Scale. It’s a word I love and hate. I love what it implies; to scale a business is to create something that can generate so much more than what you could do by yourself when you first started. But I hate how it’s thrown around these days, especially by the incubators, accelerators, and venture capitalists – as in, if your business isn’t hugely scalable on a global level, then what’s the point? The other day I was reading about a great competition hosted by local incubator 1776 in which they said that to compete, ‘the business has to be “highly scalable.” The winner of the Challenge Cup might start out as a small business, but the goal is to be a global, multimillion-dollar company.” And I thought to myself, but what about the entrepreneurs who want to build a business for reasons other than global world domination? And the trouble with making the word ‘scale’ so important is that many business owners are now shying away from it, thinking it doesn’t relate to them.
But in reality, scale does matter. If you’re a chef, there are only so many dishes you can make for a certain price. If you’re a chef who hires a sous-chef, now you can make twice as many dishes. The same goes for professional services. A consultant can only work so many hours before she maxes out. But a consultant with a partner can bill twice as many hours. Scale matters. It’s what allows businesses to grow.
You know what my biggest step was in my business this year? The single biggest decision that changed my business and allowed us to scale?
I hired my first employee. In the past we have had a team of independent consultants and contractors and our incredible interns. But I wanted to start building the team of employees. I had to find a payroll company. And pay taxes. And think about vacation plans and PTO. I had to consider our corporate values and our culture as a firm. But as so many people told me, it also was a game changer. Not only in terms of my commitment to the business and my team, but also personally. For the first time in 2 years, I’ve been able to take true vacation – the kind where you don’t check in every day and spend hours still on your email. You may find it silly, but I am so proud of that because before I hired an employee, I could not take time off. And we all know what happens when you truly disconnect, when you can think more creatively – your business takes off.
Like everyone else, I wondered whether I was ready, whether we could afford to do this. But when you spend the time to do the math and figure out that you can, all of a sudden, you can, and you do, and then your business begins to scale. Once there are more and more of you doing more activities in the business, you achieve the very definition of scale.
But sometimes I think we’ve convinced ourselves that it has to happen at warp speed. And if I’ve learned anything as an entrepreneur and while working with other business owners, it’s that lots of mistakes happen at warp speed. Remember that this is your business, and that you don’t have to do what everyone else is doing. Build it the way you want to, in line with your personal objectives, and do it smartly. You don’t have to aim for world domination in order to succeed, but if you want to work a little less and make a little more, then you probably have to think about scale.