You know how owners of 6-7 figure agencies and service businesses can’t keep growing without working more hours? There is a ton of opportunity, but since you are the brains of the operation, your team constantly needs you.
You are so stuck in the day to day that it’s hard to keep up, and even harder to grow. You need more hands to keep up, but need a few more clients before you can justify the extra expense. You’ve grown fast, but now you’re stagnating in a constant on this rollercoaster between selling and delivering leading to wild fluctuation in cash flow.
Recently I surveyed a number of owners of consultancies and agencies with some of these exact challenges. A few of them used to have these challenges, but have since successfully grown past this stage. I have quoted a handful of them, made some generalizations from those interviewed, and have made the names public where I can.
My hope in sharing the research is so that… you can know you are not alone. And to report on the steps that others have taken to successfully grow their services to 7 figures and beyond, while cutting stress in the process.
Top 3 Biggest Challenges
There were 3 main challenges that I found in my research:
1. “There’s not enough time for life AND to grow my business”
My finding is that service business owners want to grow, but not at the of cost their personal life. Some were already in the thick of their business taking over their lives.
“It’s a catch-22.You need to build systems to fix your problems, but you don’t have time to build systems because you have too many problems. If you can improve the efficiency of your core deliverables in the business, it makes growing a lot easier. Not only do you have more time to spend on testing new channels, recruitment, or whatever. But all the customers that come in from those new funnels, either from a new marketing campaign, or hiring a new sales guy, all get processed in a more efficient way. So it makes scaling easier from both angles that you actually give yourself time to scale, plus the actual flow of all the new business activity becomes easier to process.” –Vinay Patankar, Process Street.
Process Street is my favorite software for maintaining core systems for businesses. Our clients use it. We use it, and I am very impressed with the features.
Sean ”To have the work/life balance which is especially important when your business is growing to its first million. You are more likely to have young family, and it’s important to be around and engaged. Not sidetracked. I remember those days, trying to squeeze in work every possible hour. You think you are being successful at it, but you are not really present. You’re distracted all the time. It would be awesome to be away for the weekend or just to be home for dinner with family at 5pm. To me that would be massive impact. It’s not just about the business, but about my personal life and my sanity.” – Sean McDermott, Windward Consulting Group
2. “Clients Just Want ME”
Those surveyed shared with me that one of their biggest obstacles to growth, is that their clients always want them. As the owner, they have the highest skill set on their team, so clients will demand their attention and they often feel trapped.
“I’d like to have my business run without so much of my personal time. I am not sure what I can offer without me involved. I am a big part of why people buy our services. I’m not sure how this is possible without me. And I worry about revenue not coming in when I am working on other areas.” – Chandra Lynn, Glow Marketing
“When you have a service where you are in really demand, everybody wants it. When you have people come to you like crazy, there comes a time when you reach that max. It made me physically ill to turn people away with money in hand. Do I keep bringing them on or do I say no? Most of us go into business because we want freedom. So I can do whatever I want to do. And my business allows me to be there and spend more time with my kids. We create that business to have the control, and live our life the way that we want.” – Adrienne Richardson, Leading Facebook Ads Consultant
3. “I Can’t Delegate Enough to Get Ahead”
Even with a competent team, it can be a real challenge to trust them. When they can’t be accountable for more in the business, you have too much on your plate. And it’s really tough to find the time and capacity to grow.
“The downside to a service business is that it’s tough to leave. All owners of good service businesses have a really tough time leaving customers in someone else’s hands. Even with a full time account manager, questions always come back to me.” –Craig Hewett, Podcast Motor
“This problem resonates with every CEO at whatever level. Early in my career working for large consulting companies I noticed that the divorce rate is so high because they would prioritize work over family. It’s a lot harder when your company is small. It doesn’t feel like you can get out of the hole and find people you can trust and who will do the right things when you are not there. A lot of small companies stay small because they can never get past that. [..] Especially because at that small level, everything is so important!” – Sean McDermott, Windward Consulting Group
“For me at some point I’d love to be able to take a real vacation and shut off everything. And come back and nothing has burned down. That would be a pretty awesome scenario to get to. Though I would trade that ability in the short term for the higher growth rate and to grow a lot more this year.” – X. Wang, Essence of Email
The common thread I see throughout, is that the business is overly dependent on one person: the owner. This creates a capacity gap which is why it is so hard to reach your targets without working harder and longer hours.
How to Reach Growth Targets, Without Working More Hours
Income plateaus in the businesses happen where the owner is stuck working in the day to day.
Service business owners want to grow without more stress. And without working more hours. In many cases, they are working 60-70 hour weeks and can’t work more.
The business owners I interviewed were thrilled with the thought of a business that runs more smoothly and more profitably so you don’t have to work harder to grow to the next level.
The thought of having a team that can be accountable and run the business for weeks at a time was very appealing. A business that can keep collecting profit whether they are there or not. And demands less and less of you, as it creates more and more wealth for you as the owner.
