Does this sound like you? You’ve worked in your profession for a while and learned the ropes, and now you decide to go out on your own. You have some idea what you’re doing, but you don’t really know the full scope of what it takes to run your own company. You probably have no real processes in place, haven’t developed a real customer list yet, and you wind up scrambling like crazy and trying anything with promise to get your enterprise off the ground. This phase of your business is what we call the Start-Up Scramble.
The sacrifices you make early on, help set you up for long term success
My own Start-Up Scramble lasted for the first year or so of my business. I got a little bit lucky too. I found an amazing out-of-state client that valued my very specific skill set. That client provided much-needed revenue making it possible for me to assemble my team and nail down my processes. It didn’t happen overnight, but that is what the scramble is. You’re working a ton of hours; in fact, most entrepreneurs are never not working during this period. It’s one of the sacrifices that you make early on that leads to long-term success. That first year is crucial and, unfortunately, it is when a lot of businesses flame out and die because they did not know what to expect.
Too many people leave a job to follow their dream of being their own boss without being prepared. This is a recipe for disappointment and potential disaster. I advise people to be prepared to be in the Start-Up Scramble for at least a year, and often two. So what about those who are stuck in the scramble for longer than that? I talked to someone not too long ago who has owned a business for the last eight years and has never personally made more than $35,000 a year. That’s his total return from his business – payroll and profit combined. That’s terrible! He could go work for someone else doing the same job, working fewer hours, making more money and having a lot less stress. This business owner was definitely stuck in the Start-Up Scramble. As a side note here, there’s no shame in returning to work for someone else if you find that owning your own business just isn’t for you.
Another sign that you are stuck in the scramble? Hearing someone use the phrase, “You should be working on your business, not just in your business,” makes you want to punch them in the face. You don’t have time to work on your business. That’s the whole problem. Let’s talk about some practical techniques you can use to fix this, starting with freeing up some of your time so you can start moving forward. I recommend sacrificing something specific for a set amount of time, like giving up Sunday afternoon football for the next two months, so you can invest those three hours a week in your business. This is not time for you to catch up on the day-to-day tasks or follow up on emails. This time is specifically for you to work on things that will get you out of the scramble and into the next phase. Focus on how you can improve your processes, define what you need to do and what can be handled by others, create internal tools or work papers that you can use again and again to save time over the long term. If you have a set thing you can give up for a set amount of time and see on the other side specifically what you’ll reap from that investment, it can be really effective for getting out of the scramble.
The start-up scramble requires courage
Another technique to get out of the Start-Up Scramble requires a lot of courage: adding someone to the team. This might mean an employee, a contractor, or outsourcing a component of the business to a different company (think hiring a company to manage your social media (like we do) or hiring a company to take over your bookkeeping). This takes courage! You have to really believe in yourself, and you have to believe that your revenue will be sufficient to continue to support you as well as pay for this task that you used to do yourself. I don’t advocate being reckless here—you want to make sure you have a reasonable basis for thinking you will have enough revenue to take this step. The timing of this step can be important, but if you never offload some of the work you do personally you will never grow beyond a certain size.
What should you offload first? Pick something that you don’t enjoy or aren’t very good at since these tasks drain your energy and mental space, and you’ll see the biggest return for your investment by paying someone else to take care of them. I found that it was hard to type articles like this one myself so I started using an app called Rev that does the transcription for me. Then, I asked people in a CPA group that I’m part of and found Bonnie at bbr companies, who edits my (sometimes) rough thoughts into a polished article. I do a quick final review and then pass it on to Ryan Meredith at High Point Consulting who figures out the best way to deploy the content on our various social media channels. What used to be a big hassle and frankly didn’t get done very consistently is now easy, and this investment is absolutely paying dividends for me. These aren’t expenses to me, they are investments in growing my business.
Stick with it to break out of the start-up scramble
Now you’ve seen some growth, added some processes, gotten more efficient, added some people to your team and/or hired people to do some things that you used to do yourself. And you’ve grown even more. Is that it? Are you now on the path to unlimited growth? Well, not quite. You can grow quite a bit this way—by increasing efficiencies and adding more team members. A lot of business owners are perfectly happy with a relatively small team and never break through the next ceiling (remember, growing a business is hitting one ceiling after the next). We find that companies start hitting the next ceiling by the time they have 20 employees or $1 to $5 million in revenue. In our next article, we talk about businesses in the next phase, the Structured Ceiling. It’s hard to find a good balance while you’re in the Start-Up Scramble phase, but the Structured Ceiling phase is a whole different world. If you’re stuck in the Start-Up Scramble, this next phase is going to feel really good. You’ll be able to breathe for a change, and you’ll be making more money too.
We hate to see entrepreneurs working too hard for not enough money. If this is you, we’d love to see if we can help. We typically work with companies that have more than $1 million in annual income and many of our services are geared toward helping them move beyond the Structured Ceiling. But often, even an hour-long conversation can help “unstick” someone in the scramble. Give us a call!
Enjoyed reading this? We think you’ll like a similar topic we wrote about in our Visions & Values article.