Growing it alone – working smarter as a smaller team

Running a small business is demanding on my time. Anyone in the same position knows that being your own boss isn’t just a full-time job, but you never stop thinking about it, whether at work, rest or play.

Grow slowly, grow wisely
Grow slowly, grow wisely

Even on holiday, I would keep tabs on my customers, read emails and respond to them, even if just to say I was on holiday. I felt as if I was being ‘responsible’, but as much as I felt ‘in control’ I also wanted to enjoy my holiday.

Earlier this year, for the first time in the eleven years I’ve been running Canary Dwarf, I had a complete break from my business.  A two-week holiday in America, where I chose to switch off my phone and stop checking my email and social media for a full 14 days.

Apart from leaving an ‘emergency’ channel open for technical support, it wasn’t difficult or stressful. In fact, it was a lot easier than I had expected.

Time to think

Without the distractions of day-to-day goings-on, I had time to think. I wasn’t worried about being ‘out of touch’ but more a case of feeling more ‘in control’. That was a dream I never thought I’d have.

Since opening a high street office four years ago, the rate of work coming in has increased substantially and we’ve countered that by employing freelance designers and developers.

But during my two weeks in America, I had an epiphany. A revelation about the way we move forward.

Hiring people to expand wasn’t working. While we were meeting the workload, we were losing the one-to-one relationship we had with customers. Properly skilled WordPress developers and designers are hard to come by, not because they’re rare, but because they’re already in demand or freelancing themselves. Even paying up to £50 an hour, we were still not able to attract the right people.

Part of the problem is that when I meet a potential new customer, the process I use to discover where I can help them, is not easily transferable. If I was out of the equation, the result didn’t add up, yet I would have full responsibility.

Building relationships

On more than one occasion, I had to redo complete websites because they didn’t meet ‘our standards’ and that was ultimately counterproductive and costly.
That sounds awfully arrogant, but it’s not meant to be. Our unique selling point is that we will help our customers build a relationship with their website. We teach customers how to use them and if they’re not built the way we want them to be, that USP is gone.

What would have been arrogant is if I’d convinced someone I knew their business enough to build them a website, then handed it off to a freelancer to build and delivered it as if it was my own.

I’m not willing to do that. A business consultant told me that to detach myself and delegate was the only way to expand. But at the risk of sounding arrogant again, I just couldn’t find another me.

I am very passionate about delivering something that can’t be bought elsewhere, and in fact, I believe that’s why people come to us.

Not because we’re the lowest price – because we rarely are – but because we’ve identified what our customers need better than anybody else.

That isn’t arrogance, it’s building a relationship, but after four years of failing to find the right people to delegate to, I’ve decided to grow sideways not upward.

As Canary Dwarf evolves, it will take a turn to meet with customer demand. A move that is a natural progression for the relationships we have established with our customers, and the returns they are likely to experience. It will mean scaling back on staff and not seeking to grow by scaling up on hours.

Customer demand has led to us providing a service that goes a step further than the three dimensions of ‘websites, marketing and training’. We won’t be making a radical change, the way we work with customers will change according to their needs. There is a fourth dimension, and that has opened up a whole new opportunity for us and our customers.

Small, but perfectly formed

It will remain a family business, with myself meeting customers, consulting and delivering, Susie will still be at the front desk and doing all the admin, and Russell Hobbs will keep his position in the kitchen.

There’s no need for more ‘team members’, we’ve already established that’s unworkable. We’re a solid team of two (or three if you include the kettle), and we’ll stay that way. We’ve worked out how we can ‘grow it alone’. We’re not going to pretend we’re bigger than we are. The clue is in the name.

We’ll increase our prices, slow down the workflow and continue to do what we’ve always done and that does the very best work we can for our customers. We’ll have more time for them.

Cars don’t drive themselves and neither do websites. If we want our customers to get the most out of being online, we need to give them more than just a website.

That might put us out of reach for some people. But if we increase our workload, we’ll just end up churning out website after website.

We are now exactly where we want to be, but also at the forefront of exciting things. And it’s all thanks to my American dream.

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