You Can Scale During a Pandemic

Unlikely as it may seem, it is possible to scale a business during the COVID era or any difficult economic times, including war. Some businesses enjoyed unexpected increases in market share and sales revenue as a direct or indirect consequence of the shutdown and there were no lay-offs. Virtual communications platforms, liquor stores, grocery stores chief and delivery services have prospered.

Ripple effect revenue has accrued to tech specialists who set up and manage virtual conferences. Real estate agents who handle choice suburban and even rural locations are selling more properties, the result of affluent professionals who now work searching for residences that are spacious enough to accommodate his-and-her home offices and children’s schooling and play rooms. Teachers who administer private lessons to small groups of children have created pod learning environments. Elegant picnics are the new pivot for caterers, who provide food, wine, flowers, candles, stylish ground coverings and cushions to create al fresco dining experiences for those who shy away from restaurants.

If sales are increasing at your organization, celebrate the good fortune by maximizing the opportunity. Seize the day, plan your strategy and scale.

Operational efficiencies

When an organization grows, everything gets more complicated. How can the company deliver its products and services to twice as many customers? Building in operational efficiencies is an essential component of preparing a company to scale successfully. Business owners or leaders must ensure that the processes of acquiring or manufacturing company products and providing services are seamless and meet consistency and quality control expectations. E-commerce functions, the shipping method, invoicing or other payment system and customer service protocols must be secure, dependable and user-friendly.

An HR workforce specialist and/or operations/process improvement expert can guide company owner/ leaders to identify additional job functions that will be needed to support the scale, as well as the ideal employee qualifications for those positions and what to include in the job specs.

Upgrade marketing strategies and campaigns

So the company is generating more revenue and that has given you the confidence to scale—great! How about pinpointing who these new customers are and learning how and why they discovered your business? Are certain products or services suddenly more popular and if so, what’s driving the phenomenon? Or did a customer make a referral to someone with a big budget?

A more sophisticated and comprehensive marketing strategy is another key component of a successful scale. Update the company marketing strategy and campaign tactics to attract and welcome more of the new customer demographic. A website refresh or an entirely new site may be in order. The usefulness of content marketing, perhaps in the form of case studies, a monthly blog or newsletter or white papers that are posted to the website and selected social media platforms may become apparent. Include a short survey on the website (and also on certain social media platforms) to pose questions that reveal why customers choose to do business with your company and what might encourage them to continue doing so.

Revisit the company brand story and promotion strategy and incorporate language that builds trust, conveys expertise and encourages a sense of community and shared values with customers. Values are a growing priority and customers are inclined to patronize companies that support what they themselves support. Sponsoring local events may be a good way to communicate company values (and sending press releases that announce company participation to select media outlets may result in beneficial publicity).

Monitor the results of the marketing tactics used to learn what customers, both the new and the loyal friends, respond favorably to. The goal is to constantly fill the sales pipeline with good prospects. Make marketing personal by inviting customers to fill out profiles that provide name, email address, physical address and birthday, so that they can receive notice of new merchandise, special sales, birthday wishes and holiday greetings.

Ensure customer service

In fact as the company scales, owners and leaders should take on the perspective of both a curious prospect and a repeat customer, to gain insight into how to create a satisfyingly memorable customer experience. Good word of mouth is the best advertisement and often results in referrals. Positive reviews on Yelp, Angie’s List, or other online rating sites are effective marketing tools that bring in customers.

Remember that data security is also an important facet of good customer service. If an e-commerce feature is part of product or service distribution, hire a web designer to add an SSL certificate to the website, to obtain encryption that protects credit card and other personal data (and as a bonus benefit, gives the company a boost in search engine rankings). While speaking with the web designer, make sure that the page lay-out is intuitive and easily navigable. Consider adding a chat bot so that visitors can ask (anticipated) questions and receive answers ASAP, which saves time.

Finally, make product returns and exchanges efficient and painless. Have adequate staff to answer phone calls and emails, so that customers will not become frustrated. Use Facebook and/or Twitter to further support customer service and have adequate staff to update information, monitor activity and address and resolve problems and questions.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. A lift helps workers scale and work at the Christian Science Mother Church in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood.

How Freelancers Scale Up

According to the Small Business Association in 2018, there were 30.2 million small businesses (< 500 employees) in the US and 80%, 24.3 million, were one-person ventures, i.e., Solopreneurs. Although just under 6 million small businesses have paid employees, those businesses nevertheless employ 47.6% of private sector workers, 59 million of 124 million employed Americans (factoring out government and not-for-profit organizations—schools, hospitals, social welfare agencies, the arts, religious institutions). BTW, there are fewer than 20,000 large businesses in the country—19, 464 in 2018. 2017/08/04125711/Frequently-Asked-Questions-Small-Business-2018.pdf

I suppose it can be said that in American business small is beautiful, or perhaps more accurately, small is the reality. Many of those 24.3 million Solopreneurs attempt to turn what could easily be called a Weakness in the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) strategic planning matrix into a Strength (me!) and use terms such as “boutique” to describe our business, along with marketing-spin phrases such as “personalized service” to communicate to prospective customers that the experience of doing business with us will be very positive and that no one is treated as a commodity.

