How does a one-woman business handle big growth, fast?
I started my own interior design business where I work with clientele from my husband's real estate office. I initially created a business plan and tried to forecast my numbers, but I didn't account for how popular my services would be. I am happy for the business opportunities, but I'm feeling overwhelmed by the growth rate. It is tricky to outsource my kind of work because I need to bring on talent that have a real eye for design. How do I handle this? Thank you!
You have a problem many businesses would love to have. You have the right to turn down business. You also have the freedom to use simplify how you earn. How many clients to you want to serve?
Blah blah blah, blah blah blah.
Triple your prices.
End of story.
Congratulations on your quick success. Here are some suggestions for you:
1. Hire someone to take care of your administrative work for you. An interior design student might need to complete an internship? Give your "billable hours" to an accountant to handle your billing process.
2. Figure out how much you want to make per year and what your time is worth and then you can decide on how many projects you would like to work on.
3. Create a questionnaire that the person who answers your calls can ask the clients during the initial contact so that you have some basic info to go by when you finally talk to the client.
4. Set a time when you return all your phone call, instead of spending time all day answering calls when clients call. You can let them know what your system is, so they do not wonder.
Good luck with all your endeavors.
We also had the great problem of growing really fast! I need to be a core part of our service too, but my time should only be spent on consulting solutions, facilitation and business development. So the rest has to go elsewhere.
I hired an 'office manager' to take care of day to day admin, book keeping, client follow up, project tracking etc etc. and a social media and marketing agency to handle that side. I create all the content though as expertise is core to our offering.
The next hires will be about scaling the business through additional services and geography.. that growth comes because I am not doing all the day to day admin... Scaling the business when you are the business (unlike when you are making a product )is harder but not impossible, but I would start with getting rid of the non billable work that you are doing first.
Hope that helps and good luck!
One suggestion is to hand-off some of the administrative duties to someone. Hiring an executives assistant will give you more time to do the things that only you can do. This allows you to hand-off some of the correspondence, marketing, client follow-up, initial questionnaire/surveys, etc. You executive assistant should be documenting all your procedures so that they can automate and optimize your current administration tasks that are taking time. As your executive assistant get things more organized and under control, you and she will have more time to do attack larger projects.
Hiring another person that you are willing to mentor/train on the interior design side can be your second hire. At first, this person will shadowing you on your service visits. You will not be doubling your business at first. There will be a learning curve. This person will be responsible for documenting and recording the way you conduct your services as they shadow you and learn. Eventually, these documents will become your training materials for other new-hires.
As you start working with this person, you can decide how much this person can handle on their own, and the items that you want them to seek your approval on.
It's not an overnight activity. But as you mentor your new-hire, you will be able to delegate more and more to your staff.
Richard Stern-By having a solid Action Plan and Budget to support growth. Furthermore, develop an experienced staff
If you want to grow, you have to find more good people. Some suggestions:
-- First, hand off tasks that are not part of your service. Bookkeeping, web support, marketing tactics.
-- Hire only top quality people. Delegate to people who can handle things without your constant attention.
-- Raise your prices. More lucrative work from fewer clients can ease your load and provide funds for growth--especially hiring top people.
-- Hire people that complement your skills. Hire junior designers who can take your initial workups and develop them into complete projects.
-- If you are the creative genius, don't get stuck being the manager. Hire a project manager who can ride herd on your staff and keep all the projects moving on schedule and on budget. The PM should manage even your schedule.
-- Train people to do more for you. Pay them well enough so that they will stay. Hand off more and more of what you do to them.
-- Get a controller to watch your money like a hawk, so that you can focus on creativity. In my experience, creative people aren't good money people.
-- Promote yourself to CEO. Visionary, growth team builder, strategic relationship builder, rainmaker. Strategic planner.
I would hold a meetup so you can get to know some potential employees that you might want to hire as well as get advice on this, maybe on a week or month but the main thing is do not grow to quick - your in control of this.
