In the past, I’ve been pretty open about how I don’t want to scale or grow my business. If in 5 years I’m in the same place as where I am right now and I’m still enjoying my work, I wouldn’t have an issue with this.
To be clear, I still do what I can to be more efficient and earn more. My goal is to grow without sacrificing time or freedom.
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Hiring employees creates pressure and stress
The way I look at it, growth often results in reduced freedom and flexibility which is the main reason most of us get into business in the first place. In my consulting business, one way to grow is to increase my capacity, take on more client work and hire a team of people who can do the consulting work for me.
I have no interest in doing this for a few reasons:
- I enjoy my work, so why would I employ other people to do the thing I enjoy leaving me with just the admin of the business?
- Just because you hire a team, doesn't mean you’re guaranteed to grow.
- I don’t want the responsibility of managing and paying for a team.
This last point is a biggie. If I employ even just one person to do the consulting for me, I now have to pay a salary regardless of how much revenue I bring in. This is what’s called a “fixed cost” or “overhead”. It’s a fixed expense you have to pay each month, regardless of your sales volume. Hiring employees is usually one of the biggest liabilities for any business.
Sure, hiring someone to do the consulting for me would free up some of my time. But in order to justify the expense, you need to 1) cover the cost of that employee, and 2) earn additional income that you can’t generate on your own to really make it worth it. Personally, I don't want or need this added pressure.
Just because you add more cogs to the machine, doesn’t mean you’re going to get a proportionate level of output.
When I had just started my full-time consulting journey, I met someone at the co-working space where I work who was at a similar level as me. He was working on his own at the time, just like me, but had ambitions to grow. Over the next year, he hired a load of people so he could take on more clients. Despite this, he wasn’t taking home any more money at the end of the day. His profit after all expenses was the same. All that work for no extra benefit. Since then, he’s cut right back and now works with few people on a contract basis.
My approach to hiring
For years I was very stubborn about all this. I was like: “Well, I don't want to grow so I’ll do everything myself”. And sure, in the beginning, it’s probably a good idea to do everything yourself so you can save money and learn more about different parts of the business.
However, as I’ve grown I’ve learned that I can’t and shouldn’t do everything myself. I’m now at the point where to be more efficient or increase revenue I need to get some outside help.
Over the last few years, I’ve started to lean on more and more people for support and I’ve built a “Minor team” as I like to call it, without even realising.
I work with everyone on a “contract” basis. Meaning I simply pay them when I need work done and I’m not obligated to pay a wage or salary. I don’t employ anyone and there are no fixed terms.
This is where the world is headed. It’s the same with how my clients pay me. They pay a consultant like me when they need help and even if they pay a premium, this is often more cost-effective than employing someone full-time.
Introducing the ‘Minor Team’
Listed below are the awesome people I work with that help to keep this little business of mine ticking over.
I almost didn’t list myself here but I thought I should as it’s worth explaining how the team is structured. There’s no vertical hierarchy to this team. The structure is more like a hub-and-spoke system with me in the middle and everyone else feeding out from the middle.
The business wouldn’t run without me. I could stop working and parts of my business would keep going, but generally speaking, I need to be working to keep the business going. Everyone else supports me in this role.
Hayley is my wonderful wife who has helped with many parts of my business over the years. She started working with me when we went traveling in early 2017 and worked with me full-time after she quit her job in September of that year. When Jay came along in October 2018 she reduced her involvement and now helps for a few hours a week with things like email, content and email marketing.
Angeline is my virtual assistant (VA) who I’ve been working with for the last few months. For years I’ve postponed hiring a VA as it just seemed like so much work to find someone and teach them how to do things in the business. Boy, do I wish I’d met Angeline a few years ago. She’s been an absolute god-send. As long as I give her clear instructions she can do almost anything I ask.
I use Asana to assign work to Angeline. When I have something for her to do, I’ll often record a quick video so I can explain the task or show myself doing something which I need Angeline to repeat.
