Janet, Janet…How Does Your Business Grow?
In the past seven years, my company has experienced all three stages of business growth.
The birth of Scribaceous, Inc. in April 2013 was a direct result of failure—failure at making my marriage work and failure to find a job in a recessionary economy at the age of 45.
My progress was slower than most as I consciously decided to grow my business organically without stressing about timing. It may also have something to do with my age. 😏
The idea for this post came to me on a day I stopped for a moment and realized that I had recently entered the third stage—and I needed to soak this up.
As a result of soaking, I also realized I needed to savor the peace of mind that comes with maturity and take advantage of its perks. There were so many good thoughts and lessons, I just had to pass them along to my fellow small business owners!
Perks of Owning Your Own Business
A lot of people dream about owning their own business—I still pinch myself that I actually do and that it’s officially successful.
While it’s been extremely fulfilling so far, it’s also been tough.
Even if you’re a tiny business like me, you still face many of the same challenges in each of the stages of business growth as the big guys.
But, for me, the perks weigh more. Here are the ones that are at the top of my list:
☞ I am the boss of me.
I’ve always been self-driven and fiercely independent—honestly, this is just the PC way of saying I don’t like people telling me what to do.
After almost two decades of being an at-home mom boss, the idea of working under someone else (particularly someone not too much older than my kids!) just felt wrong.
Doing it all myself in my own way and on my own terms was more important to me than security and three-day weekends.
☞ I get shit done.
Commuting, meetings, bureaucracy, egos, and office politics suck up SO much time. And, they are anywhere from draining to torturous for we introverts.
Sure, there are many benefits to being part of a team, but none that outweigh the perk of getting a ton of shit done in a peaceful environment with minimal distractions (for me).
☞ I decide when I work.
This one actually makes me chuckle. Yes, I do set my own hours and decide when I take vacations—a delicious perk of being your own boss—but, the truth is that I work longer hours than most employees.
If I don’t work, I don’t get paid and my clients aren’t being served. Three day weekends…what are those???
My partner often teases me about my demanding boss. But, when he’s denied time off or told he can’t even leave town, I remind him that my boss is way cooler than his.
☞ I can work from anywhere there’s WiFi.
Not all entrepreneurs can work remotely, but the ability to do so was a conscious goal of mine from the first day I started pondering my return to the workforce.
Traveling is like oxygen to me and it’s been a long-time dream to live in another country. I didn’t want my career holding me back from what makes my soul joyous.
☞ My income is (mostly) up to me.
I was appalled by what companies offered to pay me when I first began poking around for work—$12-$15 per hour with a long list of responsibilities.
No…thank…you. If I’m going to be stressed out about my to do list, I’ll do it myself!
While the rates I charge are constrained by the market (and my occasional limiting mindset), I can also delineate myself in such a way that warrants a rate in the top half of the range.
☞ I get to be selective.
If you’re fortunate enough that your hard work lands you in the last of the three stages of business growth, a truly wonderful perk of owning your own business emerges—being selective about the work you do and who you do it for.
Setting boundaries is good for the soul—on many levels.
Three Stages of Business Growth
There are three primary stages of business growth — the start-up phase, the growth phase, and the mature phase.
If our resources were limitless, we could focus on all things in each phase. But, they’re not…so we can’t.
Each stage calls for pretty specific areas of focus so that we use our limited mental, physical and fiscal resources effectively.
Let’s touch on each phase and some recommended tasks, shall we?
Stage 1: Start-Up
Once you decide to start your business, the first phase begins.
It’s time to stop talking and pondering and begin taking action to actually launch your business.
In this stage, your overall goal is to build a super solid foundation on which to grow your business.
This is not a complete list—just several key things to focus on in this first phase:
- Getting educated. Learn all that you can about your industry. The more you can learn from the mistakes and advice of others, the better off your business will be.
- Creating your business entity. Will you be a simple freelancer or will you create a limited liability or S corporation?
- Nailing down your services. In my opinion, less is more at the start…especially if your industry is competitive. It’s better to be the master of one, then mediocre at many.
