Rising to the Challenge of Scale
I haven’t been blogging here much at all lately. In fact, my last post was nearly three weeks ago. Totally unlike me. At first, I felt the usual pangs of guilt about it. “I really should be blogging more,” the conversation in my head went, “I’m doing a horrible job of walking my own talk.”
10 years. That’s what it’s taken for my business partner and I to earn our overnight success. Right now, we are playing the game of scale. Scaling our team. Scaling our office space. Scaling our service offerings. Managing the influx of new work with the balance of keeping on top of the existing work. I’ve got a pit in my stomach just thinking about all of it.
But it’s all okay. This is what we signed up for. We are doing that thing we have so desperately wanted to do our whole lives. We’re helping people tell better stories, and we’re doing it more and better and bigger than ever before.
Scaling is a huge challenge for a small business. Finding that balance between staying lean and mean and growing too fast requires thinking on your feet, aversion to risk, and the embrace of all sorts of unexpected things. It’s emotional and thrilling and scary and good. It’s mostly good. As we scale to new heights, there are a few important things I’ve learned about growing a business.
You’ve got to give it wings.
I often compare starting your own business to having a child (I’ve done one, but not the other, by the way). You give birth to this amazing thing, but you have no idea what to do with it, except that you have to do everything it takes to keep it alive. You feed it (usually cold hard cash), care for it, nurture it. It keeps you up most nights, and it causes you no end of frustration sometimes, but you love it anyway. Eventually, it learns to feed itself, speak for itself, walk for itself. You still need to be there a lot, to guide it, teach it, and keep it safe. But eventually, it wants to wander off on its own, and you can’t stop it.
It’s heartbreaking when this breakaway starts to happen. You try to keep your hands on everything, make all the decisions for it. But you realize that there’s a certain point where it doesn’t need you as much anymore. You need to get out of its way. You need to emerge from the weeds, and appreciate that now there are others there to handle the weeds for you. People you trust are in place to take care of things that you can’t anymore. And that’s very good, because you need to focus on scaling to the next level. That’s what it’s like to give birth and nuture something and give it wings.
You’ve got to be thankful.
Owning your own business is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, and there is absolutely no way around that. It will make you ecstatically happy sometimes, miserable other times, and tired a lot of the time. Despite the hard, hard, HARD work of the past 10 years, I have nothing but gratitude for every experience. I am intensely thankful to have the best best friend/business partner ever in the history of the world. We have learned so much together and there’s no way any of this would have been possible without her. I am also grateful for all of the amazing people who have worked with us over these years, from our incredible team to every client we have had. Yes, even the challenging ones (they are often the ones you learn the most from!). I am especially thankful for my husband. Because he’s put up with a lot these past 10 years, and hasn’t complained at all. Without his support I definitely wouldn’t be here.
Wake up grateful for how far you’ve come. Go to sleep grateful for everything you’ve accomplished. No matter how hard the days, weeks, and months are when you’re building a business, you MUST always be thankful.
You cannot rest on your laurels.
Seeing success after 10 years is one of the most amazing feelings. It’s a bit surreal sometimes to watch things grow around me. Sometimes I walk into our office and see people working and I think, “Wow, we built this!”. It’s such a great feeling to know that we’re succeeding at something we believe so passionately in. It’s really easy to be tempted to sit back, relax, and just watch it all unfold. It’s easy to start taking things for granted. That just because you’ve reached a space of comfort, for now, that it’s going to stay that way.
That’s not how business works. As a business owner, it’s your job to continue to find the next thing. You’ve got to keep the business moving forward. You’ve got to find the next level to scale to. There’s no time to rest on your laurels, even if that’s what your ego is telling you to do.
The work must continue. In fact, it’s now more important than ever before.