I purchase blocks of 20-hours from Angeline and she tracks how long she spends on tasks. It’s basically like credit that I can dip into when needed which is nice and flexible.
In the past, and even still to this day, I struggle to let go. It’s hard for me to give up control and let other people do things. It’s just the control freak in me who wants to do everything and have things done a certain way. This is one of the biggest things holding me back right now and going forward, I’m pushing myself to outsource more and more work to Angeline.
Andrew is a developer who I met at my co-working space. I started working with him about a year ago when I needed help optimising my website speed. Now I’ll turn to Andrew whenever I need technical help with my site. I’m not a developer so I often run into things I can’t do and Andrew is great to work with.
Because Andrew works at the same co-working space, it’s really handy to be able to talk in person if we need to.
Andrew tracks the hours that he works and I get a bill once a month. Sometimes when there’s a big bit of work to do he’ll give me an estimate of the hours just so I’m aware.
The thing I’ve noticed since starting to work with Andrew is that I’m able to do certain things that previously I would never even thought about. For example, a few months ago, Andrew suggested we get the site optimised for Google AMP so articles load quicker. I was like: “Yep, sounds great” and he did the work. Stuff like that I’d never think to do on my own.
I’ve also just started working with Andrew in Asana. Before, because his work was quite ad-hoc, we’d just use email or Slack. Even so, I suggested we use Asana so I can see everyone’s work in one place and it’s working really well.
Kylie is another virtual assistant who does just one simple job for me. When I get a new booking for an introductory call from a potential client, she calls the person 24 hours before my appointment to confirm the booking (I use Zapier to add tasks to Pipedrive).
My friend, Chuck, actually came up with this idea when I was complaining about how people sometimes don't show up to their appointment. Since working with Kylie the number of no-shows has definitely improved and I like the professionalism of having the call confirmed by someone.
Kylie is a mum with a part-time job. The calls aren’t a massive amount of work for her and she fits it in when she can throughout the day.
Jennifer, Beany (Accountant)
Jennifer is probably the person I’ve been working with the longest. From day one I knew I wasn’t going to do my own financial reports or tax returns.
Jennifer is an accountant at a New Zealand firm called Beany. I pay Beany an annual fee to do all my financial reports and tax returns for Hayley and I. Throughout the year I can call on Beany to get help with Xero (our accounting platform). Jennifer has been with me the entire way and she’s aware of how my business has grown over the years. She gave me advice when I needed to change from a sole proprietorship to a limited liability company. She also helped guide us when Hayley quit her job and later went onto maternity leave.
If Jennifer ever left Beany I’d definitely go to whatever new firm she joins so I could keep working with her.
Thomas is a freelancer that Hayley found on Upwork to help with content, specifically, to help write Book Summaries. I started writing summaries about 5 years ago and people love them. However, as I’ve gotten busier with client work, I couldn’t justify the time it takes to summarise books that I read but I still wanted to publish summaries for people to enjoy. Hayley did these for me for about a year and now works with Thomas to produce a new summary every few weeks.
Interestingly, I’ve never met or had a conversation with Thomas. Hayley manages this entire process for me.
Other experts (e.g. SEO)
Occasionally I’ve worked with other experts and contractors when I need ad-hoc support. For example, I’ve used Clarity to connect with lawyers when In need legal advice.
I’m currently working with an agency here in New Zealand to get an SEO audit done on my website (this may turn into an ongoing relationship if needed).
I’m slowly becoming more and more comfortable with letting go of control. I’ve learned that it’s usually well worth getting an expert to help with stuff when you simply don’t have time to do things on your own. Even if you do, it’s often better to work with an expert who will likely do things far better than you can anyway.
I hope this post gives you an interesting look behind the scenes around how I work. I have this image of being really productive but remember that I have a team of people supporting me which I’m really grateful for.
And if you’re a solo-operator like me (although I’m not sure I can still call myself that), then I’d highly recommend doing an audit of your time and working out where you can lean on other people to free up some bandwidth.
Please let me know if you have any questions in the comments below!