This article is by Pierce Brantley and published by Faith Driven Entrepreneur
In my mid-20s, I built and sold a digital marketing company. It was a good company, but the motivation to sell came purely from exhaustion. All my time went to building a brand and closing clients. I was proud of this. During that season, I was more than happy to work 100+ hour weeks to make the dream happen. Sleep was totally optional if I accomplished my goal.
In fact, I was so set on building my business, that any spare time was spent studying up on ways to get more out of my time. I studied how to be more efficient, how to think smarter, even how to activate REM sleep cycles more quickly — anything to give my business the juice it needed to stay alive. The business did stay afloat, but my mental health sank.
I took my situation as a badge of honor. The truth is I secretly enjoyed that it was hard to run my business. “I must be doing something other people can’t,” I told myself. It felt good. But the fact remained, I sold the business because I was burnt out.
My systems supported my outcome. I built something of value, but I hadn’t valued systems that gave me the freedom to build a business that worked for me. This led me to reevaluate what I wanted from future endeavors. Namely, how to achieve scale.
Three questions came from this pursuit. And these three questions can help anyone who has struggled to create scalability. Best of all, however, the entrepreneur who is able to answer these questions will build the business they really want. The questions are:
- Do you want to give yourself a job or a business?
- What needs to scale to achieve question one?
- Are you scaling your calling?
First, let’s start with a definition of scale. Everyone seems to want to scale. But everyone seems to have a different reason. Part of that is because no one knows what they want out of the scaling process. For the sake of simplicity, we’re going to narrow scaling to two outcomes. The outcome is either more time or more revenue. You know you have a scaling problem when you have a deficit in either of these two areas for too long.
Before we go any further, you also need to identify whether you are self-employed or employed by your business. There is a difference, and the difference determines how you approach matters of scale. Let’s start with that.
Do you want to give yourself a job or a business?
Many entrepreneurs never achieve the scale they want because they don’t realize they have put all their effort into keeping themselves employed. Which is to say: their efforts buy them work but do not build their business. That doesn’t mean the work and revenue aren’t good. They may be; but their energy is always split between working the job and keeping the job employable.
Time is the constraint of the solopreneur. Because of this, revenue is constrained by the degree to which a system has not been built to free up time. Systems scale. People don’t.
Now, for those who have a business with team members, a little more due diligence is required. You have a scaling problem when your business is missing revenue goals or team members don’t have enough time to do their work. Normally the root is the latter.
What needs to scale to achieve question one?
For the solopreneur: there is nothing wrong in buying yourself a job with your own efforts, but your revenue will be constrained by your time. If you want to scale a job you own, you have three options: A) raise your price, B) create a turn-key solution, or C) outsource the most time-dependent, low-value work. In a pinch, start with C, then A, and lastly consider B. You’ll never make a mistake in recovering your time. Consider B if you want to transition to employing a team.
For the business with team members: it can be hard to recognize scaling problems for what they are. Often we see personnel or competency problems — simply a failure to meet goals. Sometimes they are. More often than not, however, a goal is slipping because the processes in place are not capable of achieving the desired goal. So, team members repeat the same mistakes of the solopreneur; giving time to a goal instead of a system. What we often assume is a lack of effort, is really a lack of process.
Scale is proportional to the process you have in place. If you feel as if goals are slipping, and the business is not scaling as you desire, you need to audit the areas where time is most wasted within the business. Again, wasted time is not inherently an employee’s issue. Wasted time is normally the result of not having a system built for a specific outcome.
Once you’ve found your bottleneck, decide how much time it should take to complete a task or project and reverse engineer that outcome. This may mean you need to benchmark your time-to-outcome and then create a roadmap for continuous improvement.
Are you scaling your calling?
Business and faith intersect at the point in which we know we’re in alignment with what God desires and what God has asked us to do. We see a great real-life example of this in Moses’s story. Let’s take a look in Exodus chapter 18:
13 The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. 14 When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?”
15 Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. 16 Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.”
17 Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. 19 Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. 20 Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. 21 But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22 Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you.
Moses was a man called by God, to do the work of God. The man was a great leader and capable problem solver. The highest use of his time, however, was not settling disputes. The work was too heavy for him; he could not handle it alone.
Moreover, his time was best spent in leading Israel to the promised land. So he had to solve his own problem first. He had to take his insight for settling disputes and scale it up to work for an entire nation.
We can sense in Moses’ dialogue that part of his identity was wrapped up in solving problems. He was the only judge at the time and the only one with first-hand knowledge of God’s perspective. But this didn’t mean it was what he was supposed to do. In order to continue on in the real work he’d been given, he needed a system that would support running a nation at four different levels of complexity (thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens). No doubt, some of this was accomplished with the people he appointed, but he appointed people because there were new constraints as the number of people increased. The way you solve a ten-person problem is different than how you solve a one thousand-person problem. Same in business.
Moses had to let go of his identity and capacity for problem-solving, so that he could pursue the real work he was called to do. As I write about in Calling: Awaken to The Purpose of Your Work, in order to pursue the call of God on your life, you will need to do the same. So start to think about scalability and process as a spiritual discipline. In the wise words of Jethro “That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you.”