For many entrepreneurs and small business owners, their great skill at being able to start businesses, oftentimes with nothing more than sheer grit and imagination. But when it comes times to grow business, well, then that’s another matter altogether.Many promising agencies and startups end up achieving incredibly fast growth in the early stages of the business only to end up stalling at a certain point.
At this point, it’s practically a stereotype for enterprising young entrepreneurs to end up trapped in an endless cycle of either constantly starting and failing businesses or constantly overworking themselves to end up achieving little. The reason behind slightly depressing cliche is simple: most entrepreneurs don’t know how to scale.
It’s an issue that we see a lot of at Freedom to Ascend and it’s a challenge that many, if not all, entrepreneurs struggle to overcome. The great news is that it’s not impossible.
In this article, we’ll be breaking down the top 3 tips our co-founder Hanson Cheng has on how to take your business to the next level.
Speaking from years of experience growing dozens of successful businesses, Hanson reveals the most common problems business owners face when attempting to scale and how you can overcome them.
The Problem With Scaling
The simple fact of the matter is that starting a business and to grow business one requires two completely different skillsets.
In Hanson’s experience, the most common problem that most entrepreneurs have in learning how to grow business isn’t one of technical ability, but one of mindset. Acquiring the skills and knowledge on how to scale is actually quite easy, but the trouble starts when an entrepreneur falls into the mental trap that they have to do everything by themselves and that the solution is to simply work harder.
In the end, this mentality leads to entrepreneurs and founders becoming trapped in their own businesses. Eventually overworking themselves and burning out because the business relies so much on their individual output that they’re unable to even take a single day off.
“A lot of these people I work with, when they start, they’re the ones doing everything and they never get out of that mentality so they cap themselves,” says Hanson. “Now they feel like the only way they can keep growing is working more, no, you need to fire yourself!”
Let’s think about it this way: if you were the captain of a ship, would you be better off directing the ship itself or running around fixing the sails and measuring the whatever-the-thing-with-all-the-ropes-is-called?
As the leader of your business, your job is to lead the business not to handle every single detail by yourself. Not only is it a headache, but it’s downright impossible.
Everyone has a natural limit to how much their brain can process in any given amount of time and no amount of productivity hacks is going to overcome that fact. Multitasking is a myth and multiple research studies have found that the more things you have to deal with, the less likely you are to make good decisions.
Too many entrepreneurs make the mistake over devoting the bulk of their time and energy to the mundane details and not enough on the things that’ll actually help them grow their business.
According to Hanson, the key to any successful growth strategy is building a sustainable set of systems and procedures that allows you to better leverage your time and energy.
Growing a business isn’t so much about adding more to your plate, but subtracting from it as much as possible.
So how do we do that?
Well, as you’ll soon see below, Hanson has a variety of methods and tactics you can apply to help grow business and achieve sustainable continuous growth without having to do everything by yourself.
Break Your Business Down Into Processes
The first step to building any growth strategy is to make sure you first have an understanding of how your business works. This might seem a little counterintuitive because, after all, who else has a better understanding of a business than it’s founder?
In actuality, most entrepreneurs would find it difficult to explain what it is they actually do because they're so used to instinctively knowing exactly what to do next. Which is why when the time comes to scale, most entrepreneurs have no idea what it is they should be focusing on.
“A lot of people are just intuitively running around,” says Hanson. “But because they haven’t taken the time to just plan out and look at the impact that each activity is taking, they’re giving equal weight to everything they do. Everything ends up being important.”
When everything feels important, you inevitably devote too much of your precious time and energy to tasks that could easily be automated or outsourced to someone else.
Taking inspiration from Ford’s Model-T assembly line, Hanson recommends taking a step back and breaking your business down into individual stages. It’s only in taking a truly objective view of your business will you be able to identify what your key drivers of growth really are.
In his own personal experience, Hanson recalls his first foray into working for himself where he started a real estate fund with a friend that’s now valued at over $70 million today.
“We were both running all over the place, and I was like okay, let me just focus on one thing because I feel like we’re not going to make headway. So just let me think about what we’re doing here that is going to move the needle the most.”
Taking a step back, Hanson broke down he and his partner’s entire business into several sets of individual tasks and tried to figure out which tasks were taking up most of their time. Very quickly he found that the majority of their time was being spent searching for potential properties they could eventually renovate and sell.
It was a hugely inefficient process which involved spending hours sitting in a chair looking up various properties online, calling realtors to see if they were interested in selling and rinse and repeat.
Understanding this, Hanson began looking for a way that he could shortcut the entire process of searching and pitching for potential properties. To do this, he went straight to the source.
