It’s *always* the thing that everyone wants to know, and I have always struggled with the right way to package this story up … because it really is so much more than just one blog post, and yet I know I can [at the very least] do my best to package up the itty bitty chunks together in order to share an incredible story of our [nearly] 7 year scale.
If you’re anything like me, I love hearing about how particular businesses grew [or didn’t grow. Because there’s so much learning in the “we tried this, and it didn’t work” narrative[s] as well. And I have many of these stories myself [who hasn’t launched a startup and experienced “tried this, didn’t work” before, ha!] … but they’re all stories for another day, because in today’s blog post? I’m really keen to unpack those itty bitty chunks of our 7 year scale story [and I’ve chunked it out to cover the questions we’re asked the very most].
The early days [bluddy hard work] era
It was [as the title suggested] bluddy hard work.
Thankfully tho? You’re fuelled by adrenalin. It’s the same adrenalin that helps the parent of a newborn to stay alive on x2 broken hours of sleep per night, whilst round-the-clock feeding a newborn baby [and helping it to grow]. It is exactly like that adrenalin, i.e the most intense burst of whatever it is that you need in order to see your “newborn baby” [your new business] through a stage in its life that’ll be the make or break … and really determine how it grows.
My early days “newborn adrenalin” played a huge role in the – very often – 70+ hour working weeks I pulled to lay all o’ the foundations for a [hopefully one day] successful business, and it was a wild time, and I flew all over Australia building national recognition for this here business [which I still attribute to the thing that truly helped us to become recognised as industry leaders in social media training today].
The wildest part about all o’ this? … there was zilch pay. Joy-sus. I don’t think I can recall a time in my life where I’ve ever been so broke. I vividly remember my daughter needing baby wipes, and not having enough money for them … so I walked down to the milk bar at the end of our street and put every silver coin I could find in our house on the shop counter to cover the baby wipes.
I was 20 cents short, but the milk bar owner “let me off the hook” [and I repaid him a couple of days later].
I worked so hard in that period, and it was exciting, and adrenalin-fuelled [so not memorably exhausting, tbh. I can barely recall any exhaustion, but – again – I attribute that entirely to that aforementioned startup adrenalin] … but not [at all] financially rewarding. Whatever the business made? It went straight back into GD reinvestment [#lol], and it was a regular marital spat my husband and I endured [he hasn’t got an entrepreneurial bone in his body, so he just couldn’t understand why anyone’d wanna work relentless working weeks for 2+ years with zilch financial return].
In hindsight? I can now recognise that I absolutely did what every startup’er should probably do, and I worked my ring off [sure] … but I did so with my eyes firmly planted on the prize: longer-term success, building the foundations for a seriously more secure future, and ensuring [before I went “all in” and lost too much] that we had something worthy of making bigger [and better].
And we did.
And so? We made the first hire.
And it wasn’t exactly our “first rodeo” [i.e we’d utilised contractors a little, and even some part-time’ish support] … but it was well and truly our first full-time employee who transformed a lot for us.
TBH, that’s what happens when you bring someone in when you need it [off the back of early days hard work] at 37’ish hours per week, and I decided the first person we needed was a Studio Manager [yes. Before we had much of a studio to manage … but we were so busy with our eCourses / workshop facilitations etc. that we seriously needed some legitimate systems and processes support].
Enter Cat [who is – x3 years later – TDP’s Managing Director].
Y’see that’s what happens when you hire well. They just … work well. And everything just … grows. And they feel like the *ultimate* 2IC [which is Cat to a tee, tbh]. And every hire we’ve made since has been the direct result of Cat having landed in that Studio Manager chair / seeing every systems and processes gap we had / creating new systems and processes for those gaps / caring about everything as if it were her own business, and ultimately? Building something [alongside me] that is now providing x17 opportunities to others via the small [but mighty] team we now employ.
I think the early days hires feel the scariest, tbh. It’s the real leap of faith kinda stuff. Subsequent hires have felt that itty bit more … formulaic? i.e we grow our client portfolio by xyz, we need an extra [talented] soul to support that work etc.
I love the security of the subsequent hires relying on more formulaic decision making processes, but I’m also forever grateful for the courage I had to dip TDP’s toes into that “first hire” decision.
Scaling your systems and processes
When business owners talk about scaling, it’s always seemingly about [financial] numbers, and revenue, and profit, and growing your team … but not as many talk about systems and processes [which is bizarre, because without those? TDP wouldn’t have scaled its financial numbers, or revenue, or profit, or employees etc.]
And I think this takes me back to feeling grateful that our first full-time hire was someone really solely responsible for setting up seriously solid systems and processes, which ultimately propelled us to our own successful scale story [like the one I am sharing today].
We have systems and processes on top of systems and processes, and basically? If I were to be hit by a truck tomorrow [sombre, I know] … my business could [almost] run without me.
[I say almost … because we’d have a gaping big workshop facilitation hole, that’s for sure].
But from a systems and processes perspective? … anyone could hop in tomorrow and just about take over this business, and be able to run it successfully [thanks to having dedicated so much time to a really strong scaling of systems and processes, as well as an ongoing commitment to the betterment of these systems and processes].
And as you grow? So too will your organisational structure [and so you might need a restructure]
This is especially true in service-based provision-land … but I imagine it applies to eComm businesses too. Of course. I just can’t speak from direct experience there. I’m in the business of selling “time” [and strategy] for money.
When we began our early days scale? We were x4 relatively lone’ish wolves … running our own show[s], and thankfully in the position of having hired so well? Our lone wolves all seriously just managed themselves, ha! As we grew, though? We ended up in the position of people needing to directly report to others and so on, and now? Oh my lawd. What an organisational structure we have ended up with.
It’s the stuff dreams are made of, tbh.
We’ve reached that “holy grail” of an organisational structure that we believe [in its current state] can sustain a bright, beautiful future for TDP [and can even weather any storms as well]. It allows for growth, for career advancement, for sustainability, for life changes [i.e parental leave etc.] … and it’s also allowed me to pivot back to my dream role [and true calling] of Creative Director, which brings me to my next point.
And now? I’ve scaled my way back into my “dream role”. #YayME
And honestly? On this point, I’m grateful for my patience.
There have been times where I’ve thought, “F*CK GROWTH. I’m so far removed from what I actually love doing!” … and there have been times where I’ve wondered why people would even bother to grow if it takes you away from what you love most, but if you stick it out and stick it out successfully? You can actually design the business [and organisational structure] of your dreams.
For me, I’ve now landed on what I love most: creative direction, product development and innovation, teaching and workshop facilitation, mentoring and guiding the ongoing build of a humanistic-encouraging workplace [and workplace culture].
It feels so good to be “home”.
If you’re keen on an even bigger post about scaling for success, our Managing Director wrote a bluddy good post about it here.
If you’re a marketing professional looking to scale your freelance marketing business, we walk you through the [very] successful scale of your freelance marketing business via this program here.