Many solo entrepreneurs choose to curtail their businesses growth for the purpose of lifestyle. Others have visions of expansion right from the start. Being the only person in a business, wearing all of the hats, is just a stepping stone to increased prosperity. What steps can you take if you plan to expand your business some day?
Right from the beginning, develop a business plan and marketing plan. Think of them as road maps to where you want to go with the business and directions on how to get there. They provide the foundation for the future success of your business. Although it may seem like a daunting process before you start, creating snapshots of the most important elements of your business is priceless.
The critical component in preparing your business to grow is to make a habit of developing documented and well organized systems. If you use the same documents regularly, turn them into templates to use repeatedly. Better yet, have them turned into Microsoft Word forms you can fill out quickly on the computer. Take the time to write important documents like policy or privacy statements, and save a copy on your computer hard drive and a printed copy in a book. One of the best ways to formalize and organize your business is to get a large 3 ring binder, buy some page protectors, and start creating a corporate book. It might seem like overkill now while you are “it,” but will be extremely useful when you bring on your first employee.
In this corporate book, you can store contract templates, forms, terms of service, government certificates such as your DBA statement – plus anything else that supports the past, present and future of your business. Keep a copy of your business and marketing plan there as well.
As you develop the business, keep a Word document handy on your desktop called “Standard Operating Procedures.” Every time you find yourself doing something repetitive, or routine, pop open the document and jot down some notes about what it is and how you did it. You can flesh the details out later, but when the time comes to off load some of the tedium of running your business to someone else, you will have a terrific starting point for which “hats” someone else can wear. Your first new employee will be able to quickly get up to speed and provide the same level of service you have been providing, armed with a document like this.
Take the time to set up a good business accounting system like Quick Books Pro or Quicken. When you are using this or any other software system, pretend at all times that someone else must see what you are doing and understand it. Do not use abbreviations or acronyms without explaining what they mean, since whoever takes over this system might not have any idea what you were saying. When faced with doing something very quickly or taking the extra moment to document the transaction with a note of some sort, take that opportunity to leave a trail for anyone who might take on this duty for you later.
Set up a “creative” system as well, for any design or branding information. It could be a directory on your hard drive that is backed up regularly, or a folder in your drawer – as long as its all together. Save everything that has to do with the image and marketing of your business in one place – original logo, artwork, ads you have run, fonts, and colors that are used for a consistent identity. Having this information organized will not only give you the ability to quickly market your business with a consistent brand, but will also provide the beginnings of a corporate identity program that can be shared with future employees and vendors.
It is critical to any business that you do regular backups, have a disaster recovery plan, and have assessed any threats to your business information and that of your clients. As you set up these systems, do it in a way that also adds a sense of history. For example, if you back up weekly, store all of these backups somewhere with dates and specifics written on them, in case you ever need to return to that time period for any reason.
When the time comes to consider growing your business beyond yourself, review the documents you’ve developed, and make a list of the tasks you could probably delegate to someone else. There are many ways you can test the waters of growth. You might want to try hiring a temporary assistant or a part time virtual assistant. You should also consider what you can best bring to the business, and which areas you might want someone else to handle. Then consider outsourcing aspects of your business to another independent professional. In whatever direction you decide to grow, you will have already created a strong foundation on which to build.
Eileen ‘Turtle’ Parzek (c) 2003 All Rights Reserved
About the author
Eileen ‘Turtle’ Parzek is a veteran web designer and an online marketing & communications consultant who has been working from home and virtually since 1995. You can subscribe to her free monthly newsletter called Increase Your Reach: Infuse Your Marketing with Technology at http://www.soho-it-goes.com NOTE: You’re welcome to “reprint” this article online as long as it remains complete and unaltered (including the “about the author” info at the end), and you send a copy of your reprint to email@example.com