“I went into the system and exported all the realtors in the area because I knew realtors would pitch ideas to us,” says Hanson. “I cold-emailed, I think, 300 realtors and I said ‘Hey this is what we’re looking for, here are our price points, and this is the formula we use to assess if a property is a viable investment opportunity. If you find one send it to us.’
It was a strategy that paid off massively for Hanson and his business partner.
Even though only about three or four of the 300 realtors he cold-emailed responded to him, that handful of realtors brought with them their own years of experience, knowledge and connections. Within a couple of weeks he was able to find the best properties, even ones that weren’t even publicly listed, for a fraction of the previous effort.
“What that did was cut through all the junk of us not knowing how to find properties to finding the realtors who had connections with actual properties we wanted. Instead of combing through all of the junk ourselves, we were able to cherry-pick the top properties with the highest profit margins.” Says Hanson
It was a valuable lesson that Hanson still applies to this day, especially when helping other businesses grow.
“The first thing I do is completely understand every step of the process, and this is really important. I’ll get in there and I’ll basically shadow the [business] owner and ask a lot of questions.
I’ll get in there and ask ‘Alright first step, how do you get a client? Where do you find them? What do you say to them? What do you do to get them to trust you?’ We’ll go through the entire process and just document everything that the owner does.”
But after breaking everything down and documenting each individual task in your business, how do you know which tasks will have the most impact? How do you figure out what you should be prioritizing and what can be outsourced?
Well, to answer that…
Ask Yourself: What Are You Doing To Grow Business?
After breaking your business down into a single pipeline and breaking it up into different sections, I’m sure that you’ve been able to identify dozens of different things you can be doing to scale your business.
The first step to figuring out what tasks you need to be prioritizing is to identify what are the only things only you can do?
“Let’s say I’m working with a coach and they’re trying to build their business. The things you can’t farm out are the brand because people are hiring them because of their personal brand, so the things they can’t farm out are the things like creating content and being on camera, these are the things only they can do,” says Hanson.
“But the things they can farm out are things like the initial calls, screening these people, sales, getting people in the door, or after they’re hired is sending them the homework, and checking the homework.”
Really take a moment to consider what are the select handful of things in your business that is completely dependent on your individual set of skills and knowledge, because those are the only parts of your business you should be working on. Everything else can be outsourced to someone else or automated through technology to grow business.
The next step is to then take into account the amount of energy that goes into each task.
A huge mistake that many people make with time management is to completely ignore that humans are not robots and that our energy levels will fluctuate depending on what we’re doing and when we’re doing it.
A very simple example is trying to get some work done in the morning. For those of us who naturally wake up early, the morning is the most productive time of their day. Whereas for night owls, trying to get even a simple task done in the morning can take hours and sap them of their energy for the rest of the day.
Which is why more than just looking into the number of hours that it takes to complete a task, you should be looking at how much mental energy it will take you. Working on something you hate is going to naturally take more energy than working on something you genuinely enjoy.
“If you’re taking an hour out of your day to talk to someone but at the end of it you’re spent and you can’t do anything else for the rest of the day then that’s a big investment for you,” says Hanson. “People will work 15 hours a day on something they love and make so much progress and learn and iterate, but when you do something you hate it takes 3 weeks to accomplish something that would have taken someone else a day or two.”
Moving the needle and it isn’t so about working harder too grow business, it’s about working smarter.
Keep in mind that your most precious resource as an entrepreneur is not your skills, your knowledge, or even your innate talent. No, the one thing that you have that no one else can possibly replicate is your time and energy.
It is by far your most precious resource because once you spend it, there’s no way you can possibly get it back.
For Hanson, it’s only when you consider the fact that you only have a limited amount of time and energy that you can spend every day that you’ll be able to start effectively identifying which tasks have the biggest possible impact on you and your business.
“After I ask business owners what are you doing, I ask them ‘What do you love doing?’ And it’s usually the thing that they love is hand-in-hand with the thing that’s moving their business the most, we just got to get them doing the thing that they love more.”
Bonus: Automate Lead Qualification
An easy way to free up more of your time is to automate your lead qualification process.
Many entrepreneurs, especially those just starting out, get into the habit of trying to talk to every single potential client or customer that comes their way.
“That’s not very efficient because you shouldn’t be talking to everyone to see if they’re a good client,” says Hanson. “You should only be talking to the right ones, so you need to make sure that they’re qualified by the time you’re talking to them.”
“We don’t even need to have any crazy technology because now we can use something like Google Forms. So if someone goes, ‘Hey I want to get on a call with you,’ we can go ‘Great, fill out this form, if we’re a good fit I’m going to send you a link to my calendar.”
From there, all you need to do is send them a link to the form and you can review their answers in your own time. Already this process should weed out the majority of people contacting you and give you all the most important information you need upfront.
