Getting your first client is hard. Getting your first 100 clients and keeping them satisfied? Now, that’s where the real work begins! This effort, of course, is called scaling; and it's what converts interim progress into true value, positioning your business for long-term, sustainable growth.
That's why you have to pay attention to the main ingredient for successful scaling: a clear strategy covering everything from human-capital management to finances.
As an entrepreneur myself, I’m well versed in the challenges of scaling and how every decision you make can feel limiting. Should you hire young talent or bring in experienced leaders? Should you raise another round of capital or opt for an early exit? Suddenly, your early startup struggles seem easy. You raised seed money and refined your product to fit the market because that’s what you had to do. As the founder of a fledgling startup, you saw the path forward as pretty clear.
But, now? You’re in unchartered waters. So, what’s next?
Learning as you go along
Recently, I sat down with Stephan Boehringer, the CEO and founder of the Orlando-based SEO firm Get The Clicks to discuss how his business scaled successfully. Boehringer told me he started Get The Clicks back in 2007 by chance: He was looking for investors for another project and realized how difficult it was to find the right people online.
Why not provide an SEO solution? So, that's exactly what he did. And, once his business began to take off, Boehringer realized how difficult scaling truly was. “It's easy taking on your first 25 clients,” Boehringer said. “When you start getting into 500-plus, you really need to understand the concept of scaling.
"Honestly, we fumbled around for the better part of a year trying to figure things out. We thought that we could put something together pretty quickly. Chalk that thinking up to our biggest mistake!”
Luckily for Boehringer -- and the hundreds of clients who rely on his company for their SEO strategy -- Get The Clicks found its sweet spot, demystifying everything from local SEO to keyword optimization. Here’s how you too can position your company for scalability success.
1. Know your customer base.
If your initial product strategy is working well, you may encounter pressure from investors, employees or even clients to consider product diversification. Do you need to diversify in order to scale, or should you stay focused on what you do best?
The answer comes down to your customer base and market share. If you think the total available market for your current customer base is large enough to satisfy your ambitions, then stay focused. If competition is intensifying or the base is shrinking, you’ll need to broaden your footprint.
“There’s a virtually unlimited customer pool for SEO services, but we’ve intentionally kept our target customer base focused,” said Boehringer. “By specializing in residential contractors, specifically pool and roofing contractors, we’ve built a huge knowledge base with best practices we can draw on to deliver exceptional value to our customers.”
2. Protect client relationships.
For a service-focused company, scaling too quickly can adversely impact client relationships. If exceptional service is a key differentiator for your startup, for example, rapid growth could make it difficult to maintain this high service level -- ultimately hurting your company’s reputation and future growth potential. Boehringer said he quickly realized that handling clients would be a huge challenge; so he built his own system to handle client load and deliver superb results.
“We ended up building our own client-management system because there was nothing specifically for web marketing out there,” Boehringer told me. “This proprietary system is called CLICKS, which manages all of our clients and allows us to scale infinitely.”
The CEO added that he and his team needed a year to build the system, but the up-front investment, he said, has paid off ten-fold. “So many businesses have had horrible experiences with SEO, but it’s also an incredibly misunderstood product,” he told me.
“We knew we had to ‘build a better mousetrap,’ one that would deliver great results, simplify what SEO is and kill the perception that SEO doesn’t work. Our CLICKS system is that mousetrap. That’s also why many of our clients are referrals. Our client-management system is so good it does the scaling work for us!"
3. Utilize systems and processes.
As entrepreneur Shaun Buck pointed out in an Entrepreneur.com article, “3 Basics for Scaling Your Business,” your employees can’t be successful if you keep all the essential information locked away in your head. For Boehringer, building a client-management system addressed this challenge, too.
His client-management system is also a platform for communicating ideas, needs and goals. “We’ve built a strong team over the years by not only hiring great talent but also providing this talent with resources that empower success,” Boehringer said.
Scaling your startup is a “make-or-break” moment: Scale too quickly and you risk alienating existing customers and offering an inferior product or diminished service. Wait too long, however, and a competitor could snap up your market niche.
The message is clear: Understanding your customer niche, protecting long-term customer relationships and building processes for knowledge transfer will position your startup for scalability success.