Five years ago I started a social media company with three people, now I have a team of five full-time employees and several free-lancers, but I’ve just gotten two new substantial clients and am worried that I’m not staffed to manage the bigger business but I don’t want to layer in fixed costs if the business growth proves to be short-term. I have a business partner who is worried that we don’t have the surplus capital to invest in full-time staff. Do I scramble each time I get new business or should I staff up now and hope for the best? What is the best way to grow responsibly?
As you’ve discovered, growth is not smoothly linear. You’re living the adrenaline high at the moment, having closed two new significant pieces of business and -- prudently, properly -- dread the gut-wrenching sense of failure that might come should the growth not continue. There is no one-stop-shop simple solution for your situation, but there are a variety of strategies you can use to help manage some of the emotional turmoil you’re experiencing and that may come into play with your more risk-averse partner.
First, I’d suggest that you create a matrixed grid, maybe color-coded, where along the top horizontal bar you organize all of your clients with the most critical or profitable clients coded red with each successive client coded a clear color according to the criteria that you and your partner establish.
The next line of the grid will outline beneath each of the clients the specific project. Make this line as detailed as you can – e.g. copywriting required, meetings, presentations, etc., beginning with the project start date and key the action steps to specific dates required to meet your deliverables schedule. And I’d make sure you allow time for client revisions and last-minute shifts in strategy -- people don’t necessarily have the time or resources to plan assignments carefully at the outset, so revisions along the way are givens.
Along the vertical left-hand axis compile a list of your employees with their responsibilities for each client assignment ticked off in the accompanying grid. After completing the color-coded grid – priority projects overlayed with staffing and time requirements -- you should be able to tell at a glance if you are correctly staffed for the work you have.
This exercise should also allow you to determine the skill sets required for your particular staffing needs. Is it copywriting? Scheduling? Client management? Accounting? Based on that assessment you can then decide if you can free-lance the work needed or if a full-time new position is essential.
As a final thought, I’d recommend that you develop a relationship with one of the co-working venues that are cropping up all over the country. One of the places in your city should be a home for people with the skills you need. Then when you need high-caliber free-lance help, you’ve got a ready pool of people to help you.
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