Running a business is an investment. For Phuse, the investment has often been more than monetary. Our work is a labor of love. It’s not just about making money, but creating quality products and making our clients happy.
But for us, part of making our clients happy is being able to fulfill their needs. While we’ve managed to make our clients happy for years, we’ve realized that it’s time to put the gears in motion and grow with our clients. As their needs expand, our ability to meet those needs must grow as well.
Learning to balance our business without sacrificing the quality of work and customer service that makes our clients happy is a journey. Here are some lessons that we’ve learned along the way.
The Fork in the Road
Phuse has always been a small business, and we pride ourselves on intimacy with our clients and with our team members. But we’re at a crucial point where the decision needs to be made as to whether the business grows, or stays the same size. We’ve chosen to grow.
Not being well-versed in the theories of business management, I started looking around for some good advice, and a friend of mine (Charles) told me about a program he’s involved in that really changed the shape of his Ruby on Rails development shop, Highgroove.
The program is called The Entrepreneur’s Organization Accelerator and it allows businesses of roughly the same size (making $250,000 to $1,000,000 in sales each year) to meet on a frequent basis to figure out how to solve problems they’re having (with a bit of great networking as well). Each group is a small packet of specifically-chosen people who are at about the same place in their business.
The program encourages participants to move up to the Entrepreneur’s Organization (at which point the business is making over $1,000,000 per year). In the U.S., a staggering 95% of businesses never cross this threshold.
Getting referred to the program by Charles landed me a screening interview which got me excited (and a little nervous) about what’s next. The decision to join the EOA is a big one that means we’re committing to growing the business.
It’s a tough decision, but one that we believe will benefit Phuse in the long run.
A Stereotype: Entrepreneurs Are Only Interested in Making Money
There’s a really dirty stereotype that says that Entrepreneurs are more interested in exit plans than they are about building long-lasting and sustainable businesses. They don’t want a good business model, they want a big paycheck and to be able to wash their hands afterwards.
Of course, not all entrepreneurs think like this and they get a bad rap because of it. But Phuse is not like that. It has never been about the exit strategy. The businesses we want to create offers careers, not jobs; that means a long-term strategy.
I also hate being called an entrepreneur because for me it’s never been about making money. It’s always been about making quality products that our clients love. So the thought of trying to make more money still seems strange to me.
Money is the Food of a Healthy Business
However, part of running a successful and healthy business is about making money. We have bills to pay, and the expenses we have even as a virtual shop (bank fees, currency exchange fees, on top of normal operating expenses most businesses have) increase with every hire we make.
We want a stable environment for our team where we’re not jumping between heavy loads of projects and dead-zones where there’s no client work to handle. An unsteady workload makes it harder for us to pay our bills, and even harder to grow at the rate we want to grow at.
Last month we brought on Jessica to help us out with sustaining a consistent load throughout the year. Then we realized we couldn’t handle all of the development work we had, so we had to bring on Tamera to help Jenna out with development. Now we’re at a point where we could still stand to hire another developer as well as another designer to help the team to meet its demands. The cycle never ends as we try to strike a healthy balance while our company grows.
That balance is important for a long-term business model, and every effort is being made to find that sweet spot as we expand. We want our business to be healthy and our people (employees and clients!) to be happy, and if we can get the money flow figured out the rest will be easy, and we can focus on doing what we love.
Taking Things to the Next Level
To this day we continue to hire people with better experiences and different skills to take our entire team to the next level with what we could offer our clients. We’re very picky with who we bring on our team, and we want to make sure we offer things to awesome people who want to be on it so that it makes sense for them and for us.
Growing our business is also about taking things to the next level. Every change we make to the business is aimed at the same end result: a long-lasting, sustainable business model.
I’ve been meaning to write this article for a good part of the last year. Looking back since that year, Phuse has doubled in revenue and quadrupled in how many resources (team members) we need to get through all the work we have in a week. This is a blessing to me because I get to live my dream every day while I help other people live theirs.
But what does that say about next year? Or, better yet, five years from now?
We’re not interested in investors or getting outside funding, and it’s not about selling out or exit strategies. I’m not interested in taking myself out of the business that I’ve put blood, sweat, and tears into. Far from it.
Learning what we have the last two years about running the business we’ve built today, we want to grow our business, not only for ourselves but for our clients too. There are enormous benefits to growing so that we can grow with them and make sure we always have available resources to help them with their projects.
At various points throughout the last two years we’ve had to move around resources to make things work from a project planning perspective. We don’t like that, and we’re doing everything in our power to give us more flexibility.
We want to make sure that there’s a consistency from our end so that our clients can rest comfortably knowing that the people working on their projects are so familiar with the project and the client that they don’t even have to ask questions. This also gives us the ability to offer better benefits to our team to keep on quality team members. Keeping quality team members is just another quality that a sustainable business looking at long-term goals can offer.
Growing the Business and Growing as People
In growing we know there’s going to be a lot we need to learn, and we know the experiences from clients and the Entrepreneur’s Organization will be valuable in expanding a business in a way that won’t affect any aspect of it negatively, from service quality to cost and beyond.
Writing things down always makes it official for me. It means looking at the idea square in the face and saying “I can do this”. The key to expanding Phuse will be in keeping things simple, and keeping people around that inspire and motivate us on a daily basis. Those people make our dreams a reality every day.
We’re extremely excited about this new chapter in Phuse. This doesn’t mean any changes to what we’ve been committed to (awesome customer service for our clients, a killer environment to work in for our team), but a realization that if we want to keep being able to offer this to our growing clients, we need to grow too.