When we started TaskUs, our goal was to provide virtual personal assistant services. We modeled the idea after Tim Ferriss’ “The 4-Hour Workweek,” assuming we could provide busy professionals a way to offload menial tasks.
Once we tried to scale, however, the idea backfired. We focused so much on wanting to grow, we never stopped to ask whether the market had room for us to do so at the time.
Our history of scaling struggles is not unique. According to the National Small Business Association’s 2016 Mid-Year Economic Report, economic uncertainty is the greatest challenge to the survival and growth of small businesses. If the market can shift at any moment, how can any entrepreneur scale with confidence?
Fortunately, the solution to scaling is simple: Stay flexible. By learning to take on more work without compromising quality, we and other companies have discovered a practical solution to grow more confidently.
What founders get wrong about growth.
Scaling a business doesn’t necessarily mean scaling human capital.
Andrew Geant, CEO of Wyzant, talked to Crain’s Chicago Business about his scaling struggles. Based in Chicago's Bucktown neighborhood, Wyzant was struggling to hire enough talent to accommodate its growth, so the company opened a new office in San Francisco in 2014. Rather than provide a line to Bay Area talent, the new office became the enemy of the existing one, creating petty rifts between cultures and slowing down work. One year later, Wyzant closed the new office.
Related: 3 Basics for Scaling Your Business
Founders tend to believe that growth naturally means bringing on new team members, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Learning how to scale individual aspects of the business -- including processes, technology and systems -- is a much safer, smarter way to grow.
In our early days, we took industry disruption as a personal challenge. We weren’t slow and calculated; we took risks and dove in. Learning to balance that gunslinger attitude with a methodological approach has allowed us to be more selective about our risks. Doing research keeps us prepared, so when opportunities or obstacles arise, we can respond quickly without grinding operations to a halt.
Scaling isn’t difficult for companies prepared to take advantage of new opportunities. This simple two-step process has helped us and countless others scale smarter:
1. Focus on what the company does well.
Don’t waste time focusing on anything outside of the core competency of the business. Stick to the true innovations that differentiate the company to keep scaling simple.
Non-technology companies don’t need proprietary CRM software to compete. By the time a company completes a project outside its niche, the real competitors in that space will have already developed superior solutions and brought them to market.
As Dan Horan, CEO of Five Acre Farms, told Business Insider, the most effective companies keep things simple. They stay focused on one niche, learn everything there is to know and outperform the competition in that space.
Keep the focus small to take advantage of big opportunities before others can get there first.
2. Outsource everything else.
Studying, developing and curating solutions to every aspect of the company creates a bland, commoditized workforce and product. Stop trying to improve areas of weakness and hire quality contract labor.
When it’s time to scale up, companies can always hire more freelancers. When it’s time to scale the other direction, it’s much easier to stop handing out freelancer contracts than it is to lay off full-time employees.
Ben Mulholland created an excellent guide for Business 2 Community on how to identify which tasks to outsource. He encourages entrepreneurs to examine whether they have the necessary resources and time to do the task themselves and whether it's something they feel comfortable handing off to someone else. Mulholland also says to consider whether outsourcing will be a security risk. Following this advice helps entrepreneurs save money, stay flexible and be ready to scale when windows of opportunity open.
Founders talk about scaling as if it’s an unsolved enigma, but it’s not as complicated as they make it seem. Do one thing well, strip away unnecessary tasks and pounce on profitable opportunities when they arise.