- Establishing your lines of communication. Think about all the ways your customers will be able to reach you. Do you need a separate business phone number? What will you use as your business address?
- Branding yourself. There is much psychology behind branding. It conveys knowledge, professionalism and cohesiveness, so be thoughtful about your logo and how you’ll present yourself on your website, social channels, and emails from the very start.
- Building your team. It’s not possible (or wise) to do everything yourself. The more time and effort you have to do your actual business, the faster it will grow, so solid team members are worth the investment. Key team members include a bookkeeper, accountant, website designer, and virtual assistant.
- Putting systems in place. What kind of contract will you use with your clients? How will you keep track of your clients, quotes, contracts and invoicing? How will you handle accounting? How will you create business graphics (i.e., logos, business cards, social media graphics, etc.)? What email marketing company will you use? What is your plan for social media?
- Building your online presence. This is no longer an option for most businesses and includes a website, social channels, and various online business listings. Go beyond Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Google, and Yelp to Linkedin, Alignable, NextDoor, and other secondary or industry-specific platforms.
- Creating a marketing philosophy and plan. What form of marketing feels most authentic to you? How will you network? What is your marketing budget? What marketing platforms will give you the best bang for your buck? Will you do the marketing yourself or hire a professional?
Stage 2: Growth
You took action, you put systems in place, you’re feeling good, you’ve got some clients, but you need more.
The growth phase is one of the most crucial stages of business growth. This is when it gets really tough—and when lots of people quit.
Again, this is not a complete list, just several key things to focus on in the growth phase:
- Client relations. Getting those first clients is tough, but once you’ve got a few, it’s easier getting more if you impress the heck outta the ones you have. I’m a HUGE believer in karma, so I have always given with no strings attached and have solid faith that it will come back to me. People who love you and your work will refer you to others.
- Networking. While friends and family are not enough to generate the amount of clients you’ll need to be successful, they’re a good place to start networking. Let them know that you’ve started a business and exactly what it is. Then, stay visible. You don’t need to be obnoxious about it—simply share your journey. Bumps, bruises, little successes and all. Every so often, remind them that they can help you by referring anyone they know who may be in need of your product or services. For many businesses, Linkedin is a fantastic platform for networking. Relevant Facebook groups are another.
- Generating business. In addition to networking, you’ll want to invest time in generating new business. Depending upon your business, this could be done on Linkedin, through online advertising, contacting people directly online (use this tool to find email addresses!), etc.
- Content creation. Once your website is up and running, you’ve got to drive traffic to it. Every blog post you write is another portal for a potential new client to find you and another opportunity to provide value to your existing customers.
- Continuing education. Keep learning about your industry and ways to improve your products and/or services. The better quality your offerings, the more likely you’ll succeed. Look for ways to stand out from the crowd.
Stage 3: Maturity
Now you’re getting regular work, consistent referrals, and you can finally let your breath out.
I can tell you firsthand that this stage is glorious on so many levels!
In general, there’s less stress due to a steady stream of work.
You’re more confident in your capabilities, fees, and stability of your company.
You’re able to be more particular about the type of work you do. You can smell the difficult clients before you welcome them into your business family.
It becomes much easier to draw and enforce boundaries.
Here are several areas to focus on in the maturity phase:
- Social networking. Now you have lots of knowledge, experiences, and content to share on social media so you can increase the frequency of your posts without too much effort. (PRO TIP: A social media scheduler is a sanity saver!)
- Continuing education. Never stop learning and evolving.
- Refining & reevaluating systems. This is a great time to look at what’s really working (and worth the money you pay for it) and what can be let go or improved.
- Reviewing clients. Do you have clients who are more grief than they’re worth? Or, ones that just don’t make you feel good, either as a result of their actions or the work you do for them? Soak up one of the biggest benefits of your hard work and wean out the icky ones!
- Soaking it all up. Celebrate, be grateful, enjoy, and take a break! You’ve earned it.
Small Business Challenges & Lessons
Here are some of my specific challenges I’ve faced in my business and the lessons I’ve learned (and am currently learning!) as a result:
☞ Feasts and famines are the the way of small business.
