4 Hacks to Scaling an Online Service Business
Over the last few weeks I have gotten quite a few emails asking me how my other businesses are going due to the fact that my attention has been focused on my adbank.network project. If you haven’t had the chance to check it out my “long overdue update”- you can that here! Well, I thought that this would be a really great opportunity to shed some light on how we’ve managed to keep some of the other businesses going strong without a whole lot of involvement on my end. This blog post is going to be about the success of Content Refined which has scaled consistently over the last year and a half and is a solid business on its own.
Madeleine Taylor, the Co-Founder with me at Content Refined shared some useful hacks at a conference a few weeks ago, so in this blog post I want to go over those hacks with you and share some of the valuable lessons my team and I have learned about growing service businesses online.
The 4 hacks that we’re going to talk about are the following:
1- The Importance of building your teams properly and managing them effectively
2- The Importance of recruiting the RIGHT management team to run your business
3- The importance of proceduralizing your business to optimize output
4- The importance of collecting and creating data to prove the value of your product to your audience
If you do these 4 things consistently and effectively, your business will be Solid and Scalable
Hack #1: The Importance of building your teams properly and managing them effectively
Back in November 2016, when we launched Content Refined, we started with 3 beta clients. One manager- which was Madeleine, one writer, and one VA. Our criteria for hiring our freelancers was:
1- Are they the cheapest rate I can find?
2- Do they have good reviews?
3- Have they done it before?
Our very first hire was a writer that we found on upwork for 10$ per article. We had our first client- they were a beta client . The very first article the writer wrote for us- she absolutely knocked it out of the park and we thought- wow this is going to be super easy! Client #2 – we used the same writer. This time it’s a train wreck. Madeleine had to rewrite the entire article herself. Actually, she had to submit 3 times before it was suitable for the client. At this point we’re wondering if this is just a one time fluke or if we had a real problem on our hands. Client # 3- This time we get the copy back and we’re a lot closer to what we had received for client #1. We were super stoked. Problem solved. UNTIL it was checked it for plagiarism and it scored almost 80% exact copy from another online article.
So what’s are our overall takeaways?
#1 Freelance contractors are all over the map. – Some are good, some are bad and some are criminal
#2 Doing this by trial and error is an error!!!
#3 We better put some systems in place or Content Refined isn’t going to last very long
And so that’s what we did and here’s what we came up with:
We created a system where we hired about 5 writers at a time, tested them out over several weeks and then fired the bottom of the talent pool. Now we kept doing this over and over again and put systems in place where we were culling the good from the bad at all times. So what was the result? The bottom 10% would ALWAYS get sifted out and that was our very first SOP. How to cull the talent so that we got consistency and quality from our freelancers. This is still an SOP we use with every hire! On a monthly basis, we let go of the bottom 10% of our performing freelancers. This is how you build and manage effective teams out of contractors who possess skills that are not unique to THEM. Don’t waste your time on flaky contractors- they are the worker bees of your company and they are replaceable. Building systems that will save you MANAGEMENT time is crucial to the success of your business or else you’re going to constantly get bogged down with managing people who are always going to have some sort of BS excuse as to why their stuff wasn’t submitted on time.
Takeaways from Hack #1:
- Create systems that are going to help guide your management decisions
- Build your teams according to these systems
- This will save you so much management time!
- Result= you will be able to scale your teams quickly with strong talent
Hack #2: The Importance of recruiting the RIGHT management team to run your business
So- At this point, we’ve got a nice system in place and we’re scaling up- but here comes our big problem #2- Madeleine’s time has now been extended to a point where the customer service is suffering. In other words- she’s pulling some really long hours and still not getting everything done. So what do we need to do? We need to hire our first Project Manager to help with clients. Unlike hiring a bunch of freelancers, this is the first permanent employee of Content Refined. Now you might be thinking that it was probably time to create SOP #2- but no, we didn’t. Instead of creating an SOP, we created an interview methodology for the things that we wanted to learn about our potential candidate so that we would feel comfortable working with them. Unlike the freelancer -who essentially works for the client, this hire works for us. They’re representing our brand and making big decisions on our behalf. The idea behind the methodology is that if you don’t get to know someone on a human level, especially when you’re working with remote teams, you’re not going to be able to make informed decisions about WHO you’re hiring. So my recommendation is to take this very seriously when it comes to permanent staff and get to know your candidates really well. If you do this and empower the right people, you’re going to build impactful teams within your organization. So this is how we proceed with Management hires. These hires are treated differently than freelancers and we take a really long time getting to know the character of people since we need to place so much trust in them. The benefit of making this hire early is that you’re going to be able to increase production capacity which will allow you to scale your business.
