Doctors and lawyers face the scalability ceiling everyday. For the most part they bill by the hour and have only two ways to make more money, work more hours or find customers willing to pay more per hour. (Sure, the creative few have found ways through the scalability ceiling like owning the clinic or growing a law firm of young guns and taking a percentage of their earnings.)
I’ve been bumping up against the scalability ceiling for several years. From a sales perspective ColorMetrix is me. Yes, I have a great business partner who writes code, keeps servers running, supports customers, etc. From a customer facing perspective I am it. I’ve hired and fired sales people, I’ve worked with independent manufactures reps, distributors and dealers. All with some degree of success.
At the end of the day the vast majority of the sales come in on my back. I’m working on changing that. Five years ago when I started this blog I accidentally created a second brand. In my niche market of “Verified Color” both Jim Raffel and ColorMetrix are recognized as players. There are a couple problems with that. One, brand confusion and two, there’s only one of me.
I answer the phone, return voice mails and emails as promptly as I can. I’ve been doing that for fifteen years. When you have three customers or even thirty customers that works pretty well. When you have hundreds it stops working so well. Add to that a whole new group of friends gained from use of social media like Twitter and the expanding reach of this blog and you have a scalability ceiling.
Breaking Through My Scalability Ceiling
How do you scale something that seems unscalable? I’m still searching for the total solution but I have found a few pieces of the puzzle. I will share those here, in hopes that it will help you find ways to scale business models in your life. Part of my problem is that even before social media I had built my personal brand (and that of the company) on accessibility.
1. While social media can be part of the problem it can also be part of the solution. On Twitter this morning I had no fewer than 4 conversations going with business peers, friends and one ColorMetrix customer. Twitter enables the concept of anywhen. On the phone I could only have one of those conversations at a time. On Twitter I can have all four. (Hint: follow me on Twitter it’s a darn good way to get my attention).
2. Make doing business with you on-line easy, super easy. I am constantly working on the ColorMetrix on-line shop to make it as easy to use as possible. Every order that comes in there is significantly less work for me to process and fulfill. The on-line store also helps my customers because they can order anytime. If 3am on a Sunday works best for them, fantastic!
3. Don’t forget about your retired customers. Go mine your database for the ones that have left you in the last couple years. Figure out why and give them incentive to come back. A returning customer requires a lot less of your time and effort than a brand new one. I love new customers but they do take the most work.
4. Do one thing at a time and do it well like my friend Shalini Bahl explains in this post on her blog. We all know this, but also most of us think we are supposed to multitask. Sometimes we must multitask but by and large I am rapidly coming to the conclusion it’s amazingly counteractive. I’ve got several cool projects going right now and when I focus on them individually for even an hour at time a lot of work gets done. When I say focus I mean disconnect from everything else. For me that means putting my ear buds in cranking the iPod up and ignoring the world while I chair dance to Lady Gaga and get work done.
As I look at new projects and business ventures I now consider scalability early in the process. If it’s not scalable I really don’t care how cool the project is or how much money I can make. Not scalable equals not sustainable. Where does scalability fit in your project analysis process?
Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/7603557@N08