At first, you might have felt wobbly and unsure as you learned your chosen industry and developed your skill set.
But, in time, you became more confident in your industry and business skills. Then, like a toddler, you grew seemingly by the day!
You landed more client accounts, you grew your revenue, and your agency started hiring more employees. Then, you started having thoughts about expansion. After all, isn’t owning and operating a business all about ascending towards entrepreneurship heaven?
In a perfect world, this would work. But, unless you operate with your head in the clouds, then you already know that one of the first lessons of entrepreneurship is that nothing always works out as you’ve hoped or planned. Vertical scale isn’t always possible, and sometimes, it’s not the right thing to do.
Sprinting Vs. Marathoning Your Scale
Sometimes, lateral scale is more important. And, there will also be times when the right thing to do is nothing at all. This goes against society programming, which tells us that we’re not successful unless we’re hitting benchmarks like a sprinter, instead of hitting them like a marathon racer.
Mind you, there are moments for sprinting such as:
- The immediate need for cash infusion
- The market is demanding your offering
- You’re ready for a new opportunity (Even if you don’t feel ready)
Having said this, there are time when you need to be a marathon runner, such as:
- You need to develop your entrepreneurship skills
- You haven’t figured out an operational formula based upon trials, failure, and trying again
- You need to learn specific industry skills
- You need more time to develop and improve your existing products
- The demand for your offerings doesn’t match your current supply
So, When Should You Grow?
If you’re wondering if the time is ripe for you to grow in any direction, ask yourself a few questions:
1. Are you lacking cash, support, resources, or infrastructure?
If so, then vertical scale should be the last thing on your mind, despite what your colleagues are doing.
2. Can you continue to offer the same expected level of service when you scale?
Scott Jampol, the vice president of marketing at OpenTable was quoted in Entrepreneur Magazine as saying:
When your business model succeeds in one market, rapid expansion is a seductive strategy. But what you gain in real-estate, you often lose in the quality of user experience. One of the lessons we learned along the way is the importance of concentration and the importance of focus.
Vertical expansion can be great for the ego, but sometimes, it’s horrible for our clients.
3. Do you feel confident about your current operational structure, or are you still “winging it”?
There comes a time when we’ve got to decide that we’re going to evolve in our professional processes, and grow out of the newbie winging-it phase.
A Word About Lateral Scale
You’ve probably observed that the human body can grow vertically (we grow taller) and if we’re not careful, then we can grow laterally (we develop girth). Our business trajectory can develop in the same way, but unlike the human body, lateral grow in a business can be healthy.
Sometimes, lateral growth can be life-saving! Here’s some real-life examples.
Real Life Example #1: How A Real Estate Entrepreneur Managed Professional Peaks And Valleys
Let’s take a look at my new buddy and apartment locator Freddy Bobert. Freddy works for a large-scale apartment locator agency here in my city, and I met him while on the hunt for a new apartment home.
I mentioned my interest in the real estate industry, partially because I’ve produced a lot of real estate SEO copy for digital agencies. While discussing some of the industry-related topics that I’ve learned, he shared his growth story with me:
After earning my real estate license, I immediately started out working as an apartment locator. Breaking into real estate as an apartment locator really helped me to learn the basics about the industry and things such as floor plans, the age of the property, and other aspects that are useful in helping prospective tenants to find a new apartment.
Then, I decided to move up in the industry, and I started selling real estate for residential developers. I’d handle all aspects of selling model homes in sub-divisions, from working directly with the developers and learning the blueprints, to staging and showing the model homes, to hosting open houses and marketing to prospective home buyers.
The revenue I generated was excellent, and I was flying high. But, there was a bit of a personal cost I had to pay. I can say that in some ways, success cost me in my personal life.
As we all know, the real estate industry tanked during 2008, into 2009. Everyone around me was scratching their heads, wondering what they were going to do. It was a mess!
No one was buying homes at the time, and nothing was being being constructed. Even the commercial side of the industry dried up, and in some cases, any new construction projects that were taking place came to an indefinite halt!