Adrienne Richardson, a Leading Facebook Ads Consultant remarked “that is the ultimate dream come true. You can make more money, but you can’t make more time. Once it’s gone you can’t replace it. We want freedom, but there are some things people are afraid to let go of. Having my business run without me sounds very attractive. Most of us go into business because we want freedom and [I run my business] so I can do whatever I want to do. My business allows me to be there and spend more time with my kids. We create that business to have the control, and live our life the way that we want.”
5 Steps to Get What You Want
Below are the actual steps that other owners of agencies and service businesses have successfully implemented to keep growing their business:
- Free Your Time – recapture 40 hours per month
- Plan Your Year – daily action plan for how to get past biggest growth constraints
- Scale Your Service – high ticket service framework your team can deliver without you
- Supercharge Your Team – empower employees to be independent
- Grow Your Enterprise – prepare to go hands-off and stress test your business
This process will help you free up the time for growth and will also enable you to have…
- More time so that you can accomplish your business goals AND focus on what’s important in your life.
- Freedom from your business so that you can take weeks off at a time for adventures your current business won’t allow for.
- A business that gives you more freedom than you thought possible because it can finally run without you.
First, Free Your Time.
The ones I interviewed who eventually grew past this stage, tended to report pushing through by working longer hours. They made a lot of personal sacrifices, and were finally able to be successful.
“It was really hard for a little while there. I was so stressed out and my health was failing. There were weeks and months where I was so overwhelmed trying to make these changes. It would have been much easier if I could have found more time so it wasn’t such a strain on my wife and kids.” – Anonymous
But what if it didn’t have to be that way?
Following step one, you identify what you’re doing that’s keeping you needlessly busy. And at the end of this stage, you’ll have recaptured 40 hours per month without a schedule overhaul or hiring extra staff.
The process has been tested and used by hundreds of service businesses including Kim Bagayawa. “Using your exercise for finding time, my partner and I have managed to dedicate Fridays to working on the business!” – Kim Bagayawa, Coffee Abroad.
This first step was also missing from most people I interviewed. And also the dozens of consultancy and agency owners I have spoken to over the last decade. It’s no surprise that this first step was missing from most businesses because few growth systems teach it. The ones I spoke to who had felt stuck at some revenue ceiling say… $200k, $500k, $900k, or $1.3M, all cited not having enough time to grow the business as one of the top challenges they faced as the owner.
Second, you Plan Your Year.
“The biggest thing is doing this work upfront and to be clear about what you want. If you haven’t, you’re flying blind and not making the best decisions.” – Brandon King, SmartIntern China
In this stage, you create the action plan to reach your income and schedule goals. You uncover growth roadblocks that have stopped you from reaching the next level. At the end of this stage, you’ll know what to do every single day this year to get past your biggest growth constraints, and you’ll know how to measure whether you’re being successful.
My research shows that all business owners in this growth stage know to do this. But can’t find the time to focus because they haven’t done the first step. They know they should set aside thinking and planning time, but many don’t consistently. Getting tied up in the day-to-day is common. So setting aside time to work ON your business is extremely difficult, without working more hours.
There are bottlenecks and growth constraints that need to be addressed in this critical planning step. If you don’t first assess and leverage what you have already done, it’s adding more work when you are already beyond capacity.
First address your specific growth constraints and the exact steps to take in the right order. Then break down a daily and weekly action plan so it’s much easier to focus during the small amount of time you have to work on growing your business. As you find more leverage points, it continually frees up more time for growth. This allows you to continually cut stress, and add more ease to the business.
Third, Scale Your Service.
In this stage, we simplify and streamline your service offering to increase profit and quality so that as you grow, you don’t lose clients as fast as you take them on. At the end of this stage, you’ll have a service product your team can deliver without you.
“That’s the dream. It would be amazing to be able to step away and have a team deliver an even better service. Not just 80% of what I can do. I like the idea of getting what you do really well into a system that someone else could do for you. But, how can you transfer your brain into theirs so they can provide the same level of service?” –Tony Rulli, Intentional Spark
You want to increase the quality and value so that you can charge a premium. It should also cost less to deliver so you have higher margins. Below are 3 problems you must first overcome.
Problem #1: Needless Complexity
Service businesses and agencies usually have too wide of service offerings which needlessly adds complexity. You might already know which parts are the most profitable to deliver. But a scarcity mindset might prevent you from doubling down on the 20% that is delivering 80% of the results and profits.
Some digging may be in order to uncover where you can add more value and which services are in the hottest demand. You may also need a plan to transition your business away from low profit projects that help keep the doors open, but that won’t grow the business.
Problem #2: Diluted Value
As services look for options to grow beyond the owner’s hours, they look for ways to cut his or her workload. A common assumption that sounds a bit like this…
“Our team has a great process for social media. They’ll get [insert laundry list of deliverables clients don’t care about.] Since our current clients get such great results, everyone will want our productized “Social Media Starter” Package.”
It looks like this:
Grow my service without me? > Cut me out of it > Reduce strategy > Lower outcome > Lower value > Lower fee!
Watering down strategy weakens your service value and lowers the price and your margins. They are harder to sell too. Clients don’t want process. They want outcomes. So sell them that.
