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INTRO Growing pains of a professional services biz

UltraliskJ

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Oct 20, 2018
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Hey all,

Long, long time lurker and first time member. I followed the forum a ton over the last 2ish years but admittedly haven't been on much in the last 6 months - mostly because I've been working on growing a professional services business that I own and operate mostly by myself.

Long story short is the last 2-3 months have been really amazing sales-wise, which also means I find myself doing more work and the admin work too (1 man show). It's starting to take up lots of my time and eat into my sales/marketing time, so I'm considering different/affordable/free forms of outsourcing - hiring a VA, a co-op student from a nearby university, etc.

I've also been systemizing as much as possible, such as having pretty much any doc I need templated, using gmail canned responses for email messages I send to most clients, and writing out the steps for each thing I do for every client.

Luckily for me, the service I provide is fairly standard in terms of what I actually have to do for each client, which has made it easier to systematize and hopefully easier to outsource.

My ultimate goal is to build up the business and sell it in 1-3 years, use the funds to get into some real estate investing and other projects I'm more passionate about.

If anyone has any insight that would be awesome, especially if you work or have experience in professional services where quality of work and client communication is extremely important. I'm about 1/3 of the way through Unscripted (great content @MJ DeMarco ) where I will be focusing on how to have the business run itself, not be run by me.

Thanks and glad to be here!
 

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lowtek

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Welcome to the forum.

Is there any way you can up your price before doing anything else? It's much easier to scale that way than to take on whole new clients and employees.

The extra profit can help generate some breathing room.

Failing that, if your service allows it, perhaps give clients a referral fee or discounted service for sending in new leads that turn into a sale.
 
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UltraliskJ

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Oct 20, 2018
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Welcome to the forum.

Is there any way you can up your price before doing anything else? It's much easier to scale that way than to take on whole new clients and employees.

The extra profit can help generate some breathing room.

Failing that, if your service allows it, perhaps give clients a referral fee or discounted service for sending in new leads that turn into a sale.
Thanks for the welcome/words of wisdom!

Re price, I don't think raising them is an option. Because I'm a smaller shop (compared to bigger firms providing similar services), reasonable fees are a big selling point of mine - clients prefer to pay less and have my very personal services. I don't think I'm underpricing myself, more in the upper-middle class of fees, kind of a combo of "less than the big firms" and "not cheap like the crappy guys".

I like the idea of a referral fee, although to add more context, my most common/valuable clients are businesses who wouldn't really be aware of other businesses needing my services, if that makes sense.

That being said, a system like that can never hurt so thank you for the suggestion!
 

lowtek

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Thanks for the welcome/words of wisdom!

Re price, I don't think raising them is an option. Because I'm a smaller shop (compared to bigger firms providing similar services), reasonable fees are a big selling point of mine - clients prefer to pay less and have my very personal services. I don't think I'm underpricing myself, more in the upper-middle class of fees, kind of a combo of "less than the big firms" and "not cheap like the crappy guys".

I like the idea of a referral fee, although to add more context, my most common/valuable clients are businesses who wouldn't really be aware of other businesses needing my services, if that makes sense.

That being said, a system like that can never hurt so thank you for the suggestion!
You'd be surprised how many local business owners network. Give the referral system a shot and see what happens.
 

Andy Black

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@ZCP might have some advice and insights.

@Tom.V is doing a lot of systematising and scaling.

I’m going through this process myself, albeit slowly. For me, it’s been a process of going from seeing myself as the technical consultant, then the salesman, and now biz dev. I’m finding it tricky getting away from the coal-face, which I’m not convinced I have to do tbh.

A couple of lines I heard and liked were “You can go slower than you think.” and “It’s a journey, and doesn’t happen overnight.”
 
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UltraliskJ

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Oct 20, 2018
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@ZCP might have some advice and insights.

@Tom.V is doing a lot of systematising and scaling.

I’m going through this process myself, albeit slowly. For me, it’s been a process of going from seeing myself as the technical consultant, then the salesman, and now biz dev. I’m finding it tricky getting away from the coal-face, which I’m not convinced I have to do tbh.

A couple of lines I heard and liked were “You can go slower than you think.” and “It’s a journey, and doesn’t happen overnight.”
Good to know I'm not alone :happy:

Could you expand a little on "You can go slower than you think"? In what ways? This one hit me hardest because every week feels like a bit of race and part of what I know I need to improve is slowing down a little.
 

ZCP

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Do you want a business you can sell or a job?

Parcel out your day ...... what % can only you do? what percent is brainless admin? what percent could be eliminated? Hire out the admin / etc. Hire part time to begin with and slowly build.

Raise your rates. They need to pay for the 'personal service'. Otherwise your crew can handle it (check out books by Andy Weiss (Weiss, Alan (2000). Getting Started in Consulting. Wiley. ISBN 0-47041-980-6.)

How will you fill the role you provide to the client? Hire another professional / partner? This role needs to be filled or you do not have a sellable business.

Step 1: become more efficient. eliminate unneeded tasks / work
Step 2: raise rates with all new clients. (then raise rates w/ existing clients on their 1 year anniv)
Step 3: hire for continuous work .... data entry, mkt outreach, etc.
Step 4: solve the how to replace you issue

Hope that helps!
 
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UltraliskJ

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Oct 20, 2018
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11
18
Do you want a business you can sell or a job?

