One evening 8 years ago, my husband and I celebrated the first invoice of our first business, City Paws Club. Our first client, Mr. Ron Burgundy (AKA “RB”), was walked 8 times that month providing us with £136 (£160 – £24 discount) of monthly income.
8 years later and RB’s humans have become our best friends. We unfortunately had to say our goodbyes to RB last winter holding him in our arms and weeping, all four of us hand-in-hand and drinking our sorrow afterwards at the local pub.
In the meantime, City Paws Club had a Cinderella-like transformation.
Our little old Mini transformed into a fleet of 10 vans, Mr. Boyce multiplied into 12 employees; our local commons turned into a 16-acre site in Chessington with an amazing day care facility. The business has grown, we, as business owners have too. Don’t get me wrong, we have worked our butts off (especially my husband!). We’ve had sleepless nights, not knowing how to pay the wages, destroyed holidays because the site was up for sale and we had to somehow find a lot of cash in two week;, we had horrific events happen to us along the way; it almost cost our relationship and family. It was a steep hill… But for the first time, at the beginning of this year, we said to each other “wow, maybe it is actually working”.
Then, the clock hit 12 and COVID-19 fell on us. At the moment, City Paws Club is working at 20% of its capacity (almost like what it was 5 years ago), unfortunately most of the employees are furloughed, but we have started our comeback. And you know what? It doesn’t even feel that scary anymore, not because we have done it before (which definitely contributes) but also because we were able to sit and plan how to get back to normal and beyond post COVID-19.
How about you? Whether you lost all business or were lucky enough to double your business, how are you planning to ensure sustainable growth in this new phase?
If you haven’t thought about it or feel like you don’t even know where to start, read-on for some strategic guidance on how to reshape your growth after COVID-19…
First of all, let me clarify one thing about business growth – what you can currently google out there is mainly for SMEs, but to my knowledge there aren’t many resources adapted to solopreneurship and micro-business owners when it comes to business growth and how to prepare also yourself and your life for it.
To me, business growth for solopreneurs and microbusiness owners (especially female founders) is a bit different and I speak from experience.
More often than not, to the question of “what is your big goal?”, female solopreneurs or micro-business owners answer with what they don’t want: “I don’t want a big business”.
When I dig deeper, I mostly find this incredibly negative perception of “bigger business”: more work, headache, more risk, less family time, less free time.
And when I investigate a bit more, I very often come face-to-face with disbelief in their own self-efficiency covered in different forms: “I built my business to have more time with my children”, “I am too old to grow it that much”, “I want my hands on the work”, “I love what I do, not the business side”.
Now I get all that, but I firmly believe that a strong business, grown through strategy and planning is the only way to get to life quality that all of us want. And yes, initially, it takes time and energy and hard work. Once that is achieved it takes you to a freer life: holidays while knowing that you are still making money, worry-less rest time if you fall sick, light-hearted unplanned days off, evenings to yourself, and most likely greater financial achievement.
So, the very first thing that I want to highlight before getting into details of growth stages is please check-in with yourself and decide what business means to you? (We will be covering this topic in depth in the coming weeks – stay tuned)
After this preamble, we can now start understanding the 3 stages of business growth when it comes to solopreneurship and micro-business ownership:
Stage 1: Terrible toddler
This first stage is the time between you taking the leap of faith and launching yourself out there as a business owner and you creating a system that is generating “almost regular”, “almost steady” and survivable income. Congratulations, you created an unsteady job for yourself. Like a toddler, it’s your elephant in the room, you have to be on it all the time, or like toddler, there is risk of breaking, hurt, causing damage. You may be in business for 20 years and still be at this stage.
So, if your clients are mostly acquired on “word of mouth” basis, you are either just yourself or working maybe with subcontractors from project to project basis, you find yourself doing all the main jobs in your business; if you are selling products you prefer not to stock or choose drop-ship suppliers you are most likely in that stage.
It is probable that you don’t have many systems in place, plans and you might be finding yourself bouncing back and forth between excitement and exhaustion. Your main focus at this stage is acquiring clients and delivering good quality service or products.
Stage 2: Hyperactive teenager
You will understand this stage when the sleepless nights start creeping up. It means you are on the right track because you have taken bigger risks.
You might have a small team. It’s possible that you absolutely do not like them and because you haven’t flexed your managerial muscles as yet, they probably hate you. You might have some systems in place, but they fail more often than not. So, at this stage your business is like a hyperactive teenager, who you need to give enough freedom so that he can find his own individuality and expression, but also somehow keep him under control so that he doesn’t end-up killing himself. You need to grow, but too much growth could cost you more than you can afford and take the business down. Now, your focus is cash. Cash here, cash there, here cash, there cash everywhere cash… Your growth will depend on it but there will never be enough of it. This stage is fun, but you have to make sure that it doesn’t last long.
I met a lady who had a bakery with only herself and an assistant. After a some discussion, I learned that she used to have shops in 24 tube stations in London and was the official provider of 2012 Olympics in London! I asked “what happened?” – she said, “we grew too fast for our own good, without a real plan and systems in place, it almost took us down and nearly got me from a health perspective” – So planning, clear understanding of cash, automatisation and systems, and a bit of yogic mindset and you will make it!
Stage 3: Young Adult
If you are at this stage, you beat the odds and you can talk about success. You have survived. Your business is working with your team and you do not have to be on duty all the time. You have systems, you have roles in place. You have a proven revenue model, profitability and foreseeable growth. You have a small team that you trust and they kinda like you too. You are paying salaries and ensuring steady growth. It is called success!
The storm has passed leaving you on a nice calm ocean in front of you.
And that is the real danger! You need a compass, a map and a destination.
This is when options like exiting, scaling up, keeping as it is but disengaging as the owner, franchising, and more start to pop-up.
Presumably, as a solopreneur or micro-business owner, you are in stage 1 or early stage 2. And, as a business owner you are experiencing a world-wide pandemic, followed by a world-wide protest.
How Do I grow This Thing Right Now?
On a scale of 0-10, with 0 being you lost all business activity customers and income and 10 being you doubled your revenue, you can be anywhere, but right now your focus is how do I grow this thing now?
Here is a short guideline…
Zero To Four
By all means, connect with your customers right now. Make a list of all your current and old customers and colour code them red-orange-yellow. Red are the ones who have always been very supportive of your business. Orange are the ones that are return clients, which means they like working with you. They know you and probably they have referred you. Yellow ones are one-off customers with whom you had a nice relationship.
- Action for red customers: Contact them and explain the situation and ask for help: referral, testimonials, or contact who might be helpful (no, I am not joking, people love helping and you need help to resuscitate your business)
- Action for orange customers: Create an affiliate programme “bring your friend and get 25%”,
- Action for yellow customers: Create limited editions of your products or services that are cheaper versions or create a limited promotion (limited in time or number)
Four To Six
It’s business as usual or similar. I do not believe that your old growth methods will be as efficient as before. For the next 3 – 6 months I expect you will need more personalised touch to ignite growth. This means, you should prefer growth methods that are more labour heavy but sure on result such as referrals, strategic partnerships, personalised messages, word of mouth usage instead of mass communication such as social media, ads, leaflets, etc.
Eight Or Above
The initial step to take is to ensure that this unexpected growth trend is a long lasting one. If it is, the second thing is creating systems to make your delivery seamless (service or product). Finally, in terms of growth, focus on creating interest on bigger scale marketing tools like social media: usage of testimonials, telling your story are great ways to increase interest.