In the beginning, you could barely get anyone to talk to you. The door stayed shut, and people just passed you by. You sent proposals, you tried to make connections, you networked like a demon. You gave discounts just so someone - anyone - would work with you. “Niche clients” were a hilarious concept.
Then suddenly… all the chickens came home to roost at the same time.
- Every potential client you’ve sent a proposal to decides to proceed.
- Every referral source you’ve been cultivating sends you three new clients.
- Every marketing initiative you’ve tried starts paying dividends, and customers are beating a path to your door.
And it’s all happening RIGHT NOW.
This isn’t just rain. This isn’t just pouring. This is a veritable typhoon. You don’t want to complain - this is your dream. You’re blessed, lucky even. The model you built, the value you’re selling - people are finally getting it!
But did they all have to “get it” at exactly the same moment?
Keeping the Wheels on the Bus
How do you capitalize on all of this amazing growth, without going crazy, burning out, disappointing customers, or alienating your team?
There’s no one right answer, but we can tell you what we did.
First, we believed from the beginning that it was going to happen. One day, there would be more business than we alone could handle, and we would need to be prepared.
For us, being prepared meant starting with processes. It makes solid sense to write down the “how” of every single thing that happens in your business, from talking to customers, providing a product or service, invoicing, collecting payments, and more. And every time that “how” changes, update the document.
This one small step means that when things get nuts, and there is more business than you have time to handle, it’s easy to pass on tasks to other people. You spend less time on training, and more time on managing the inflow.
Second, we built a team that is modular and flexible. This means constantly hiring and training, particularly in those moments when you aren’t busy.
Once you’re too busy, it’s too late. It is MUCH harder to recruit and train when you're struggling just to keep up with the work. You need a reliable, consistent, and well-trained team that is ready to go when you are.
Before the sheep hit the fan, when you have a little less than the “right” amount of business, that’s the time to really go hard on creating your working system.
Start planning your time off, your holidays, and other commitments as early as possible. Get your team to do the same thing. Know when you’re likely to be short-handed. You want to build deadlines about training - and cross training - long before those times arrive. Cross training ensures that more than one person knows how to handle any one task, allowing your business to run like a smooth, well-oiled machine, no matter who has their hands on the wheel.
...what if you don’t have the cash flow to pay for that team right now? Well, exactly. That’s the chicken-or-egg issue for every business.
No one wants a ton of overhead without the revenue to justify it. We built Admin Slayer to provide for our own businesses in exactly this way (we are our own best client). You don’t need to increase your permanent headcount, but you do need to invest in building out your support network.
Set Goals AND Limits
If you’ve planned out your revenue targets for the year (and that is something we totally recommend you do), then you know how much business you need to reach them. If it’s halfway through the year and you are behind, that means you need to make it up - so this new flurry of activity might be completely welcome.
You also need to be honest with yourself about how much you can actually do. This might mean :
- Putting someone else in charge of your calendar - and giving them the authority to say “no” to you. When you’re tempted to say “YES” - to a new client, a rush order, a business development opportunity, etc. - you’ve got someone who is well aware of the limits you’ve carefully laid out for yourself, and who will let you know when you’re being unreasonably optimistic.
- Adjusting your targets. Once you’ve done the math (please, do the math) on what you can actually accomplish as a mortal human being, and not the superhero you dreamed about becoming, you may need to make some adjustments. This could mean adjusting your revenue targets down (booooo) or adjusting your reliance on technology and team members up (yaaaaaay). If you don’t yet have the team you need to manage the inevitable fluctuations, you will need to simply downgrade your revenue growth expectations, but upgrade your team building recommendations - and move your growth expectations to the next period. Build the structure before you start selling from it.
Set Expectations and Over-Communicate
If you’re currently in the thick of a really busy period, you likely don’t have time for any of the above. Here’s what you can do right now:
- Have a trusted resource outside of your team, where you can send new business that either (a) isn’t a good fit, or (b) arrives a time when you simply cannot take on any new work. When we say “trusted”, we really mean that. It means someone who can deliver at or near your standards. It means someone who will say good things about you, as often as you’re saying good things about them. This resource is a strategic partner in your business. The relationship must be incredibly strong.
- Understand what “good fit” means for you and your business. The people you are sending to your trusted resource are the ones who are almost-but-not-quite-perfect, and always take more time and energy than that ideal client. You know who we mean.
- Be honest with everyone and give them options. Even when you’re in complete crisis mode, there’s a right way to handle it to make sure that clients and potential clients don’t get pissed off.
- Don’t assume that you know what your customer wants, or what they’re willing to compromise on. Ask. People HATE waiting, more than almost anything else - unless they feel as though they are choosing to wait. If you suddenly get 5 new clients at once, and you know that there is no way you can deliver to all of them at your normal standards - don’t compromise your standards. Approach them with a frank explanation of what you can reasonably deliver, and when. You may be surprised to discover that not only do people understand your perspective and appreciate being given a choice, they will probably want you more. (We are continually surprised by this reality. Oh, and you can probably raise your price at this juncture, too.)
Here’s a basic template for explaining your situation in a professional and courteous way:
Glad to hear that you would like to proceed with the proposal! I should let you know that since I first sent it to you, I’ve had an unexpected amount of new business inquiries. In order to provide the quality of service my clients expect, I’d like to offer you a few options:
- If you need to get started right away, I can commit (x hours, basic/reduced service, etc)
- If you’re not in a big rush, let’s set our start date (in 2 weeks’ time, next month, etc) when I can give you a greater amount of focused attention
- If you’d rather not wait, I can introduce you to a trusted colleague of mine who has more capacity, right away
- If you have some flexibility and would be interested in paying reduced fees, we could get started with a junior team member whose work will be supervised by me
Honesty and good business go hand-in-hand. No, really. Trust your customers and business associates to be human beings who know what it’s like to live life. Trust them to understand their own needs, pick the best option for them, and come back to you for more.
Ready to start building your support team?
One of the many reasons we created Admin Slayer is because we knew that small businesses don’t get successful without support, and that support has to be flexible in order for small businesses to thrive. Plus, we wanted to own our own supply chain - smart, right?
Before you get started - because we like you to be well prepared - check out our January article about trying new things without burning out or going broke. Then get in touch.