One of the biggest challenges communicators have is how to scale a service business.
I’ve often marveled at the large, global PR firms that have millions of dollars in revenue and hundreds, if not thousands, of employees.
And then I read their financial filing reports and realize bigger does not equal money maker.
In the beginning of my business, I thought I had to have large top-line numbers and lots of employees.
And boy…we did.
In 2007, we had our best year in history, from that perspective.
We were doing a few million bucks in revenue and there were 33 people running around our fancy River North offices.
But you know what our profitability was? A whopping three percent.
The Great Recession was a gigantic blessing for me.
It was horrible and I still have dreams about the people I had to lay off.
But it taught me a really great lesson: Bigger does not mean better.
Since then, we’ve scaled waaaaaay back and have managed to increase profitability to 40 percent.
We make more money today on about half the revenue and a third of the employees.
Even still, we struggle with how to scale a service business.
It’s really difficult to grow a business when you sell people’s brains.
Because, as it turns out, you have to add people to scale. You can’t just make more widgets.
Turn Away Prospects? Are You Mad?
A few years ago, I was in Colorado skiing with my friend Erin.
She’s an art therapist who sees patients six days a week (unless she’s skiing with me or running one of her gazillion marathons).
We were on the chair lift and she was checking her phone.
She exclaimed, “Oh! I have a new patient!”
She had set up her website to take credit card payments and she required three sessions upfront.
And people did it. While she was skiing!
It was that moment that I decided we had to figure out how to do the same.
While she still had to actually do the work with the patients, she was no longer chasing money and filing insurance claims.
She was paid upfront and, if they hadn’t paid for another block of sessions, she didn’t see them.
I just knew she was on to something we could implement to scale a service business.
At the same time, I was scared.
And I’m willing to bet you know the exact feelings I’m describing:
- What if no one buys?
- What if it scares a prospect off?
- Won’t someone balk about paying upfront?
- Why would they pay me to write their proposal when everyone else does it for free?
- I can’t afford to not have every client who is interested in working with us.
- What if we work with a Fortune 100 company that requires 90-day payment terms?
And on and on and on and on.
But I’m Too Busy!
Here’s the thing: All of that is in your head.
Sure, there are plenty of tire kickers.
The kind of prospects you meet with, who say they want to hire you.
It was a great meeting! You go back to the office and tell your team.
Everyone does their research and you write a beautiful and customized proposal.
Only…you never hear from them again.
You call. You email. And nothing.
They don’t even have the courtesy to respond by saying, “Your budget was way out of line with our expectations. We have only $500 a month to spend.”
Which, by-the-way, they never disclosed, even when you bluntly asked, “What is your budget?”
You have lots of meetings and you’re writing lots of proposals.
You’re very busy!
But if you never hear from them again, you’re having the wrong meetings.
Wouldn’t you rather increase your new client win percentage and stop wasting your time?
It’s scary. I know it is.
Just the idea that you could scare away a prospect is enough to make all of our stomachs hurt.
But there are lots of things you can do to become like my friend Erin and scale a service business without adding more people.
How to Scale a Service Business
The first, and easiest thing you can do is add a way to accept credit card payments.
I recommend SamCart because it’s ridiculously easy to set up and attach to your bank account.
When you sign a new client, you send them your normal contract and scope of work, and require they make a credit card payment upfront.
Then that payment reoccurs every month, which means you are no longer chasing money for 30, 60, 90 days or more.
And, a little known fact?
The great, big companies that say they have 90+ day payment terms will work with you on this.
You just have to ask.
Then consider one or more of the following:
- Services tiers (just like software as a service businesses do)
- Paid strategy sessions where you create the new client’s plan
- Informational products, such as eBooks, webinars, or online courses
- Speaking engagements
- Write a book (or two)
- A paid membership site or community
- A 30-day challenge (we did ours free, but you could certainly charge for it)
- A day-long, in-person event
There are tons of “products” you can create to scale a service business without adding more people.
And these things add profitability, which is the true name of the game.
The Content Secret to Closing More Clients
Next week, we are hosting a five-day, free bootcamp on how to close more clients with content.
I am going to teach you how to scale a service business, make more money (profit, not revenue), and add people when it makes sense, not necessarily just because you’ve added a new client.
You are going to learn how to create passive income that makes you money while you ski.
We’re going to work through all of the ideas listed above…and more.
And it’s not just for those of you who want to scale a service business.
If you want to add resources to your internal PR department or need to get better results for your communications programs, you should join us.
If there is anything you want us to be sure to cover, or if you have specific questions about how to scale a service business, the comments are yours.