Question: How can I grow my business efficiently?

I'm currently a one man digital agency. On my projects, I outsource work to freelancers to handle the finer details, but I've now reached a point where I'm losing business by not having additional people in-house to help me with my projects. My existing clients have started sending me referrals, and there is a sudden uptick in new opportunities.

What is the best/ proper way to scale from a 1 man operation (where it's all in my head) to 3, possibly 4 man operation?

7 Expert Insights

I agree with Bill Fotsch's suggestions AND as a prelude I believe you want to identify what role/responsibilities you want to handle in the day to day operation of your job on the way to identifying the skills you need and want to hire.  As the business leader you will be involved to some extent in every aspect of your business however by identifying the area of it in which you personally can be your best and offer the best to your clients, you will then be able to define what skills and strengths you need to hire.

Once you have your team, regardless of the number, and critical to the success of your product offering and thus your business success, is that all of you on the team are aligned behind the vision that you have for the business.  Involving the full team in  creating the specific goals and steps related to the vision is key to getting everyone's buy-in to where you are headed.  Once they have had the opportunity to be involved it its' creation, they also own it along with you.  This will enhance the likelihood of your meeting your vision.

Finally, I suggest that you expand cautiously and bring on-board only what you believe you will require over i.e. the next 6 months as well as what business will look like when you will now you need the next addition.

If any further questions don't hesitate to ask me.  Your at an exciting place and with a great problem to have.

What are you hoping to gain with growing your business to a 3 to 4 man operation?  By capturing the new business that's currently available, will that new business help you achieve your profit goals or your vision for a larger company?  Are you confident that you have maximized your earnings/profit potential with your current pricing model?  Could you achieve the profit growth you want by changing your current pricing?  Are you over-delivering on current assignments?

Once you are satisfied that you have explored and answered these questions and still want to add staff to take on additional business, the advice provided by both Mike and Bill is thoughtful roadmap for scaling.  I would also suggest that you consider partnering with other digital consultants like you instead of hiring staff.  I know it is hard to partner with someone who might be considered a "competitor" but it can also help you meet demand with less effort and expense than going it on your own by adding internal staff.

Find people you trust, smart people that come from trusted sources.  I wish you all the best in your growth efforts.  Don't forget the reason you do what you do.

What do you most want from the business and for the business, short-term and long-term? What in your wiring makes for a fulfilling day?  

Working from the inside out will bring you your best answers.

The most important element to growing a business efficiently is to have a plan.  First, understand why you want to grow your business, by how much (measured how) and the risk you are willing to take to grow it.  Next, develop a plan, considering the effort and resources needed and timing.  If it then makes sense, begin implementation, measuring milestones along the way.

The problem you are facing is a great one! It simply means you basically know what you are doing, clients like the value of your work and keep coming back to you but also refer you to their friends and colleagues.

Before you jump to the next hoop and decide to hire I would suggest that you re-open your business model (many call it their business plan but I love "models") and review your business case. By the way, if you do not have a business model you need to create one asap! it is instrumental and critical for the success of your business.

Once you review the building blocks of your model you will be able to "validate" the idea of hiring (or not) staff to help support you to the next level. There will be many internal and external requirements which will need to be validated in this process. A well designed model can help you execute what needs to be done. Stepping from a one man operational zone to a multiple staff structure requires serious considerations and most importantly a business model to help in the transition.

As many mentioned, finding the right staff that bring value to your services is also a key for your success.

Good luck and reach out if you need help with your business model.

Within the project plan and process where is the bottleneck? Making that determination will decide what skills you require of an in house person or outsourcing to an organization. If the bottleneck is onboarding the projects then you need a skilled sales and/or project administrator. If the bottleneck is performing the detail work of the project, maybe some of the freelancers might want to become a part time or full time employee.

Another consideration is your competition. If you have done a true SWOT analysis, you should be aware of who your competitors are and perhaps consider a joint venture, a merger, or outright buying them.

I do need to caution you on one aspect. Having "all the business in your head" is dangerous to your livelihood and your business. You may want to hire a relatively young employee to whom you start training and teaching the business. As this person learns the business from the ground up, you can start documenting the processes and allow yourself an opportunity to grow the business and relieve you for some down time. However, realize that the efficiency will drop before it gains while you are teaching someone new the nuances of your business niche.

Here are 10 steps you can take to scale your 1-man operation:

1)  Meticulously document work process flows (the ones in your head), so they can be replicated by others

2)  Utilize a project management system to track work progress

3)  Create job descriptions (based on the work process flows) for in-house and outsourced work

4)  Match the right in-house tasks with the right employees (based on job description)

5)  Match the right outsourced tasks with the right independent contractors or firms (based on job description)

6)  Provide employee training on work process flows and project management system, along with ongoing support

7)  Implement a CRM system to track sales progress

8)  Hire and train a sales assistant to manage referrals, new opportunities, and existing accounts (upload to CRM system)

9)  Schedule periodic reviews of work and sales progress (provide coaching as necessary)

10)  Constantly look for ways to improve processes, people, and technology