The Tipping Point of Scale
by Xenios Thrasyvoulou
Scaling has more or less become the buzzword of business in recent years. The ability to scale is a sign of success; it’s what (almost) every entrepreneur aspires to, but actually doing it, well, that’s another matter. The difficulty lies in the fact that you don’t just need the product/service, infrastructure, and capital to successfully scale; you also need the mindset, and that is where many high-potential entrepreneurs fail.
Mindset? Surely that’s just the drive to succeed and any entrepreneur who has already established a fruitful startup has that in spades? No. What you really need to succeed in scaling your business is the ability to let go.
Sound counter-intuitive? Here’s the logic.
After successfully scaling my online freelance marketplace, PeoplePerHour, I found there are half a dozen core tenets for scaling. In no particular order, these are:
- You need a plan—scaling only works if you know what you’re scaling towards.
- You need to hire the right people—those who know their jobs, but aren’t afraid to question you, thus driving innovation.
- You need to consider your funding options carefully—there’s no point in scaling if you later lose control of your business thanks to the prohibitive terms of your investors.
- You need to keep sight of your existing customer base—yes, you’re aiming to acquire new customers, but it’s pointless if you lose the ones you already have.
- You need to target your marketing—avoid the scattergun effect; select your prime audience and aim for the heart. Once you’ve hit your target, bag them, then select another.
- You need to use what you’ve got—don’t make any big investments in infrastructure, especially tech, until you have solid proof that your plan is going to prosper.
So, those are the action points. You need to know that those are the things that have to be dealt with, and then you have to let them go. Now, this is no small thing, because as you’ll undoubtedly know as an entrepreneur yourself, all entrepreneurs are essentially megalomaniacs at heart. We are control freaks because we know that our success has largely been driven by our desire for it; we had little money to start with, so we had to do much of the hard work ourselves. It was a sensible and practical option at the time and it generally works when you’re talking about a small business—although even then, you are often better off outsourcing more than you do.
When you’re looking at growing a business, or scaling if you will, it’s time to delegate the nitty-gritty, to forget about the micro-managing, and focus on the bigger picture. If you want to be a business leader, you need to lead, not to do, and to achieve this you can return to some of the above points.
- Hire the right people. If you have a trustworthy team in place, you’re perfectly positioned to delegate without worrying. So hire with your set tasks and character traits in mind, and don’t compromise on personnel. If someone doesn’t seem likely to fit, then they probably won’t, so it’s worth waiting for the right candidate to show—and also worth considering those who lack the experience but have the drive. Attitude can be everything.
- Strategize. Your role is to create the plan that everyone else can work to. If you don’t do your part because you’re too busy with the small business mindset, then no one else can do theirs. Scaling sounds mighty impressive on paper, but what it means, in reality, is finding a way to increase your profits. How you’re going to achieve this is your sole point of focus.
- Don’t just create a plan, but share it with all of the people who are going to help you to achieve it. If your team knows what you’re aiming for, they can help you on the journey, while you find ways to move the plan forward, assessing financing options and monitoring your target market.
Scaling isn’t everything; many small businesses remain just that, and their owners are content with their small successes. If you do want to grow, however, it’s all about the mindset, so ask yourself: Are you ready to let go?
Xenios Thrasyvoulou is the founder of PeoplePerHour. After working as an engineer for an FTSE 100 company, he created a service that allowed time-starved individuals to outsource work to multi-skilled individuals on a “per hour” basis. Three years later PeoplePerHour was born. Responsible for the overall vision and direction of PeoplePerHour, Thrasyvoulou’s passion for product, relentless pursuit of innovation, and deep obsession for customer service and user experience are very much defining points of the company’s culture and ethos. Thrasyvoulou holds an MA/MEng from Cambridge University and attended executive education at Harvard Business School.
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