I knew I had to figure something out. I had bills to pay and family considerations! So, my wife and I decided to use my marketing and real estate experience and move into a new direction-we decided to buy a commercial property, and we turned it into a floral and gift shop.
The revenue that we generated wasn’t as much as what I earned working with the realty developers, but I tell you what-I learned a whole lot about different aspects of entrepreneurship. And, I was able to build upon the skills that I already developed.
After the economy started to recover, and specifically after the real estate industry recovered, I decided to go back to where I first started-I decided to go back into apartment locating.
“So, you saw for yourself that due to life and unforeseen circumstances, there were twists and turns in your career?” I excitedly asked him.
“Sure! But, I wouldn’t trade what I learned, and I’m glad that I was able to think of a way to start a new business when the hard times hit,” he responded with hard-earned confidence.
Real Life Example #2: How A Freelance Writer Managed Blank Spaces On Their Project Calendar
Let me use myself as an example, please.
As any freelancer knows, blank spaces on their project calendar isn’t acceptable. Blank spaces on the project calendar means that personal bills don’t get paid, and there’s only so many ways to jazz up poor folks meal plans!
I didn’t start working for myself to create a life of poverty, and yet, in spite of warm and cold client pitches, and in spite of a little client referral help from my friends, I was having a hard time closing new deals for a few weeks.
That’s when I made a decision that helped me to grow laterally while also helping me to fill in gaps on the calendar: I decided to plug myself back into my old digital agency content matrix.
Yeah, I know, everyone is told that part of their growth trajectory involves thumbing their noses at inferior-quality work. In theory, if we’re good at what we do, then we should be able to turn down the lower-paying gigs and the clients who come to us with limited budgets, right?
Yes, that’s how things should work in a perfect world where clients blow up our email accounts with desperate pleas for our services, promising us carte blanche access to their marketing budgets.
But, I don’t live in a perfect world, and there’s times when work is work! So, I took a deep breath and took advantage of the available (yet lower paying) work.
The ability to read the writing on the wall, humble out, get out of my own way and take advantage of available agency work led me towards more lateral growth-I was able to find the perfect less is more client.
Let me explain:
I responded to an ad for writers that was posted in the agency’s forum for contracted writers. The client quoted their fee range, and I immediately responded back, noticing that their highest fee quote was far lower than what my time is currently worth per hour.
But, I liked project niche, so this is what I did:
I negotiated a slightly higher fee.
The fee we agreed upon was still lower than I would have liked, but the work that I’m required to do is super-easy! And, after the client reviewed my previous work samples, and after he observed what it’s like working with me, he’s all too happy to pay the higher rate, although other writers quoted him a lower fee.
I negotiated PayPal fee compensation.
Since the fee we agreed upon was still on the lower end, I politely negotiated/asked the client to pay the associated fees that I’d be charged by PayPal (2.9% for U.S. client invoices, and 3.9% for international client invoices). After a little resistance, he agreed to cover my fees.
I agreed to an initial trial run.
We started out with a very small package, but now we’ve move on into an expanded project. We’ll work together probably through the rest of the summer, and possibly beyond. Best of all, the amount of money I’ll earn over the life of the project far outweighs any fee I would have earned working with another client who would have paid me a higher rate for a one-shot project.
Now, my project calendar has become a bit more girthy, but here’s the skinny on all of this:
Vertical scale is admirable, but it’s not a necessary trajectory for growth. Sometimes, knowing when to stay in place long enough to develop a solid foundation is a major sign of of another form of growth-maturation.
There are times when it’s okay to scale laterally if it means that you’ll stay busy and possibly earn more money over the (long) life of the project. And, as I’ve learned, it’s not a sin to take on projects that you might have graduated past or evolved from.
These aren’t the projects that will stroke your ego or build your resume, but they’ll keep money in your account, and they’ll help your business scale in ways that are presently important.
What are your thoughts/experiences on scaling your business? Was there a time when you had to shift gears and move in a direction that was different from what you originally planned? Share in the comments below!