Operating a boutique business is all well and good, however “boutique” can easily turn into “broke” if the proprietor continues to just scrape along, trying to bring in enough customers to pay the rent and keep the lights on. In order to make a go of being a business owner/ operator, it is necessary to scale the business. A business has successfully scaled when it can deliver its products and services to a significantly larger customer base while maintaining or improving operational efficiency and quality control. Good strategy and execution are needed to scale, but it’s often do-able. Read on and learn tactics and inspiration that will help you decide how to scale your venture.

Scale the Brand

The process for scaling your Freelance business starts with knowing, articulating and communicating your Brand. To attract more clients so that you can double or even triple your roster over a 3-year period, for example, you must communicate in various ways—client testimonials, case studies, LinkedIn recommendations, social media, company website, your newsletter or blog and other marketing channels—that you are highly competent, trustworthy and dependable. You deliver every time and you meet and often exceed client expectations. You bring value. Invent a Branding tagline to help yourself stand out from the 24 + million Freelancers in America and add it to your email signature block.

Be advised that Branding doesn’t simply refer to the colors you use for your business card or logo. Branding encompasses all client touch points during which your client encounters or interacts with you and your company, from the initial contact with you, interaction with employees, the tone of emails, visiting and navigating your website, your payment and billing systems, social media posts, advertising and everything in between. Articulating and communicating your Brand not only enhances the perception of your know-how as a Freelancer, but also makes it easier to scale your business in the future.

Scale client acquisition

Freelancers tend to get stuck in a rut of competing for projects in the same way over and over. We find a tactic that works, whether it’s cold emailing potential clients or applying for jobs posted on sites like Upwork.com and Guru.com. One will eventually figure out how to get hired on those sites, but you’ll still leave a lot of work on the table. It’s been reported that 27% of Freelancers find assignments via referrals made by friends, family and clients; 24% find projects through online job boards, email marketing and social media platforms like LinkedIn ProFinder. How can you make the most of these sources?

You don’t have to chase down all possibilities but do get into the habit of exploring alternative client acquisition methods, to get your name and expertise in front of a wider audience. Your current clients are also a potential source of referrals (I’ve been lucky enough to have that happen). Get the ball rolling by making a referral for your client first, so that you will come to mind if one of the client’s colleagues could use your services. BTW, unless you’re in IT, job boards attract clients who low-ball the money. Not only that, but Upwork now requires Freelancers to pay to submit a proposal and then pay again 20% of the fee when one is hired. I will not pay to apply for a job and that service is off my list.

Scale your network

Networking can potentially deliver significant benefits that accrue from the relationships you build. Networking helps us meet new friends, find a future spouse, get invited to join a board, learn of a house for sale when we’re looking to move, or get a job referral. Networking will also bring to you potential collaborators, for those times that you need to bring in a Freelancer colleague in order to take on a bigger project, or the gift of community support when it would be helpful (and when is it not?).

Start building your professional network ASAP, compiling connections who are Freelancers themselves and maybe also potential clients. Try connecting with fellow Freelancers in the comment section of industry blogs and industry-related LinkedIn and Facebook groups and participating in relevant Twitter discussions.

Scale your skills

Whatever one does for a living there is always training and development involved, that is, if one is lucky, because professional development is an investment in you and no one can take it away once you have it. In order to find work, the Freelancer must be considered a trusted expert. To be considered an expert, one must be better than the rest and that means your knowledge and skills must be bleeding edge current.

When preparing to scale your business you have to grow as a person and a professional and that means learning new skills, keeping up with the newest trends and learning to use applicable tech tools. This can be challenging, as well as time consuming, but what you learn can perhaps lead to new business ideas, smarter planning for the future and implementing new systems and approaches. Online education sites like Coursera, Udemy and Codecademy are a good place to start. Serving on a board, teaching and even judging a business award (I’ve judged the Stevie Awards/ Women in Business category https://stevieawards.com/women for 6 years) are other ways to keep skills current and learn new competencies (and network as you do).

Scale your creativity

To effectively scale your Freelance gig and transform it into an enterprise, you need to break out of your service-based mentality and the best way to do that is to create a product to sell. Think about it—once you’ve created your e-book, course, or physical product, you can sell it over and over, whereas you’re limited to providing a certain amount of services per week to clients.

Not only does a product give you the ability to reach many more people, but creating a product also provides you with passive income, giving you more time to work on other areas of your business. Put on your thinking cap and see what you can dream up. An e-book or online courses are probably the most accessible products for B2B service providers to produce. I don’t have an online course to sell (yet), but I’ve been teaching business-related subjects for more than a dozen years.

Scale your systems

In order to grow, one needs the tools to keep revenue consistently coming in at a steady and abundant pace. To support opportunities for that business growth, it pays to systematize certain business functions and responsibilities. Outsourcing gives you the pleasure of employing a fellow Freelancer as you devote more time to the pursuit of lucrative clients or identifying another product to sell.

Invoicing, bookkeeping, newsletter or blog editing and social media account management are popular outsourcing functions because they do not require a deep knowledge of your business. Outsourcing (or automating) routine tasks gives you the time you need to work on your business, not in your business and that will enable you to scale.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: (Reuters) Master Baker Bartolo “Buddy” Valastro, owner of Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken, NJ and star of the reality television show Cake Boss (TLC)