Accelo Co-Founder Shares the Secrets to Success at Scale
“The reality is that running a small business is really, really hard.”
“The reality is that running a small business is really, really hard.” This was the empathetic way that Geoff McQueen’s “Getting Back to the Work You Love: How Automation Can Help You Scale Your Business.” The Accelo co-founder recounted his time as an agency professional in a small business, struggling to keep his head above water- how does one find the chance to scale, when there’s just so much to do?
That feeling of overwhelm is common- the statistics he shared on the workload of small business owners bore this out in a staggering fashion. Small business owners are working, on average, 52 hours a week. 57% of them work six or more days a week. Almost half won’t take a yearly vacation, and those who do won’t fully “unplug,” still checking into the office daily. Not exactly sustainable conditions to scale a business. In fact, McQueen praised those working under those conditions: “It’s a miracle that all of you with your hands up are successful enough to be able to be here, at this, paying attention to how to grow and scale your business. Because just getting through the day is hard.”
McQueen believes that systems – and tools for automation that can shoulder some of the load – are key to creating conditions that allow a business to scale, even and especially for businesses that provide a service. Automation tools – not just in areas like marketing or sales or accounting, but also in what he calls “service operations” – help facilitate scale by streamlining common processes. And by creating automated processes, but personalizing them as only small businesses can, scale becomes not only possible but not grueling to reach. In his eyes, small businesses geared toward service face three specific challenges, but they’re challenges that automation can help address.
Service Scale Challenge #1: No Two Client Projects Are Exactly the Same
“Every time we get engaged, we’re doing something new,” McQueen correctly says of client work. The nuance of each project makes it hard to automate the work. While it’s true that personalized work is difficult to automate, achieving scale means some of these processes need to be made easier. Issuing quotes, creating timelines for projects, tracking time and expenses, and developing prompts for billing and communication are all parts of the process that are ripe for service automation technology.
Ultimately a hybrid solution proves to be the best option, McQueen revealed, in order to not sacrifice outstanding service once you start to scale. This means setting reminders for personal calls to clients. This means automating time tracking, but allowing for notes to share progress on a project. This means automating an invoice’s creation but supplementing it with a customized report of the work the agency has done for the client since the last payment.
That customized care is key to scale because it allows a personalized relationship with an increasing number of clients. “We spend so much time earning those clients, it’s critical to make sure you keep them.”
Service Scale Challenge #2: Your Team Creates Value For Your Clients
“People are creative, but not consistent. Resourceful, but not robotically reliable,” McQueen mused as he explored the challenges of automating a service business. This element of fallibility runs counter to automation, but its removal threatens to harm the personality and personability of an organization. But implementing systems means that your team isn’t pressured to produce results through what McQueen termed “sheer force of will.”
What elements of the process can be made easier for the people doing the work? Automated workflows for things like project management (making it easier to see what colleagues are working on), real-time insights (assessing where challenges might delay a project or affect its spending), and resourcing and scheduling (who’s overloaded? Who’s light and might be able to help) create predictable patterns that can help a business reach scale without breaking the spirit of those doing the work. Said of timesheets, but truly a sentiment that maps to all parts of the process: “the answer is to make it suck as little as possible.”
Service Scale Challenge #3: You Have The Most Perishable Inventory- TIME
McQueen opened his talk with a question of the founders in the room: how confident are you that you could, on a given day, correctly report what’s going on in the office today? Even in small companies, this is a difficult question to answer- because there simply isn’t the time to check on all elements of an organization every single day. What’s more, spending time working on the business and not in it often means space develops between what made you love the work, and scaling your organization. But automation helps with this because it improves efficiency. Automation, once set and working properly, gives you that time back.
The streamlining and organization that service operations automation provides makes the work not only faster, but less susceptible to human error. The result? By the assessment of one client, less and less “busy work.”
By the numbers, the ability to automate multiple processes to work faster and smarter could affect a lot of people. 91% of service sector jobs exist in the realm of small businesses. “These guys matter the most, and yet they’ve been left behind” as resources to automate became the province of big companies, McQueen notes. But that standard is changing, and small business is poised to change along with it. Yes, running a small business is really hard, but at last we have the tools to make it a bit easier.
Accelo is the #1 Service Operations Automation (ServOps) featuring sales, project management, email integration, retainer management, sales tracking, and support.
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