Let’s say you have a decent little business going. Something on the Internet, perhaps—since that’s the way an estimated 24 million of us earn our living these days, just in North America alone.
I’ve found that there are two sets of Big Challenges faced by most Small Businesses. The first challenge is getting some initial cash flow heading into your PayPal account (or however you get paid). Many would-be entrepreneurs don’t pay enough attention to cash flow in the beginning, using a makeshift “if you build it, they will come” approach. Without cash flow, you can’t do anything, so it pays (literally) to focus heavily on your initial sales process.
Because of this first challenge, we can see how roughly 50% of small businesses fail within the first five years. To be successful, you need a product or service that sells, and one way or another, you need to do some selling—the sooner, the better.
I’ll write more about getting how to get started later, because I read your emails and I know it can be hard in the beginning. My own story wasn’t very strategic, but at least I was able to focus on the sales.
Big Challenge #2 for an average Small Business usually comes after you’ve had some initial success.
More often than not, you hit a big wall somewhere along the way. You can get something going, but it doesn’t go very far. While 50% of small businesses fail, we have no idea how many other small businesses end up stuck in second gear for the rest of their business lives. While they may be “good enough,” these businesses could be so much better.
How To Go from Micro to Small
I really have no idea how to create a billion-dollar business, or even a million-dollar one — so I won’t be writing about that. I’m more interested in microbusiness owners (businesses of one, usually, or what we call solopreneurs) who want to get to the next stage of small business growth.
The first principle to understand when scaling up is that whatever doesn’t work well when you are small will be dramatically multiplied as you increase your influence. A small problem can become a big problem very quickly once you magnify the scale.
If your customer service sucks, for example, you may be able to get away with it as a microbusiness. (I’m not recommending that; I’m just saying it’s possible.) But once you scale up, well, people will notice.
The same is true with product delivery and fulfillment in general. There is only so much time in the average microbusiness owner’s day, and you don’t want to spend too much of it on fulfillment. But pretty soon you start running down shipments all day and getting tracking numbers and putting out fires… and you’ve effectively put the sales and business development tasks at the bottom of the priority list.
The lesson is that you should fix the small problems before they get big. Since I write from experience and provide full disclosure of my mistakes, I should note that I have never followed that lesson very well… but maybe it will help you avoid the scaling up trap. Please feel free to learn from my mistakes anytime.
Three-Minute Business Evaluation
Assuming you have a decent foundation—no lingering small problems that will turn into big messes as your influence grows—then it’s often helpful to ask a series of questions focused on the areas of your business that are working well.
Here’s a few examples:
- Do I enjoy this?
- Does it help people?
- What is my dollar-per-hour income from this activity? (And am I satisfied with that?)
- Can I do more of this activity?
- Can I reach more people?
- Can I use this same strategy and branch out?
Using that last question (“branching out”), one easy way to scale up is to simply provide your product or service in more locations.
Think about these ideas:
- Printed Book or Report
- Resell Rights
- Teleseminar or Webinar
- Paid Newsletter
- eBay Auction
Note that I am not suggesting you create all new products for these mediums. In this case, I’m suggesting you take what you are already doing and then provide it in other mediums. You’ll scale up without doing much more work, and since you have more venues, you’ll have a stronger foundation for anything else you do.
Take Heart, Fellow Entrepreneur… Here Is Some Good News
Image by Circulating
1. The magic number is approximately $1,000 a month. If you can build your business to the $1k/month point, it’s usually not much harder to build it to $3-5k/month. And then, it’s not too much harder to scale up from that. I’m not saying it’s easy… I’m just saying the hardest part is getting to the consistent $1,000 a month.
2. Outsourcing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be (I’ll tell you some horror stories soon), but it’s true that help is right around the corner whenever you need it. In the long-term I have found it’s better to build relationships with people you know than with the cheapest possible vendor from anywhere in the world. In the short-term, however, a basic web site design, programming job, translation, or other business service can be quickly delegated through elance.
3. You can cheat and make it much easier by focusing on business opportunities that have high margins and strong revenue potential. If you’ve done that, take it a step further and focus on the activities of sales, marketing, and product development. This will make life much easier for the average business, because it will help with the first Big Challenge (getting the cash flow going) and also better prepare you for scaling up as you see fit.
Don’t Have a Business? Scale Up Your Life
If you’ve read this far and don’t have a business, thanks for sticking with it. I’m happy to say that the same principles apply for scaling up any part of your life.
I’ve done this with travel and life in general over the past three years. In 2006 I went to more than 20 countries. At the time I remember thinking it would be a personal record for a long time. But as I’ve said before, the funny thing about big goals is that when you set them and take a small series of actions, they tend to be completed sooner than you expect. In 2007, I visited 26 countries, and ironically (or not), in 2008 I think I may even top 2007’s record despite spending less money on travel.
About three years ago, I went on an anniversary trip with my wife, and we both worked on outlining our own five-year goals. For me, I wanted to go to a lot of places (I had a specific number), enter and complete a graduate program, run a marathon, and a few other things.
Well, now I’ve ran three marathons (including an unconventional one in Alaska), visited far more countries than I had hoped to, entered and completed my Master’s Degree, and pretty much exceeded almost every goal I set.
There’s only a couple of things left on the list, and I’m well on track for all but one—more about that later. Because the five-year goal setting helped so much, I decided to create a Ten-Year Goals List for the first time during my annual review last year.
A Personal Example
My primary motivation with the AONC site is to distribute my ideas to a wider audience. I’ve helped a lot of people on an individual basis, but I wanted to expand my network. Thus, we’re on this journey to see how far we can take it.
So far, it’s going well. We have a core audience reading along every day. The manifesto launch exceeded my expectations, with more than 18,000 downloads so far and 60+ trackbacks and reviews. The site has been featured in the New York Times and lots of great 2.0 media sources.
BUT… as I was reminded by a Tiger Woods airport advertisement recently:
Success is 10% of what you have done, and 90% of what you haven’t done.”
In other words, we have work to do. Yes, I fully plan on scaling up this project. Watch and see. You’ll need to expand too, if you want to take your plans for world domination to a higher level.
One More Thing
In business and in life, it’s also important to consider scaling down what’s not working. This becomes increasingly important as you scale up, because small distractions have an annoying way of becoming huge problems if they’re not dealt with early on. What can you let go of? Have you made your to-stop-doing list yet?
What do you want to scale up in your business or life? What are some other ideas for doing so?
Please share your own thoughts in the comments below.
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