Nearly 90% of businesses in the United States have fewer than 20 employees– and many are run by teams of 10 or fewer people. Sounds incredible doesn’t it? Especially when you consider many “startups” like Twitter or Facebook have thousand or even tens of thousands of employees.
But when it comes to measuring success, headcount isn’t a particularly valuable metric to chase. When it comes to running a business, many entrepreneurs (myself included) believe that scalability is the key to building a scalable business that lasts. In today’s post we’ll look at a few tactics that you can use to build a scalable business of your own.
Let’s start with a tough one: finding your niche.
Spreading yourself too thin is a great way to lose momentum, miss out on valuable opportunities, and make mistakes. Too many business owners try to provide too many services or sell too many products.
Instead, focus on finding the one thing you do better than anyone else and devoting your energy to that one thing. For example, if you’re in the restaurant business, don’t try to be a sports bar/fine dining/fast-casual hybrid. But if you make the best hot wings in town, you might be able to find your niche as a sports bar.
I know that’s a very specific example and won’t apply to everyone reading this, so here are some questions and tips you can use to find your niche:
Once you’ve developed a laser-focus on the specific product or service you want to offer, scaling that business becomes much easier.
One of my favorite business books, Scaling Up, talks about the importance of repeatable, documented processes and checklists. By breaking important tasks down into simple, repeatable, straightforward steps, getting through your day becomes much easier.
The act of creating these checklists will also help you identify the bottlenecks and blockers that are slowing you down and wasting your valuable time.
Plus, as you create checklists and document processes, you’re developing a process that new employees can refer to as your company grows.
Hallmarks of a good checklist:
Hockey stick exponential growth is a dream many entrepreneurs share– but it’s one that comes at a cost. Rapid growth often leads to unpredictable outcomes in the future. Businesses assume the growth will continue forever and hire more staff than they truly need. The extra revenue doesn’t necessarily provide the same profit margins as you might expect. You might take on unwanted debt to get through the growing pains– a cycle that might repeat itself. Your processes, technology, tools, and even the quality of your products and services might suffer if you grow too quickly.
I’m not saying you should avoid growing– just the opposite in fact! But the most successful businesses are often those who take their time, find their niche and grow slowly and steadily. Develop a plan for growth with milestones and try to hit those goals. But don’t pressure yourself to grow faster and faster. A lasting, scalable business is much more valuable than one that burns bright but fizzles quickly.
You have high standards for your work– every business owner does! It’s part of what makes us start our own businesses: we want to be in control of our work and do the absolute best we can.
But here’s a little-known secret that many business owners overlook:
Done is better than perfect.
You’ll always find a way to make your work better and you’ll always want to analyze and tweak things until they’re “just right.” Instead, put your work out there into the world. You’ll be surprised how often customers and clients overlook the glaring mistakes that seem so obvious to you.
It’s fine to iterate on your ideas and improve your work over time, but don’t let that become a full time job. Too many businesses get into the habit of tweaking the tiniest details and avoiding the big issues. This is a phenomenon called “bike shedding” and if you catch yourself doing it, take a step back and ask yourself if you’re focusing on the right things.
Speaking of focus, that should be your number one priority as a business owner. You need to be focusing on what you’re best at and avoiding anything that takes away from that time. Whether that means handing over marketing tasks to an intern, hiring a personal assistant, or even scheduling cleanings for your home, think of ways you can focus on your strengths.
Other examples might include:
You can even “outsource” tasks to yourself. Set aside blocks of time where you’ll work on the trivial or mundane tasks you need to get done. When the time is up, stop working on them and move onto work you’re truly excited about.
If there’s one thing that I know about running a scalable business it’s that there’s always a chance to learn something new. If you think you’ve got it all figured out, think again! Read books, attend meetups, ask questions, be curious and never stop looking for ways to work smarter, not harder.
To get you started, here are a few of my favorite books that every entrepreneur should read:
Don’t think you have time to read? Well, then you’ve been paying attention to this article! Try listening to audiobooks during your commute or having a personal assistant summarize books with key takeaways.
Being an entrepreneur can get lonely, especially when you’re the only employee at your business. Try finding a mentor or becoming a mentor to another business owner. Spend time talking about the challenges you face and how you’ve overcome them. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn and teach each other!
Here’s the truth: building a scalable business is never ever easy. Over 90% of small businesses fail. There’s only so much you can learn from an article like this. Now it’s time to go out and put what you’ve learned into practice. And if something you’ve learned in today’s post helps you out, tell me about it! I’d love to hear about your success.