Enough Business to Make Life Miserable…But Not Enough to Hire – Surviving Agency Hell
We have all heard the same success story.
She quit her job and started out as a freelancer. Then after doing great work got more business and hired an assistant.
Fast forward 2 years and BAM. She’s onstage talking about how to facilitate remote culture in a 7 figure agency style business.
“Now it’s your turn!”
Except you’ve been trying to ramp up operations, sales and your business but instead have been treading (profitable at least) water for months.
It’s time to acknowledge the harsh reality of the majority of 1 man shops and small consulting groups.
It’s when you are scrambling for day after day to keep up with client work, yet you just don’t have the cash in the bank (or time) to go out and hire that rockstar that could lighten the load. Assuming you even know how to find and hire of course.
I call it “agency hell”, and believe that an unspoken majority of small businesses in a service model suffer silently in it’s clutches.
The way out requires a shift in thinking with a focus on revenue and efficiency. Either you need to make a way bigger pile of cash (more revenue), or you need to keep more of every dollar that comes in (efficiency).
Let’s discuss both in detail and how they might apply to your specific business.
Planning Your Escape
Are you ready to crawl our way out of the cellar and into the warm afternoon sunshine? There are really two big paradigms that you should adopt when trying to boost business.
In short, how can you earn more money (in your existing setup), and how can you crank up efficiency so you are either selling more or spending less?
This is the big rock that solo founders and entrepreneurs will go to the ends of the earth to avoid turning over.
“Is there enough profit built into my business model to pay for operations while leaving enough left over for myself? And is that leftover portion greater than what I would earn if I just had a regular job?”
This one hurts. Because a large percentage of the time the answer is your margins aren’t big enough to support a legitimate business.
Don’t completely despair yet. If you margins aren’t big enough there are always a few avenues worth exploring. They’re so fundamental, but often when you are in the trenches of day to day operations you forget to take a look.
Raise Your Prices
An astonishing amount of profit problems are solved by simply charging more. You probably can get away with more than you think (most people tend to underprice their usefulness).
Changing Your Model
Do you have some products or services that sell at higher price points yet take less time/cost to fulfill? Try conducting a quick inventory of what you sell (and what it costs you) and try and restructure to spend more time selling the good stuff.
80/20 and the efficiency approach
If the money is coming in at high margins, it’s entirely possible that the limiting factor is truly you and your time spent. Are you wasting countless hours on tasks that you really could delegate? Are you clinging to doing things that pump up your ego (sales calls) but are really a drain on your schedule?
Take a look at the time you are spending to fulfill client work or customer orders. Are you being paid enough for all that labor? Probably not, which is why you need to take a harder look at your efficiency.
Grab your pencil and notebook, it’s time to 80/20 rule the shit out of your business.
Start by listing every activity that you (or your employees) do during the average business week. This can be things like:
- sales calls with new leads
- Team Meetings
Any task that you spend your time and precious focus on each day is fair game here. Once you have an exhaustive list, it’s time to assign an hour estimate to each task.
For the tiny tasks, make sure that you don’t break them down into intervals of less than 10 minutes. Even a 30 second item can break your focus for the immediate future.
Now for the tricky part, we need to group these tasks into 3 of the biggest optimization categories and figure out how the hell you’re going to slash those timelines.
Can you easily hire, train and instruct someone to do the tasks for less than it’s costing you? You need to keep in mind what your hourly rate for your business. Oftentimes this is not viable (no cash in the bank), so move on.
What can be streamlined for yourself or employees by changing your approach? Adding project management software that automates more correspondence, writing better SOPs for your existing team, making videos explaining routine things to clients. These are all possible with just a little bit of sweat equity and can buy you precious time each week to get you over the hump and continue growing.
This is a more subtle form of optimization. What can you create or eliminate that changes how your business operates?
On the creation side, this could be building internal tools, or leveraging a ‘premium’ product from another company.
On the elimination side, this could be firing bad clients (that take up all your time and headspace) or narrowing your product/service offerings to zero in on your most profitable sales.