Here’s the thing about a service business. You, as the owner, cannot easily extricate yourself from the daily operations.
I thought about this last night as friends and I were eating dinner at a favorite local steak house. The owner was on board throughout the evening – making his way around the tables, checking on the service customers received, and even evaluating plates as they were ready for delivery. It was exhausting just to watch him. And during a brief conversation with him, I learned that he was planning the opening of a second restaurant on the other side of town.
Wow. How would he survive? I hoped he had a plan.
Because a service business is so owner-centric, it is often hard to see how such a business can scale. But it really can be done, with some good planning, some good tools, and a willingness to let go and trust others (aka delegate). It’s hard to let that “baby” grow up, but if that is your goal, consider these five tips:
Make the Psychological Shift
Service businesses are labor-intensive. And if you are a solopreneur right now, you are in total control and are also the only laborer. You are in what some have called the “self-employment trap.” Every day, from the time you get up until you call it a day, you are consumed with every facet of operation of your business. The trap you have created is that you have made yourself a full-time job, and you don’t have time for anything else, especially for growing your business. The shift you have to make mentally is that there are some functions that other talented people can perform for you, and you need to find them. (more about that later).
Scaling Means More Automation
You may be doing a number of things manually that you can do much more efficiently with the right tools. From finances to operations to customer service, there are some great tools and apps that will free up a lot of your time.
Intuit Quick Books Online: If you want a financial management system that covers it all and that you can grow with, this is probably the best financial management tool out there for small businesses. As you get new customers, as you employ people, as you need to send invoices and track accounts receivable, do your taxes, and as you need to access your data from anywhere on any device, this tool has you covered.
Customer relationship management (CRM) software is a must. Instead of keeping client/customer information in files, instead of leafing through papers to find out when to re-contact customers, and to track leads and follow-ups, etc., you can have master CRM software that will do all of that and more. You can send birthday wishes, keep in touch, send targeted and segmented emails, get alerts when to re-contact, track invoicing and payment history. There are several systems that have social integration to consider. Two of them are:
- Batchbook: This is a cloud-based system (you do want as much cloud-based as possible, so you can access from any device anywhere). You have several options for organizing customers and leads and even connect their Facebook profiles. You will have your entire communication history, can add all emails automatically – all for $ 20/month.
- Nimble: This is an easy tool to use and is great for social contacts, such as birthdays. You can also sync all contacts you have had with customers or leads, through email or on social media, as well as places to make note of all phone conversations
Automate Bookings: If you have a restaurant, a hair salon, or any type of service business that operates by appointment or reservation, an online booking system can save a great deal of time. Not only can you enter appointments and reservations, but you can allow customers/clients to book their appointments online within time frameworks that you set up. You can have cut-offs so that, for example, by 5:00 p.m., you have a complete list of appointments for the next day.
The Process of Employing Others
You cannot scale if you are unwilling to add staff. As you do this, here are some things to consider:
- Prioritize the tasks of running your business. Which do you want to keep and which do you want to turn over to someone else? Those tasks that you dislike the most will be those you will want to hand off to someone else. Suppose you love the people aspect of dealing with customers but hate the bookkeeping aspects of the business. Then the first person you hire will be that bookkeeper.
- Getting someone hired means spending a good deal of time interviewing the applicants. You need to get a strong feeling that the person will fit into the culture you have established, even as a solopreneur.
- Onboarding your new hire is critical. Part of being a good leader is learning how to teach in an adult way and then allowing your new hire some space to take on tasks without you micro-managing and standing over them. If you have the right person for the job, then you must trust them to do that job. Let them self-manage.
Finding the Balance Between Customer Service and Sales/Prospecting
Growing a business means that sales have to be the number one priority. On the other hand, maintaining excellent customer service to retain current customers is also a number one priority. Unfortunately, you really have two top priorities or you will never grow.
Getting new customers/clients on board is exciting, but it brings stress as well. You have to nurture new relationships and keep old ones going without sacrificing quality. It is now time to add more staff. Which of these two priorities do you like the most? Hire someone for the other. Bring them on board, show them the systems you have in place to accomplish their tasks, mentor them through the first few sales calls or service contacts and ensure that they have the right understanding of your “culture.” Then, just as you did with the bookkeeper, trust them to do the job.
And be certain that they have the tools and resources to do that job. You will know soon enough if they are performing to your expectations or not. If you hand things off progressively and intelligently, you will gradually pull back, get some of your life back, and have systems and people in place to handle the growth.
Service Businesses Grow by Referral as Much as by New Leads You Find
If you keep your “finger in the pie” in terms of any of the daily operations, keeping customers satisfied is probably your most important function. You are still the face of your company, and customers do want to know that you are there for them and that you will resolve any issues or concerns they may have. Being proactive and engaging customers by asking how you can be better should be a function of the owner of any small business. If you do this regularly, responding quickly to issues and asking for input, your customers will refer others to you. – they become brand ambassadors. Your wonderful sales team can find the leads and close the deals. You can provide the great service-after-the-sale and probably “have a life” apart from your business!
Some parents have a hard time watching their kids grow up and become more independent. You may have a hard time at first watching your business grow up too. Just remember that old saying, “If you want something done right, do it yourself,” does not apply to you anymore.Business & Finance Articles on Business 2 Community