Parcel out your day ...... what % can only you do? what percent is brainless admin? what percent could be eliminated? Hire out the admin / etc. Hire part time to begin with and slowly build.

Raise your rates. They need to pay for the 'personal service'. Otherwise your crew can handle it (check out books by Andy Weiss (Weiss, Alan (2000). Getting Started in Consulting. Wiley. ISBN 0-47041-980-6.)

How will you fill the role you provide to the client? Hire another professional / partner? This role needs to be filled or you do not have a sellable business.

Step 1: become more efficient. eliminate unneeded tasks / work
Step 2: raise rates with all new clients. (then raise rates w/ existing clients on their 1 year anniv)
Step 3: hire for continuous work .... data entry, mkt outreach, etc.
Step 4: solve the how to replace you issue

Hope that helps!
This is great, definitely want a business I can sell. I'm going to parcel it out bit by bit tomorrow which should help me with the rest of your suggestions/questions. Thanks!
 

Andy Black

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Could you expand a little on "You can go slower than you think"? In what ways? This one hit me hardest because every week feels like a bit of race and part of what I know I need to improve is slowing down a little.
You can do it a bit at a time and get used to each stage.

For me, it’s been a slide along this scale: employee, freelancer, agency with bespoke services, agency with productised services, platform. Except I’m still a freelancer while occupying the next three phases.

Not saying it’s the best way of doing it, just that I’ve moved too fast before. And my overheads grew faster than my sales before too.

I talked about it here:



“Built to Sell” was a good read. This was my biggest takeaway (echoing what @ZCP said):


These recorded chats might help?


Oh, and while I’m trying to stay focused on serving my Done-For-You (DFY) market, I realise there’s also a DIY market that I can serve with courses. I’m trying to make content and course creation a sort of “byproduct” of the work we do for DFY clients.

I’m finding it hard to keep this going while focusing on the DFY business.

Insider progress thread:
 

Andy Black

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Other lines I like:

“You can’t outsource passion and insight.”

“If your only way to grow your business is by increasing prices, then you’re a consultant, not an entrepreneur.” (Dan Norris)

Personally, I’d like to go downstream and charge less while scaling with systems and automation.

I’m also going to stay at the coalface doing some of the technical work in new verticals because I gain insights others don’t, especially when I work with the business owner client.

When we’ve broken the back of a new vertical and want to scale by getting more clients in that vertical then I’ll gradually encapsulate my knowledge in repeatable processes, tools, and automation.

I’ve no desire to build a team. I have a small team, but my goal isn’t to “build a team”, it’s to help more clients and every now and then it becomes obvious where I’m a bottleneck and a new team member can do a better job of that function than me anyway.

(I believe @eliquid has done very well while still doing a lot of the coding for his SaaS products.)
 

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eliquid

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(I believe @eliquid has done very well while still doing a lot of the coding for his SaaS products.)
Yes, and I prefer it that way.

While not the only ways or examples, the 2 things you posted are some of the reasons I still do...

“If your only way to grow your business is by increasing prices, then you’re a consultant, not an entrepreneur.” (Dan Norris)
Exactly, that's one of the reasons I still code. To add value, to gain insight, to better help my customers. It grows my business.

“You can’t outsource passion and insight.”
Exactly again. This is why I code as well still. But it's not just about coding, I also still do customer service when I can so I can learn and gain insight, and I still write articles and other stuff. When you have insight and passion, nothing is off-limits really within your business.
 

Andy Black

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Yes, and I prefer it that way.

While not the only ways or examples, the 2 things you posted are some of the reasons I still do...
Now you have me curious!

What’s your other reasons for still doing the technical work?

I have a few and will add them later.
 

eliquid

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Now you have me curious!

What’s your other reasons for still doing the technical work?

I have a few and will add them later.
I like to create.

I like to optimize.

I like to tinker.

Code helps me reach all 3 of those.

I'm also a perfectionist in certain aspects and like to do things in a way I understand ( even if its not correct ), so some of it is the ability to create, but some of it is a perfectionist stance.
 

Andy Black

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I like to create.

I like to optimize.

I like to tinker.

Code helps me reach all 3 of those.

I'm also a perfectionist in certain aspects and like to do things in a way I understand ( even if its not correct ), so some of it is the ability to create, but some of it is a perfectionist stance.
Ditto.

I too like to create, optimise, and tinker. As a kid I always wanted to be an explorer or inventor - using computers.

I’m also the frontman dealing with clients, and emailing people by hand. I get insights I wouldn’t get if this was all automated or outsourced.

I outsource work I don’t enjoy, and work I’m not great at. But when something is one of my super-powers, and I love doing it? It seems dumb to delegate and no longer do it.

I just have to figure out how to keep doing the work I love, and find a way to scale.

I have to pinch myself sometimes that I live in a day and age where I can work on my PC, from home, with clients around the world, and can have a stab at growing something bigger.

I think people often forget that sometimes the fisherman likes fishing.
 
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UltraliskJ

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Oct 20, 2018
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This is all great stuff, thanks to you both for sharing - even observing your back-and-forth has given me some great insight. Now time to apply!

Had a great meeting today with a friend who can help me automize more of my processes through simple tools like zapier, so going to start there and maybe bring on some part-time help for the rest.

Thanks again to all contributors!
 

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