Scaling Your Business Appropriately

Next week, I’ve got a fairly busy week.  Without boring you with the details, I’m going to pick up the management duties for one of my colleagues by overseeing his technical pre-sales team and managing his business unit while he’s on leave.  To give you perspective, this isn’t a small department, it’ll do over a million dollars in sales next week and I’ll look at probably $5m in deal governance for approval.

To be honest, I’m not really fussed by the extra work and I’ll do it in amongst doing my regular job.

The reason I’m not worried about the extra work is that our business has a bunch of systems, people and processes in place to support that work.  For example, when one of the technical pre-sales people pulls together a statement of work and proposal for a client, there is a governance framework and a workflow system that ensures that it’s vetted by our project management office before it even comes to me for review.  Also, we have a structure for a high-level review with the person before they submit it for governance and if it’s over a certain value the opportunity has been reviewed prior to the proposal process even starting.

To run a billion dollar business you just have to have that stuff working properly.

But here’s the interesting thing, there aren’t that many people.  I’ll be looking after maybe seven people.  Everything is just efficient.

So what does this have to do with your online business?

Well, I was just in a group where someone was talking about their “standard operating procedures” and how their “team” does all this stuff.  There were like three or four people involved in this ridiculously convoluted process to simply publish a video – it wasn’t even income producing, it was like a free YouTube video.

It was mind-boggling because most of the people chiming in with ideas about how their “team” does stuff don’t really earn much in their own business.  I’d guess that most of them make well less than six figures (and some make less than five figures) a year in total sales.

But they have a team.

According to them, they have to have “scale”.


Some of them have been unsuccessfully at this caper for years, literally years, and haven’t had a need to scale.

“Oh but Sean, I need to hire a team so that they can do things that are cheap and easy for them to do while I focus on the more important stuff.”

Rubbish.  Stop kidding yourself.

If you’re making less than a full-time job at McDonald’s here in Sydney where the minimum wage is like $18/hr, you don’t need a team.  You need a product, you need an offer and you need an audience, but when you’re earning minimum wage or less from your business, what you don’t need is a team.

When you’re just starting out, you need to stay small and nimble.  Learn to do things yourself and become self-reliant.  Eventually, you’ll get big enough ideally that you may need to outsource or even hire some people where it makes sense, but I’m telling you, if you know what they do in their job, the quality of their work goes up exponentially because you can manage it better.

There are of course exceptions, but if you’re doing this as a side hustle style business, then I’m telling you that building out a big team right at the beginning will kill you.  You’ll get bogged down managing a bunch of people in far-flung places who will occasionally disappear and you’ll spend more of your time herding kittens than actually building your business.

I’ve been there and done that.  Now, across all of our online businesses we try and have as few people working for us as possible.  In fact, we intentionally don’t do specific things in our business because we’d have to have a team.  In our writing business, we have some people who write for us on a contract basis when the work is there, but we don’t have staff writers.  Same with our SEO business, we work with third parties here and there for fulfilment or contractors that do specific things.

Casual Marketer is 100% internal aside from things like printing – even external fulfilment services have caused me interminable grief.  We’ve gone back to getting the printed newsletters, stuffing the envelopes and mailing them ourselves now because it just causes fewer headaches.

As I’ve said, eventually you may become successful enough that you’ll need to get some help.  That’s a good problem to have.  It may cause you some short-term pain while you find people and train them, I accept that.  What I’m also telling you though is that all of these people who tell you to “hire a VA” or “build a team” because you will need to scale when you have success are full of crap and that’s not how real businesses run.

I’ll go back to the example of the work I’m doing next week.  On Monday, we’ll have a team meeting and I’ll ask the seven pre-sales guys to tell me how busy they are and if there is anything on the horizon that could change that.  Most of them will be 60-70% busy or thereabouts.

If one person were to leave, we wouldn’t necessarily run out and hire a replacement person to backfill their role.  We’d look at our pipeline, overall capacity for the last month or so and if we can simply load up the remaining guys to 80% to cover it, then when we will.  We won’t start the recruitment process until every person is running at 100% or more for a while and that lack of capacity is costing us money.

Why?  Because we have systems and processes in place!  You see, that’s the part that most people are missing – they build out processes and put people in boxes.  That’s the wrong way to do it.  You build out the process independently of the people.  You define the most efficient way something should work.  Once you have that, THEN you go back and figure out how to get it done.

What most of these people with “teams” are doing is actually work avoidance.  They want to do the fun stuff and avoid the actual work part.  I heard one person who pretty much has no actual online business refer to himself as “the talent” and that there are other people who do the work for him.

What a jackass.  More importantly, he’s a broke jackass.  It’s not called “work” because it’s always fun.  When you’re just starting out, you should be the on-screen presenter, the video editor, the sound person, the copywriter and the marketing person – you may even have to be the web developer, but setting up a simple WordPress site and publishing is dead easy so that’s not a big issue.  You’re going to be tech support, sales support and the admin person.

Inability to scale is an over exaggerated and imaginary problem for 99% of people with online businesses.  When you do start having problems with scale, then if you’re business is setup correctly, you’ll have the money to fix the problem – it will just hurt for a bit while you sort it out.

That’s why it’s called growing pains!

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