Over the past seven years, I’ve noticed a pattern—work and new clients often come (and subside) in clumps. That means that, much of the time, I’m either buried or slow.
As tough as the busy times are, solo entrepreneurs don’t typically have the luxury of turning down work because we all know how quickly we can be forced to slow down.
I used to panic when I would see a slowdown coming—wondering every single time if this was the beginning of the death throes of my business.
It took me a solid six years to have faith that the fluctuations are simply part of the small business package.
I have finally learned to savor them—and use them to get caught up on my own professional projects, learn something new, do some marketing, or just rest—and have faith that this too shall pass.
☞ Even if you don’t like marketing, it IS possible to do it in a way that is authentic to you.
Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to keep solo entrepreneurs busy, so most of us don’t have to be in constant marketing mode if we are fortunate enough to have clients who refer us business.
I had a strong aversion to marketing until I realized that it was entirely possible for me to do it in a way that actually felt good to me. It just takes a little research and creative thinking.
For me, authentic marketing is subtle, tasteful, and centered on giving.
☞ No matter how much you help them, and how much they love you, some clients will still bitch about your invoice.
While I have gotten to a peaceful place of knowing my worth, sending out my monthly invoices is still my least favorite business task.
It never fails—shortly after clicking on Send, at least one client will ask me to explain or cut back. And, stress can often override kindness!
I’ve learned to de-personalize this and be empathetic to the plight of my fellow small business owners—maintaining a professional online presence is no longer cheap and balancing expenses is challenging!
It’s been coming to my attention recently that I have to step up my communication, and be hyper-repetitive, in order to minimize invoice shock.
It feels great to finally be in a place where I can set boundaries and set a client free if they continually fail to recognize or appreciate my contribution to their business or speak to me disrespectfully.
☞ The best time to invest in your business is when you’re slow.
Our first reaction when we slow down is to cut down our expenses. This is reasonable in most cases.
The type of services I offer are not one of those cases. It’s so unfortunate to see a client cut back on the very thing he or she needs to increase their business—like a better website, email marketing, social media posting, etc.
Not investing in your business when you’re slow will simply serve to keep you slow!
☞ Even if you spell it out in a contract (and make them initial and sign everything), clients will still totally misunderstand things.
Maybe it’s been how humans have always been—I tend to think it’s gotten worse because social media has given us all stunted attention spans.
Very few people take the time to actually read, absorb and understand contracts—especially when they deal with things they know little to nothing about.
Effective this month, I’m adding a contract follow up phone call to my workflows.
My hope is that I will never hear “I had NO idea…” again.
☞ When your business gets to Stage 3, it’s time to relish the setting of boundaries.
One of the perks I’m relishing most about being in the Mature phase is the ability to set boundaries without fear.
It’s okay to say no. It’s okay to ask to be treated with respect. It’s okay to distance yourself from demanding and negative energy.
In fact, it’s more than okay—it’s necessary for our mental and physical health, which have a direct impact on the success of our businesses.
☞ Karma works in business, just as it does in life.
I am a HUGE believer in Karma—in both my personal and professional life. It’s simply cause and effect and it never fails.
If you give existing and potential clients something of value without expecting anything in return, eventually the value comes back to you.
If someone undervalues, doesn’t appreciate or mistreats others who do solid work for them, this same energy will impact their business in some way at some time.
Trusting karma has allowed me to retain positivity and faith in my business. Karma is exactly why Scribaceous, Inc. is going strong.
We’re All a Work in Progress
Even the maturest of small businesses continues to evolve—and face a myriad of small business challenges. This is just part of being in business.
The more we can emotionally detach from the bumps and challenges, the more we’re able to learn exactly what they can teach us. The more positively we can handle them, the more good business karma we’ll generate and the higher we’ll rise.
And, being mindful as we go through the stages of business growth helps us savor the one we’re in and maintain a positive growth mindset.
Oh, and can you tell from the (royalty-free) images I chose for this post that coffee (or tea) makes everything better???
I would LOVE to hear your professional wisdom and/or a business lesson you’ve learned—please share in a comment below to generate a little good business karma!