Pushing past the startup stage
Well done! You’ve survived the start-up phase, where you’ve gone from £0 turnover up to £150,000 – £300,000 (or more). The question now turns to ‘what’s next?’ Make no mistake, just getting to this place deserves a big pat on the back. However, you don’t want to stay here, you want to move onwards and upwards.
So just how do you go from small to medium sized (moving on to £700k+ of turnover)?
The first thing that needs to change is your thinking. What got you to here, won’t get you to the next level. It’s time to start consciously thinking like a business person.
Your technical skills and customer focus won’t desert you when you make this change, but you will have to learn new skills and begin to face up to more difficult decisions. Small business owners often complain that ownership/leadership is lonely and it’s true – it can be. People you employ think like employees, not like business owners. Most of your friends and family are also probably employees or professionals, and don’t think like business owners. In my experience they often say they understand, but really they don’t.
Embrace it, don’t fight it
Running your own show can be hugely fulfilling. It can also be challenging, but if you’re not up for a challenge in this life then what are you here for? I like to think of it as character building. With every new challenge comes the chance to grow as a person, and for me that’s what life’s about. There’s nothing that get’s you growing faster than running your own business.
But how do you start thinking like a business person?
Ask yourself better questions.
What am I really trying to build here?
What will it look like when it’s finished?
To move toward that goal, what am I doing currently that won’t serve me as a larger business?
Here are four areas that you might need to work on:
During the start-up phase you might have taken the view that any business is good business – it’s hard to argue with that when your survival is at stake. However if you continue that way, you’ll stay stuck.
It’s time to get picky. Who do you like to work with? Where have you been having success? The easiest way to find that out is to look at your top 3-5 clients. Typically they tell you everything you need to know about who you work best with.
It’s time to deliberately court more of these people; to own your target market and to consciously gear your business around that market.
This feels almost insane to some smaller firms and very scary. Your head starts screaming “What if I can’t find more people like this; then what?”
The truth is you can, and you can also start setting more focused limits on who you will work with. Don’t take work unless it meets your new minimum requirements. Make the minimum a level where you’re sure you’ll cover costs and make a profit on each piece of work. You don’t need to suddenly jump to working only with millionaires, but you can start saying ‘no’ to anyone who doesn’t meet your new, elevated requirements.
Taking this focused step sends out a message that you’re serious about growing your business and stops you from falling into the trap of taking on unprofitable work. It also keeps you hungry, chasing the ‘right’ clients, rather than just staying ‘fake busy’ (see my previous piece on this trap).
Try to get really clear about:
who you are
what work you love to do
what types of clients fill you up when you do their work
your own values
The deeper you can dig on these things and the clearer you can become, the more focused your business can be.
To move to the next stage, you will have to start losing some jobs from your own to-do list. That means building a team of people and/or suppliers that can do them for you. Some cost will be involved in achieving this (which can be scary at first), but it’s essential if you want to not only grow, but also enjoy that growth.
The beautiful thing about being in business in the 21st century is that there has never been more support available for small businesses. You can hire people to work for you part time or full time if that’s what you require, or you can hire people virtually to do specialist tasks paid for by the hour. There’s a ton of great software available too, much of it cheap or free. The CRM system we use at FP Advance is called Highrise and costs us just £15 per month.
In any financial planning business there are two key processes:
Engaging with new clients
Servicing existing clients
If you can get these two key processes working, documented and streamlined, you can start breaking down the tasks to get a clearer idea of ‘who-can-do-what’. From there, you can start to delegate and outsource tasks, improving your productivity, and leaving you to focus on the bigger picture.
Getting your marketing basics in order doesn’t need to be complicated, expensive or overly time consuming, so don’t panic.
Firstly, ensure you have a decent website in place. This can be done pretty cost-effectively nowadays. You can also create some simple brochureware and then get your online presence up and running with sites like Unbiased and Vouched For. Take some time over the words and positioning you use on these sites and you’ll get a much better quality of lead flow.
Set a marketing budget that you can afford and then find support that fits your budget. You’ll be amazed how working within your financial limits (as opposed to just spending willy nilly) unleashes your creativity.
Getting your thinking right and taking the leap from small to medium sized won’t be difficult. Think like a business person and work on the issues that will help you and your business take those important next steps. What you’ll gain from the process is much bigger than just the financial payback. So get cracking!