Freelancers go through many stages as they start and grow their business. Each new stage brings its own challenges and questions...as well as growing pains.
How do you know when to scale?
What if I told you that scaling was just ONE aspect of your professional journey? What’s the difference between expanding, scaling, building, multiplying and / or growing?
What I think most freelancers are really asking with this question about scaling is... how do I go to the next level in my business without selling my soul?
I’ve been on this journey myself. From hustling part time, making the leap to full time (and still hustling), to building a team... I’ve walked through the stages that led to growing a successful 6 figure freelance business in just a couple of years. Now I’m building a team to support the growth and launching a second business with even bigger aspirations.
I believe there are 4 stages for scaling your business:
In this blog post I’m going to cover each stage and when to look for the signs that it’s time to move to the next level. It might be sooner than you think!
Expand Your Capacity
Once you commit to building your freelance business and focus your attention on finding new clients...guess what? You find new clients. Your focus will manifest what you’re looking for. It also helps that when you confidently tell others what you are doing, they will want to support you, hire you or tell others about you.
In this stage you will definitely begin to find yourself squeezed for time.
The natural tendency when you start to feel that squeeze is to think it’s time to scale. If you’re feeling uncomfortable, it must mean you are growing and so the natural step would be to hire someone to help you manage all the new clients.
This is the worst time to scale your business.
This is the stage of expansion. You must expand your capacity for the current work and find ways to take on more. Even when you feel you can’t...pushing through and getting creative, getting disciplined and triaging your time is the key to expansion….and ultimately growth.
Build A Support System
Stage One is a long process, there is no need to try to shortcut this step for the sake of scaling your business. Even when everyone around you is ‘hiring’ or building a team, don’t fall to the pressure because you think it’s the next step.
When you have fully expanded your capacity and learned to do more yourself, the next step is to build a support system.
This is not the same as building a team, even though you may consider these people part of your ‘team’ they are not revenue generating, they are an expense. There is a big difference between scaling for revenue and scaling for time. Stage Two scales for time...which is a cost to the business.
Here’s the tradeoff… you are essentially buying back your time. When you build a support system using automated tools and administrative support you are freeing up more of your time to deliver more work (increase revenue), or take time off if you choose.
Building a support team looks like hiring freelance support to help you manage the back office of the business including Virtual Assistant, Social Media Manager, Email Marketing, Bookkeeping, or other admin roles to free up your time.
It also looks like investing in Later, Planoly, Calendly, Trello, Canva Pro or any other paid tool that will streamline your work and save you time. While it may help you make a sale, the goal is to save time and streamline your efficiency.
Here is the rule of thumb when it comes to building a support system.
Scale Your Process
Scaling is different from expanding or building. Scaling will set you up with the future ability to grow exponentially. It requires the right systems, processes, staff and structure to carry the volume of new clients.
This stage is all about really scaling your process. You don’t earn the right to scale until you have a bulletproof and tested process that you can teach others. Think about the assembly line approach, or the consistency of eating at Mc Donald’s or Subway. The product should be the same every time no matter who is behind the counter.
For many (or dare I say most) freelancers, you’ll never get to this stage. The idea of systematizing your art and creativity is impossible. How could anyone do the work you do? How would someone be able to think, create or deliver like you would.
This is a question you must answer before scaling.
Once you are able to break down the various parts of your process, you will look for the piece that someone else can be trained to do. If that’s even possible.
Leverage Your Brand
The final stage of scaling your business is to leverage your network, team and brand equity and diversify your offerings.
Once you’ve built a solid lead funnel and client base, you can then look to add more services to offer. Think about Amazon, who started out selling books. Once they nailed their marketing, distribution and delivery processes...they could then leverage their brand to sell different products.
At this stage, you don’t have to be an expert in every area, but you must be an expert in the processes of finding clients and delivering value.
For years I only did StoryBrand Copywriting and Wireframes. As I honed my process and developed a strong and steady source of leads, referrals and repeat customers I was able to then add on new services of email marketing, social media support and website design and builds.
If I was to add these on earlier in the journey I would not have had a solid structure for onboarding new freelance support or created efficiencies in my time and schedule to carve out for team management and review of work.
Scaling your business doesn’t always mean less work. It means a different kind of work. I went from copywriting every day, to finding and training new team members, reviewing client work and managing overall client accounts.
And yes, there are some days I long for just the simple 5 clients I had in the beginning which I thought was too much back then. Now we manage upwards of 20 at any given time...and the management of that client load is a work many freelancers never really want in the end.
At this point in your journey, you’ve realized you enjoy leading and managing people, more than you enjoy doing the original work. So, when you think about scaling...be careful what you ask for.