Takeaways from Hack #2:
- Empower others to make decisions that would otherwise take up your time
- You will build trusting relationships with your core staff
- This will allow you to focus on other things that will push your business forward
Hack #3: The importance of proceduralizing your business to optimize output
So, now we had a nice operational fulfillment side of the business with a team in place and so this is when we ran into problem #3. How does Madeleine shift her responsibilities and start working ON the business rather than IN the business? She felt like we were at a major turning point in the business and we needed to take a step back and really take a look at where this organization was going to go- so at this point, we sat down and created an org chart of the business with the idea that many of the roles would be delegated to Madeleine, and other roles on the org chart would be filled later down the line. This gave us a solid framework and an idea of what staff we needed to hire next. The good thing is, we had a business and had real revenue but needed to see and understand where this business was going to be 6 months- 1 year – 5 years down the line. By the way at this point we were at 7 months since launch and we were at about 25k in Monthly Recurring revenue.
Now we’ve got our org chart and Madeleine’s name is splattered all over it which is normal for entrepreneurial businesses so don’t freak out if this is your reality too. But In addition to that, throughout the entire the build of the business we’d been writing SOP’s like crazy. In fact at this point in time we had created 42 SOP’s. We are of the opinion that there is absolutely no way we could have been successful if we had not done that. Every time a new situation arises in your business- you need to write an SOP about it. If you don’t do that- then every time you do something you’ll be creating a new procedure and you will stunt the scalability of your business. With that being said, these SOP’s are organic living documents and need to be reviewed and updated all the time. If your SOP’s aren’t getting better over time, then your business isn’t either and that’s a problem. So with this in mind, we plugged all of the SOP’s that we’d created into our org chart, to expose fundamental structural gaps in my company. SOP’s- just like the plans that you would use to build a home- are the glue that are going to hold your company together.
The simple task of getting to plugging in SOP’s and missing SOP’s for the business allowed us to take the business to the next Level!
Takeaways from hack #3:
- Make sure you’re creating really great SOP’s all the time (every time you do anything for your business)
- This leads to consistency throughout your organization
- Create org charts to help you plan out the next steps of your business
- This will give you clarity on task delegation and future hires!
Hack #4: The importance of collecting and creating data to prove the value of your product to your audience
Okay so now we have the business set up- we’ve got several teams in place, our org chart, our procedures- but our business CANNOT scale unless we ’re getting new clients in the door and keeping them around! So think about it for your business. For Content Refined, the 3 most important things our clients want to see are:
#1- Quality Content
#2- Increased traffic to their website
#3 Return on Investment
So what did we do with this information? We started putting processes in place that would give our clients what they wanted so that they would have no reason to leave. We even took it one step further with this and we started collecting and creating data to prove the value of our content marketing service to our clients. We created a SCIENCE around content marketing so that we could point to some TANGIBLE data and say
- This is quality content because of X, Y and Z
- Because of the quality of our content- look at your increased rankings
- And because of your increased rankings,this is your return on investment
Now in order to make this work we actually had to be legitimate! So we did a lot of work and used the DATA with the help of a whole bunch of different off the shelf tools to create data analytics. If your IDEAL CLIENT requires data analytics- then you need to be prepared to provide those. So if you’re wondering what I’m talking about and want the details, take a look at the posts we wrote last summer about these studies:
So these case studies were designed to prove that we had a formula around our content creation process that would rank your content with certainty. We compiled a year’s worth of content marketing data from our clients’ projects and analyzed it against several keyword research tools and content optimization tools. We then had that data analysis reviewed by a contractor that has a Master of Science in Statistics from Texas A&M University. The results showed which tools are most effective in determining the probability of ranking, and what measures you can take to improve the quality of your content.
1- Competitive Keywords Matter!
2- Content Quality Matters!
3- Word Count
4- Show some success stories.
It doesn’t matter what business you have- get creative and find ways to show your ideal client that you’ve SOLVED their problem!!
Takeaways for hack #4:
- If you collect and create data analytics and use them to your advantage, you’re going to be able to give your clients what they want
- This will help you with your client retention
- Data-driven decisions will help you build legitimacy around your business
- Results= faithful clients, legitimacy, case studies and increased sales
So since we’ve built out our businesses this way, I have been able to step away and focus on other projects such as adbank.network, without it impacting our bottom line in a negative way! If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment!