3 Tools Every Growing Startup Must Have
What would you do if your business went from 5 to 500 customers overnight? We are going to explore how I scaled my business from a handful of customers to having more daily enquiries in a day than we had in the previous month.
This is part 6 of a 12 article series telling the story of how I went from zero revenue to €100k in a year.
You can go back and read the Month 0 to Month 5 here.
Blessing or a Curse?
Our success in getting national media coverage had given us an unexpected problem. Our customers multiplied overnight and my business systems existed solely in my head. We needed to add systems and processes quickly to ensure the entire business didn’t collapse under the pressure.
Trial & Error
It is impossible to build flawless systems without trial and error. But a bad system is better than no system.
As a solo-entrepreneur, you are the definition of “key man risk”. If something negative happens to you, the entire business can come collapsing down around your eyes.
Would your business survive if you couldn’t work for a month?
I was doing absolutely everything from writing replies to every single Airbnb guest enquiry to visiting every property to restock the linens before the new guests arrived. By the time I had restocked my 1000th roll of toilet paper, I knew I needed a better system.
Tim Ferriss talks about giving young businesses the hug of death. When he recommends a product or service, within hours either the product sells out or the website becomes unable to handle the vast volume of new business. In theory, it sounds like the best kind of problem to have, but in reality, if your business can’t scale to handle an unexpected increase in business, you are in big trouble.
Tim’s first book, The 4-Hour Workweek was the first business book I read, that truly opened my eyes to the future of work. While it’s ten years old now, it still a must-read for any entrepreneur.
Think about your own business. If you got 100, 1000 or even 10,000 customers overnight would your business be able to meet the demand? In 99% of cases, it’s a no. Think about your business not for the current amount of customers it has, but for the number of customers you want to have.
Plan for the best possible outcome but be ready for the worst.
3 key principles to scale your small business
2. Software that allows you to automate
3. Internal Processes to eliminate repetitive tasks.
The real headline to this are partners/suppliers who you can trust and are reliable. Above all else, find people who are nice to deal with and you can trust with your business.
By month 5, I was using a large team of freelancers to cover the properties we had on the books. I was still learning the ropes and didn’t want to commit to hiring anyone. I didn’t know the most efficient way to organise it as I was extremely careful to avoid excess and waste.
Freelance cleaners were a nightmare. Quality was hit and miss. The sheer logistics of trying to coordinate keys, times and guest requests consumed most of my working day. I was running around Dublin with cleaning supplies and bags stuffed with linens. Not a productive use of my time.
I spent weeks evaluating companies and running trial periods with a number of suppliers before finding a reliable, trustworthy partner that I still work with to this day. Avoid short-term thinking when selecting partners/suppliers. It is massively time-consuming and not something you want to repeat regularly.
Finding suppliers and hiring people are the hidden costs of doing business. It will take days/weeks to do your due diligence, review their work and speak to past clients. Do not skip this step. I did it once and it almost cost me my reputation and everything I had worked for. (We’ll discuss this in a few weeks!)
One of the most successful sports teams of all time, the All Blacks Rugby team apply a “no dickheads” policy. This means no one is bigger than the team. You need to apply this rule to yourself, your suppliers and your customers. As a startup, you are entirely reliant on those around you to allow your business to grow.
Remember, there are always most clients out there.
One person with a bad attitude will sink the whole ship. I also apply this rule to customers. If a client is repeatedly rude to me, my team or causes problems on a regular basis, they are fired (politely and always with respect).
One of the reasons I became my own boss was so that I wouldn’t have to deal with unpleasant people.
2. Automation using software
The Golden Rule: Never do a repetitive task more than once. When you are growing your business, you will be doing every single task so you can’t afford to be wasting time. Here are my top 3 hacks for task productivity.
- Install Typinator or TextExpander to create templates for emails/messages you send regularly. Incredibly simple but in a business such as Airbnb management, 85% of the mails you send will be similar.
- Install a Pomodoro Timer on your laptop or phone to avoid task hopping. Social media notifications have ruined our concentration levels. Work in 30–45 minute bursts on a single task. It can be tempting to dive back in and deal with an email that pops up on your phone. This will kill your flow and take at least 5 minutes to get back where you are.
- Find a project management/automation tool specific to your industry. For Airbnb management, I use a tool called Tokeet that lets me send automated emails to guests when a specific action occurs. An automation tool for clients is like hiring another member of staff but much cheaper.
- Boring tip alert! Use Google Calendar to schedule absolutely everything. This will seem extremely OCD and excessive but if it’s not on the calendar, it won’t get done. As an entrepreneur, you will sit back after a really “busy” day and wonder what the hell you did all day. The calendar helps keep you on track and acts as a very useful record to show you what you did.
3. Internal processes
Once you have identified methods/processes that work for you, get them out of your head and down on paper or in a software system.
The long-term goal is to ensure the business can run 100% smoothly without your involvement. Start planning and putting systems in place for that from day 1 as it’s much easier than trying to do it all in one go later.
Save yourself weeks of work by recording screencasts to train staff
Writing out lengthy handbooks and manual is time consuming an inefficient. I’ve started creating short videos that record my screen and I can simply add commentary as I do the task. It has saved me days, if not weeks when training team members. As a small startup, you can’t afford months to train them in but you also must give them support when starting out or they will be lost at sea.
Next Week — Month 6
My early success and rising media profile attract unwanted attention from rivals and we look at dealing with negativity!
If you enjoyed this story or have a question, please leave a comment below and hit the applause button! I’ll reply to each question & comment.