down rapidly.

When you reach saturation (and the point where that happens will be different depending on whether you’re a product or service-based business) you have to learn to trust others.

If you cannot do this then the decision will be made for you — you will have to make a conscious effort to not grow any further, only take on new work when other work falls away. This is a legitimate business choice. However the downside is that if suddenly you have a rapid drop-off in work, you will have to work very hard to replace that income and it may take some time.

After all, even if you’ve been marketing this whole time, you will have turned down people so many times that there will be an assumption that you don’t need work. Your profile won’t match your need.

Seven steps to grow your team and scale for success

The key ingredient for small businesses when scaling for success is to establish a supportive team around you. Here’s what I have learned about finding those trusted partners to help your business grow and flourish in a way that works for all parties:

  1. The trial run: Start by doing a one-off job together — subject to your terms so that you can assess if it’s mutually workable. This should give you a good indication if you are a good match, and if you’re not it gives you a get out of jail card so you can move on and find someone else. This works both ways, sometimes a freelancer doesn’t like the work you are asking them to do — or they may not like you.
  2. Be transparent: Always be clear in the upfront contract about how this will work, including the discussion about money. Be very clear about this and proactively ask if they’ve got any questions in relation to the agreement.
  3. Give honest feedback: Give your team clear guidance and feedback on the work they carry out for you — so that any mistakes and wrong turns are ironed out and not repeated. Of course, a degree of tact should be involved but if you’re not happy with something you should raise this and work together on how to progress forward.
  4. Be honest with your clients: Be honest with clients about your expansion. Let them know that your hand-picked team of trusted partners may be carrying out work on your behalf. Ask your clients for feedback on their experience to ensure your standards are being upheld and the client is happy. As you go through growth, you may find some clients don’t want to talk to others, only you. That can become a problem. How will you handle that?
  5. Listen: If more than one client complains about a team member’s behaviour or attitude — listen to them and speak to the team member involved to get both sides of the story.
  6. Have an exit strategy: Unfortunately, not all partnerships end happily ever after. Always be honest with your teammates and have an exit plan in place to ensure there is no dip in your service if you need to replace a team member.
  7. Your team is your gold dust: When you find the right person hold on to them and support them. Having someone you can trust and has the same core values as you do is incredibly important. Without them, you’ll never really be able to let go, grow and scale to your full potential.

Of course, for many of us we’ve worked so hard to build our businesses from the ground up, the idea of trusting someone else can be extremely hard to do — and possibly a little uncomfortable at first. However until you learn to trust, you will get to a point where your business, and you, become stagnant.

I hope this has given you an insight into how scaling shouldn’t be (too) scary and how it can be the best thing for your business if you build a trusted team around you. If you are looking to outsource your PR and marketing to a safe pair of hands (and her team) who will support you every step of the way, please do get in touch —