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EXPAND OR DIE: WHY SMALL SHOPS NEED TO SCALE (AND HOW TO DO IT)


What would happen to your business if you got hit by a bus?

I start a lot of conversations with my clients with that morbid question. Their answers tell me a ton about not only their ultimate business goals, but how much thought they’ve put into figuring out exactly how they’re going to reach them.

Some people will say that the business will die with them, and that they’re fine with that. But what happens if the bus doesn’t kill you? What if they bus just breaks all of your limbs and puts you in a coma, but you remain alive and in need of income? Does the business still die? Are you fine with that?

Look, lifestyle consulting businesses are great—until life happens. And while I sincerely hope that you never actually get hit by a bus, there will still come a time when you’d like to take some time to care for a sick relative, or a new baby, or yourself (hello, beach time). If your business consists of you, it’s pretty hard to do any of that without facing serious financial consequences.

If you want freedom as an entrepreneur, you have to figure out how to scale. That means figuring out how to increase your revenues, and your capacity. Clients who come to us are usually stuck on one side of that equation or the other, and either can’t figure out how to be able to take on more work, or can’t figure out how to get enough prospective work in the door in the first place. Hiring is often the answer in either situation.

For the capacity problem, hiring is obvious – if you have lots of work coming in and can’t do all of it, of course you need to bring on people to help you so that you aren’t turning down potential clients. But hiring often goes a long way to solving the revenue issue as well, because in order to bring in revenue, you have to spend time doing marketing and sales work, and solopreneurs are often stretched too thin to be able to do much of that.

This is easier said than done, of course, and a large part of my job as a political business coach is helping my clients see the long-term impact on their bottom line of making what can be a frightening investment in the short term. Once we look at the facts and the financial data, it usually comes to light that the fear they’ve associated with outlaying cash to bring on someone new is irrational. And more often than not, it’s based on one or two bad experiences the business owner has had in the past.

In the campaign industry, we’re terrible at hiring. The entire hiring process often consists of taking someone your friend introduced you to out for a beer and seeing if you like them enough to sit in an office with them all day. Many of us who have spent our entire careers in the industry have never experienced a formal interview process. We never learn the right way to find and evaluate candidates, or to make sure that we’re putting the right people in the right jobs, so every person we hire is like a crap shoot. It’s no wonder that I hear so many horror stories, and deal with so many people who are terrified to scale.

When you learn to hire the right way, you’ll be catching red flags before you make job offers, and putting the right people in the right roles to help your organization grow. In fact, here’s a hint: if you can’t tell me how your organization is going to make several times what a new employee’s compensation package costs you after you make the hire, you’re doing it wrong.

When I decided recently to add a new principal, Wes Melville, to my team full-time, I needed to see that I’d get a major ROI from having him on board—and he wanted to make sure of that too, before leaving his steady job at Booz Allen to come and work for my boutique consulting agency.

If you want to scale your impact, or just ensure that it continues at all, you’re going to have to let go of the reins a little bit and find some help. I promise that it’s not as daunting as it seems, once you learn the right process.

Michelle Coyle is the founder of BGSD Strategies.

This article originally appeared in Campaigns & Elections on June 6th, 2018.