Five Lessons I Learned Going From Three to Seven Figures
White on white. A row of empty desk space, with a singular chair. The blank canvas in front of me, mirroring the state of my business. This was two years ago, when I launched my business with just $500 and a lot of optimism.
As every founder will tell you, it’s never easy. There is what people see, and then the looooong [sic] hours which we often humbly brag about on social media, or socially when we do make it out of the office. We wear it with pride. Yet too often it’s a sign that we need more or improved processes in place.
As a technical founder, I have three main roles. The ‘entrepreneur’ who seeks to grow and scale the business. The ‘manager’ who’s sweating, always straining for quicker delivery or more aligned planning. And the heart of operation, the ‘technician’ who loves coding and building the whole thing out. And there are different leadership qualities needed for each of these.
I wanted to share what I’ve learned scaling my business as there are things I wish I’d known before starting it all.
Learn to separate.
I know I’m not alone in this problem. I suspect it could be the single hardest balancing act for founders. As a ‘technician’ I had the temptation to step in and correct mistakes on projects as they arose. But the ‘manager’ in me knew this wouldn’t develop my team. And the ‘entrepreneur’ screamed that there’s no value in a business which was solely reliant on my input. So I had to resist.
It became easier. I’d recommend going on a holiday. Just for a week, when you’re starting to feel that it will all fall down if you went away, to prove to yourself and your team, that you’re not as needed as you project you are.
Productise your offering
When you’re feeding 12 people, you need to make sure individuals are being taken care of in a recurring way. As a global services business we had to develop systems and processes, by asking what we could repeat at scale. We were cultivating cultural growth. So I ensured that when the company won, so did the individual. We wanted the team to feel like they were more than just their title, and by introducing a rotating team lead for the week, we ensured that variety, responsibility and accountability. You can’t make a project manager a developer, but you can certainly try to make a developer, the lead.
Develop a niche
This is something we did well at the start. Almost all of our work for the first 12 months was in Vue.js or blockchain technology. It helped build our reputation, which was massive as we were a services based business. The majority of our new business came through referrals, which was a nice position to be in, yet it didn’t lay the groundwork for scaling. I wish we’d focused on SEO and digital marketing at an earlier stage to help with inbound requests.
Hire for aptitude not knowledge.
This applies across disciplines. You can always teach someone the finer points of your house style and approach. It’s why we developed a hiring method which involved giving new recruits a tech test, in a language they weren’t fluent in. We were able to understand their problem solving capabilities when looking at how quickly they were able to adapt. Often you don’t want a new hire to be so experienced with ‘what they know’ that they won’t be willing to be a generalist. For us that’s exactly what we needed.
So work out what you want to be famous for and where potential holes may currently lie in your current team and hire studiously. We were bootstrapped and so another hat I wore was HR too. I hired those who could work autonomously and hold themselves to account. We learned that to maintain an engaged workforce, we had to be transparent about the finances and what we were all working towards, and having a collective consciousness about the goal we were all aiming at.
I mentioned earlier that our inbound marketing funnel was nowhere near as strong as it should have been early on. We had to build our presence on social, so I took to posting daily on LinkedIn, joining groups and eventually vlogging my new startup and hosting a podcast series. Find which channels work best for your business.
We were always aiming for momentum based growth rather than movement, by which I mean, being busy is irrelevant if you’re not having an impact where it matters for the business.
For us SEO and digital marketing proved two valuable channels for generating new leads. But I wished we had taken more risks in our approach at an earlier stage. There are a host of free resources on YouTube of those looking to tout their expertise, so start there but try and do it yourself as it’s good to know what works, and because it can influence other decisions in the business, which, for us, included creating a podcast.
While the team expanded rapidly in a short space of time, the cyclical nature of the projects we were working on often meant that we had underutilised resources. So after some careful thought, I’ve since moved to a virtual model, scaling up and down as needed on projects. I’m able to still deliver high-end niche platforms now with an even wider pool of expertise to draw on. We now offer systems, which breed talent. By codifying processes, like on-boarding new engineers for example, I can trust that the team will be building something repeatable. This is what you need to focus on when looking to scale. How far can you remove yourself from the business and everything still work flawlessly?
My advice for founders who are looking to grow: experiment. See what works for your business for sales, HR, etc, preferably before it’s too late and you’re scrambling to retrofit solutions.