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Five Things I Learned My Third Year of Business (Part 3)

On May 5 2021 I registered my business and committed to building … something. I had no idea at the time what it would turn into. One thing I discovered early on: the experience would allow me to grow in ways I never thought possible. Now, every year from May 1 to May 5, I share the top 5 things I learned about myself and my business in the past year.


Lesson #3: Building and Dismantling Teams  

They say patience is a virtue. It is not one that comes naturally to me.

 

Patience is a learned discipline, and Year 3 of my business provided many opportunities to practice.

 

It’s an understatement to say I was focused on scaling and growth in Year 3. I was practically obsessed. I love what I do so much, and I know it can help a lot of people. In 2023 I completely transformed how I structure my business to allow me to work with as many people as possible. Because I want to scale and I want to scale NOW.

 

This meant building a team first. It was very Field of Dreams – if you build it, they will come.

 

If you build a team of consultants, dozens of 1:1 clients will come.

 

If you build a social media agency of designers, photographers, videographers, and strategists, dozens of social media clients will come.

 

That was the intent. What actually happened was more: if you build a team, the pressure to secure enough business to pay for this team will come and keep you up at night.

 

This was the year I built a team, and dismantled it. I could do a five-part series on what I learned through this process alone, but here are the highlights:

 

Reason, Season, or Lifetime

Everyone comes into our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. The same is true for the people who come into your business.

 

I had a very romantic notion that every person I brought into the business in these early years will be here for a lifetime. I was so in love with this idea, I held on to people for longer than they were effective and needed. And for longer than I actually had the funds to pay for them.

 

When I look at the numbers of this year, even my lowest-earning months were enough to cover my living expenses. Which showed me there’s one person who will be with this company for a lifetime and that’s me. Everyone else is for a reason or a season.

 

One thing has become clear to me this year: I’m building a production company. This means there will be times when volumes of work come through my door, mostly in the form of projects. I will bring in talented people on a project-by-project basis. The times in between? It’s me and my assistant. Until the next wave comes.

 

I thought scaling and growth came from head count. That’s not always the case. Scaling and growth come from how efficient I am at serving clients. That is how I build teams now, and it’s so much easier!


Clarity is Kindness

Every person you bring onto your team wants to do their best work. It is your job to ensure you are giving clear direction on expectations and deliverables.

 

If you find yourself thinking “it’s easier/better if I do it myself”, that’s a ‘you’ problem. It’s either an indication you’re not giving them enough direction. Or it’s an indication there isn’t enough work to justify having this much support. Either way, you are the source of this, not your team member.

 

Be clear on what you want, how you want it done, and be consistent. Give your team enough runway to try things their way (no business succeeds in an echo chamber). Know when they need direction and build that into your workflow. Create a culture where they can ask you for help and for guidance.

 

I’ve built this into the KPI report. There are key things I would like updates on. At the end of the questionnaire I ask my team to name the task they’re happy with, to identify one they’re struggling with, and what support they need. We’re all working toward the same goal. You as the leader of your business have additional responsibility of ensuring everyone on the team has what they need to do their best work. If they’re not delivering, deal with that early and often. Trust me, the awkward feedback you dread giving will be better received if it’s dealt with right away. The longer you wait, the higher the stakes.

 

Make Tough Choices

I’m not going to back into this one: firing people sucks. Firing good people sucks the worst.

 

The reason it sucks might surprise you. When you’re a business owner and you’re building a team, you’re doing so because you’re operating at a profit. You’re so successful you have a surplus of money and can afford to hire contractors. This part feels really good. Your ego really really really likes it.

 

So when you have to fire people because you can’t afford them, it sucks because you’re no longer working with someone good. And it sucks because your business isn’t as “successful” as when you hired your team in the first place.

 

Your ego really really really really really really hates to admit this.

 

Money is neutral. It is not good, bad, success, or failure. It just is. There will be times your business can handle large carrying costs. And there will be times you need to cut back. Get neutral about what this means.

 

A year ago I had a support team of four. Now I have one. I put off this decision longer than I should have because I didn’t want to admit I was failing.

 

When I got neutral, however, I realized this scaling back is not a sign of failure.

 

I have a support team of one. I also have a growing agency of creatives I can call on as projects come up: a client wants new headshots, or help with a social media strategy. All the way to a client’s show is picked up by a network and I call on my director and show-runner contacts.

 

My essential staff is myself and an EA. This is the team during seed-panting season. I can serve client needs and promote my business with ease working with an EA. When these seeds are ready to harvest, I can build my team again accordingly, until the next seed-planting season.

 

The tough choices are only tough because you make them tough. When you get neutral and see the situation without the added emotion and story, you might see you’re better off than you realize.

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