Problem #3: No Framework to Guide Strategy
The problem above is eliminated by solving specific problems for specific market segments. Pull the great IP from your head and bake the strategy into your process. Streamline and increase the quality by creating frameworks to guide strategic decisions. Clients find it cuts strategic time by as much as 75% – with better outcomes. That will reduce the cost to deliver whether it’s you, or staff who does the work.
A strategic framework guides better work from staff without the need to shadow you for months or years to distill the framework on their own. Then your team can deliver the majority, if not all the service without you. You get predictable and consistent outcomes for high-ticket services.
Get this step handled first before you do anything else!
Fourth, we Supercharge Your Team.
“We have service requests out the wazoo, but I can’t take any more clients because there is no time left in the day. I am not an implementer, I am a visionary. What holds me back is maintaining structure for a team. I don’t have time to sit down and craft what the team needs to be successful without stopping the income. ” – Amanda Bond, The Ad Strategist
The great news is that in this fourth step, you utilize your staff to help you with this burden. You do not do this step alone.
In this stage, we find out how to get better work from your staff – without micromanaging. You’ll also uncover who else you need to grow your company. At the end of this stage, you’ll have a plan for who to hire, what they’ll do, and when to pull the trigger. Most important, you’ll also know how to empower employees to become independent and resourceful.
The third step above brings clarity to the minimum skills you need, so it’s easier to hire for fit. And they can help you develop repeatable processes as you train them. You can get higher quality staff for your budget too (see example of engineering firm that replaced the need for a $100k/yr engineer). In this step you empower staff to manage themselves and develop leaders who can run your organization.
Finally, we Grow Your Enterprise.
In this stage, you pass the wheel onto your team so that your business can grow even more. You carefully plan and identify everything that could go wrong. Then you stress test your business for at least a week: you take a vacation.
Because you’ve taken preventative steps leading up to your stress test, nothing burns down while you’re gone. And you’re invigorated with confidence in your team that they can handle all the new business you can throw at them.
If you do this right, your stress should go down, and your profit and quality will go up. Our best clients double or triple revenue, adding between $250K – $1.5M in a year. (Learn more about Scale to Freedom.)
“Those are the exact steps I took to grow my company. I wish I would have made this decision a long time ago. I would have been even farther ahead.” – Niraj Adhiya, Business Ninja
Will this work for my business?
It won’t unless you make the time to do it. Because the first step– to free up 40 extra hours per month for growth is missing from most growth plans, most entrepreneurs will do 1 of 2 things. They will sacrifice a lot personally to reach their goals. Or they choose their life and family and deal with years of working too hard for stagnant growth.
It’s also the top reason why 96% of firms will never reach $1M and 99.4% will never reach $10M (Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, Harnish). Owners don’t have enough time to create the effective leadership or the documented systems. They get stuck and can’t delegate what will free them to grow the company and work less and less.
The steps in this process work when you can leverage what you have built. So your company needs to have a multi 6 or 7 figure turnover.
You need to have developed:
1) a permanent team
2) a service that is in demand
3) a way to find new customers
The better you are at creating demand, the more opportunities there are to leverage.
Not surprisingly, my research and experience has also shown that owners of businesses that are good at creating demand, tend to also have the most life balance challenges. They are the most stressed, and tend to be the ones closest to burnout (whether they recognize it or not).
Most business owners wait to start this process too late.
They wait until is so painful that the situation leading up to the transition is very stressful. That is exactly what Niraj found.
Last year when we spoke, he was working 80+ hours and had a team of 25 employees. His business was a stressful storm of chaos and confusion. And he was crazy stressed out. Shortly after we spoke, he made some serious cuts and let go of everything that wasn’t working.
He trained his sidekick who has essentially become his clone. She runs the business for weeks without him and he manages 1 person, instead of 25. They are also running with half the staff as last year. Doing great work for their clients. And the business has never run smoother. He told me that developing his amazing staff is his secret weapon.
Niraj has since been able to grow his company to a multi 7 figure marketing services agency.
Niraj told me: “This is priceless. Freedom is time and money. It allows you to focus and have time to be in better health. I got into a bit of a health issue a while ago. There was a lot of stress and since then, I have learned to prioritize my life first by health, then family, then money. Without health you have nothing. I have planned 4 trips this year taking my family to Cuba, Costa Rica, Kawaii, and India. I wasn’t able to do that before because I was too stuck to my phone and couldn’t let go.” – Niraj Adhiya, Business Ninja
Now, he doesn’t have to work nearly as hard, or as long of hours as before.
Niraj transformed his whole business– and his life, in just 6 months. If Niraj could do this in just 6 months, with all that he was up against, what could you accomplish in the same time?
Niraj told me that now having a business that can support his family and run without him is “priceless” and he only wished he would have taken the steps earlier.
How about you?
What does ideal growth look like to you? What would it mean for you to have a team you can count on to manage whole parts of the business whether you are there or not? How would it be to be able to take long weekends whenever you choose to, without planning in advance because you know your team has it handled? How would that be to grow your business and your income– without having to work more hours? What would that look like in your life?
>> If you’d like to hear how you can put these steps in action into your own business, click here to learn more.