Do you know why you’re losing business? Well, the short answer is that you are ill prepared to really do business at a level that will allow you to scale. What does that really mean? You might lack a team. You might lack a system. You might lack technology. You might lack resources.
Often when people come to me asking for more media opportunities, more community engagement, more social media presence, more opportunities to be seen in the spotlight, a question or a series of questions that I begin to ask them are, are you really ready for your business to grow as a result of this work? The simple answer typically is, "Well of course that's why I called you!" But the reality is that many entrepreneurs do not have the systems, or processes in place to truly take their business to the next level. So while they are excited to create a plan and implement it, I know that the greater focus needs to be on infrastructure.
Case in point, when you're a solopreneur or have a small team or much like us, have a combination model of in-house team members as well as contract, external team members that allow us to provide a full-service experience, you have to be efficient in using resources. That means if you don't have a person to fill a position, you need a technology tool, or if you have one person for three jobs you need a process manual, or if you have a remote team then you need a policies and procedures document that helps them understand how to work within your structure, or if you work with contract teams who are 1099 you have to outline a “how we work document” that gets you what you need in a timely manner without managing their time.
Over the past four years since we've been doing government work it has been inevitable that in the middle of December we are in the midst of either providing a proposal as a part of a team or being prepared to go into a pitch meeting to potentially receive the business. And equally at the very end of the year or at the very top of the year - so just think December 26 through January 4 - we are onboarding to get ready for those accounts we've won. Jokingly, I have shared with some of the powers that be that while I don't believe it to be intentionally harmful, I do believe that the decision to wait to produce bids until the end of the year is a way to evaluate if businesses who are participating in the process have capacity to manage the work.
Similarly, at the top of this year we were requested to work on a pretty large opportunity for a client. As we were pulling our team together, over the holidays, we didn’t hear back from one of our teams. We went with another team. Why does it matter? Just keep it moving, right? Well, kinda. The client LOVED the work of our secondary team. That means that one opportunity will turn into four. That means four figures could turn into six. That means…we will use them for most everything from here on out because that client loved that team.
Again, it's really important for me to share that I don't expect that people are always on. As a matter fact for all intents and purposes my office was closed for three weeks between December and January and my out of office was on. But we still signed three new accounts during that time period. Because out of office does not mean closed forever. It’s just a buffer.
So with all of that happening it got me to thinking about creating a list of things that my fellow entrepreneurs and small-business owners could use to potentially create infrastructure for themselves while also scaling their business.
1. Put a backup system in place. I also say I wish I had another “me”. Since that’s impossible, at least until technology allows that to happen. You need to find someone who you trust, who can provide your quality of service, and doesn’t have an ego about serving your clients.
Over the holiday we were working on a client that required boots on the ground. I was technically on vacation but I was able to get a (senior-level) colleague to step in.
I encourage you to build a relationship now with someone who may work in your same exact space who has the ability to self-direct. That may mean someone who others may think of as your competitor.
2. Delegate as much as you can. Over the past two year's I've been working very hard at delegation. At one point someone asked me what budget I had in mind for a particular area of my business. I shared “give me the rate you charge. It’s costing me too much to keep working on it myself.”
So I ask you "what is it really costing in money, in time, and in your ability to effectively manage your business, to continue working on things that could be given to someone else?"
3. Document every process. Something that I will be working on very intentionally in 2017 is updating our process manual. Right now we have about a 17-page document that outlines everything from how to set up the printer in our office, to how to send a media pitch, or to how to create an agenda for client. And while it's very thorough it could include more. Here’s why: if at any point you get sick or need to be out of pocket, you can easily help your backup system (#1) know how to manage your business. Business consultant Shayna rattler suggests that you hire someone external to your business to come in and document everything they see you do. That will be one of my 2017 business investments.
4. Upgrade your tools. A carpenter that only has a screw doesn't have all the tools to do his job. You need a toolkit that encourages the use of technology or automation that can serve as an extra set of hands. Based on your business there are a number of tools including things like QuickBooks for accounting, harvest for time keeping, insightly for CRM, asana or Basecamp for project management, and the list goes on and on.
The question is “When was the last time you evaluated the tools that you have in your toolbox?” Let me ask a different question, "when was the last time you looked at what you were paying for in tools and evaluated if are you using them to the fullest extent of there capability?"
As I challenge you, one of my challenges is to go into our Mailchimp e-newsletter account and set up our automation.
5. Create an emergency plan. As I mentioned you should be able to be out of the office whether it be for vacation or because you or your family is sick. Quite honestly people expect for you to be able to take some time off to manage other things going on in your life. However, what people are not as happy about is long periods of waiting for you to return.
We once had a client who was out of the office for an extended amount of time traveling out of the country. They created an emergency email and phone number so that in the case of an event there was an immediate response for clients and potential clients. You can use your out of office responder, your voicemail, your website, as well as your social media to share and distribute that message on how to be contacted. Equally, you can share what you deem an emergency.
I hope this list helps you. It made me think about how to strengthen our team efforts.
As a small business, the worst thing that can happen is that you miss an opportunity because you aren’t available. My hope is that while this list is not exhaustive it will help you to put some structure in place so that you can keep pushing so that you can operate at a $1 million level.