Another tool that Hanson recommends is Woven, a free-to-use scheduling tool that connects directly to your Google Calendar. You can input in advance what times you’re free for a call and your leads can then choose from the available options.
It’s a very simple process and a great example of how anyone can leverage technology to save them hours upon hours of time.
Hire The Right People To grow business
As we’ve already established, you need to fire yourself every chance you can get. Once again, your only job is to be working on the things that only you can do, everything else should be farmed out.
The issue is that most entrepreneurs have no idea how to hire to grow business.
Whether it’s employing someone full-time, hiring a virtual assistant, or simply working together with an expert consultant, many people are ill-equipped when it comes to figuring out who, when, and how to bring in outside help.
According to Hanson, the most common problem that new entrepreneurs make when it comes to hiring is overloading their first hire with way too much.
“Basically when people hire their first hire, their second hire, or even their third hire, they usually throw a bunch of stuff at them.” Says Hanson. “They go ‘Okay now you are now my sales guy, plus my admin guy, plus my marketing guy, and all that.’
And when you hire like that, there’s not a lot of processes or systems built in so it’s just kind of a mess. In the end, you’re just spending a lot of time showing them new things versus hiring people for what they’re good at.”
Much like how you wouldn’t use a hammer to cut a piece of wood, you need to find the right person for the job.
The ideal hire, whether it’s an employee or consultant, should be someone that can trust to hit the ground running and you’re not going to find that person unless you first know what job it is you need them to do.
This is one of the reasons why it’s so very important that you break down your business into different stages with their own individual processes. Going back to the assembly line analogy from earlier, it’s a lot easier to find someone to do a specific part of the process versus trying to find someone that can do everything.
“Most people don’t take enough time to understand their business so they don’t know what they’re hiring for,” says Hanson. “So it’s really, really important to take the time to lay out every step of your business so you can see which one moves the needle the most so you can prioritise who to hire and who to look for.”
After figuring out what you need to hire for, it’s time to try to find the right person for the job.
While you can always turn to platforms like Upwork or Fiverr, Hanson actually recommends that you only turn to those types of tools if you can’t find anyone within your network. However, that does not mean you should default to hiring friends and family just because they’re nearby.
But what if you’re just starting out in the industry and you don’t have a network of other professionals to help you out?
It was a situation that Hanson himself faced when he began building his first online business three years ago. Fortunately, he had an easy hack to help him find the best people for the job.
“I began looking for the people who worked with the people who are at where I want to be in 5 or 10 years. Because they’ve already worked with the best, they already know how to get you from where you are to where they are or where you want to be in 5 years, or even shorter,” says Hanson.
By doing this, not only is Hanson able to cut through the chaff and find the people who he can immediately trust to be able to do the job, but he also gains the additional benefit of working with people who have the experience to help guide him through the things he doesn’t know yet.
“I’ve done this process for so many times, for different companies, different verticals, you need to find people who have experience in what you’re trying to build and have worked with people that are way ahead of you,” says Hanson. “Now you’re not just learning about what’s working or not, you’re implementing what’s already working and improving on that.”
Bonus: The LinkedIn Hiring Hack
When Hanson was looking to find a dashing young writer and content strategist (did I also mention courageous and rakishly handsome?) to help him with the Freedom to Ascend blog, he began looking for people that other prolific bloggers have worked with before.
Using Ryan Robinson of ryrob.com as an example, all Hanson needed to do was go onto Ryan’s LinkedIn profile and see if he had given any testimonials to anyone.
“You go to their websites, you see who are on their websites, you go on LinkedIn and you find these people on LinkedIn, you find out who they’ve written testimonials about and that’s how you use other people’s organic relationships,” says Hanson.
“Think about all the people you have in your LinkedIn and all the people you’ve written a testimonial about. You’ve only ever written a testimonial about people you’re either really good friends with and want to do well, or they’ve done outstanding work with you before.”
It’s a simple tactic, but one that is incredibly effective in helping you quickly find the best possible people you can bring onboard or work together with to grow business.
Growing a business is a lot like spinning plates.
As your business grows you’ll be given more and more plates to watch over and while you can theoretically try to keep all the plates spinning by yourself, eventually they’re all going to come crashing down if you keep on trying to do everything by yourself.
At the end of the day, it isn't hard to grow a business. All you need to do is follow the steps outlined here and you’ll be well on your way to achieving continuous and sustainable growth.
“It’s a cycle: finding out what you need help with, finding the right people, getting that done and then seeing what else you’re doing now so you can fire yourself form. Once you get into that habit the quicker you’ll grow business.”
There are tons of resources out there, like this very article, to help you grow and if you need a little extra help, you can always reach out to the experts themselves.
Last Updated on February 10, 2021 by Hanson Cheng