Skype me sci4money
Develop a team with the right balance of managerment experience and individual contributors. Have a Management Development (MD) plan and program to grow your people as the company grows in abilities and responsibility. Also an Organizational Development (OD) efffort - this is the skeleton of the company consisting of processes, policies, documentation, training etc. MD is developing the people. Neither has to be formal or expensive but you need both to grow. Typically invest 2-6% of managers salaries in their development depending on rate of growth. Just the ones you think can make it in teh long term and are also willnig to invest in themsleves with extra time.
"Overwhelmed" is the #1 word I hear that says you need help to design and restructure your organization. Growing a company from Startup to Mature requires four "gear shifts" in style of management. Here is an article I wrote on this in 2004. Same thing today and always will be the same becuase it is about people: http://clevelenterprises.com/articles/modes_of_management.htm
You can also check out our AirTight Management offerings here: http://www.airtightmgt.com/on-site-implementation
We have low cost training on video that will get you through each gear shift, as well as coaching as an option starting at $600/month.
I think the answer depends on whether you want to go wide and hire more designers, or go deep and make sure you as the center of the business are as productive and valuable as possible.
If you want to continue to be the artists in the business (your unique zone of genius), outsource everything administrative, standardize everything you can, and control demand with your rates. You don't need to do every project. Charge what you're worth and only take the best projects for you.
If you want to become the business owner and focus more on marketing, sales, and management (of the artists) hire and put your focus on driving revenue and bringing in as much business as possible.
Which path appeals to you more?
Try to find someone who has different strengths and weaknesses from you so you are able to off set each other..... But make sure the relationship is built upon TRUST and trust "your belly."
There are probably many tasks that are taking up your time both at home and at the office that don't require an eye for design. That is just one part of running your business.
Either get a virtual assistant or a in person one that works along side you for starters. Second, consider outsourcing your accounting(AR & AP) your marketing including creative design, social media publishing, web design, blogging etc.
There are also many tasks at home that take time. I have two kids and a business to run as well and spending time cleaning and doing laundry is not a good use of my time. This is another task that is easily outsourced.
Build systems. If you have repeatable processes, find ways to use templates and automation if you can. You can hire people to help with this as well.
Another thing the others have mentioned is slow steady growth. Growing too fast can have damaging effects if you are not ready. Set SMART goals and work towards them with quality as a priority.
Building businesses is a marathon not a sprint. Build smart and you won' burn out.
Hope this helps.
Here's a post I wrote on SMART goals.
Congrats on a successful start.
A word of caution however. Do not try to grow too fast and let your quality and your life suffer. Limit your work to what you can handle and keep clients happy and the referrals coming in. Raise your prices to ensure you only have serious buyers.
Outsource the tasks you don't need to do or don't want to do yourself, such as book keeping, marketing, website, etc.
Partner with other similar firms or hire additional staff. You become the designer and the idea person, have your staff and/or another partner implement.
Danielle, Congrats on such a strong start! Not every new business is as lucky as you. I am not sure what to tell you about who to hire as you will be the only one to answer this and know what you are looking for and what talents you need. I will offer up a couple of other pieces of advice.
Number 1 will be to make sure the pricing you are offering will allow you to scale once your time is fully taken up. So make sure you crunch the numbers on what a new employee will cost you and then see if what you are charging combined with how many accounts you can handle will result in a net profit when you hire someone. If you are priced too low, you will find yourself stuck. You might lose some potential clients who are looking for the best price, but this is okay and will reduce stress as well.
Number 2, and I know I might be biased, but outsourcing your marketing and social media needs will most likely result in a great decision for you as it will be really hard to keep up with all of that and if you find the right partner, it will be more economical for you in the long run than trying to accomplish all of that on your own. Now, as you get started, you might find that it's in your best interest to do all of that yourself, but as you grow it's definitely something to consider because that is why companies like ours exist (to save time and money and at the same time produce better results than if companies tried do to this for themselves). Again, I apologize if this comes off as self promotion for marketing companies, but this is what I believe and my professional advice.
But best of luck to you and again, major kudos to you for such a strong start.