4 Growth Lessons to Scale Your Social Business

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If you've followed us since our humble beginnings you'll know that Saint Gabe recently expanded. We added two new partners; each well-versed in their respective fields and equally passionate about scaling social impact organizations and businesses. Our team hit the ground running earlier this year and we haven't slowed down since... but I suppose therein lies the problem.

Due to an ever-growing list of clients and project deliverables, we dove straight into one-week LEAN sprints of strategy, design and development all while beefing up our internal systems and optimizing operations. 

It was tough but we gained a ton of new insights and we want to share them with you! We hope the following growth lessons will better equip you as you prepare to scale your organization, startup or small business. Ready? Here we go!

 

1. Optimize Internal systems: 

Like any other agency that runs a thousand miles per minute there was much to juggle even with a larger team. Several big projects moved through our pipeline and new clients were onboarded  simultaneously which meant our first and second quarters were heavily front-loaded. Although this was a good sign, we knew that chaos would be imminent if we didn't slow down to optimize our internal workflows and systems. 

In fact had we not previously created daily internal checklists, excel sheets, and pitch decks with tools like Meistertask and Process.St Saint Gabe wouldn't have stood a chance. #truestory

So the first lesson is this:

Prior to expanding your team, adding on services, product features or focusing on other revenue generating practices, spend a little time reviewing you organizations' internal processes. Ensure you can answer the following questions:

  • Do you have daily tasks outlined? Are they updated quarterly or yearly?
  • Define how much time each task will take and find ways to optimize the process ex: the proposal stage, customer onboarding and even lead generation.
  • Do you have a project management dashboard? If so, can it withstand continual growth? If not invest in better tools prior to front-loading your business.
  • Are there menial tasks that can be automated? 
  • In the words of Ari Meisel, the founder of Less Doing, "optimize and automate first, then outsource."

 

2. Unify Your BRAND Voice

If you've read our team bios you'll know we’re entrepreneurs by trade, innovators at heart and a little eccentric by choice.

Still, each Saint Gabe partner brings slightly different skill sets and interests to the table. Although our company core values, north star metrics and mission were outlined nearly two years ago, it wasn't enough. We also needed to outline and unite our individual ideas and passions.

It may be part of a long-game strategy but this why it matters:

Not gelling team ideas/passions/strengths into one voice prevents your company from developing a clear roadmap for important tasks like content generation.

For example, we found that our former branding and social media strategies no longer reflected everything Saint Gabe offers and stands for. Sure we redesigned our brand and cleaned up our Instagram, but we didn't have the right alignment to create effective or emotive inbound content. 

So, the second lesson is to ensure you have a unified brand voice. Here's how:

  • Take time to brainstorm every topic or idea your team gets excited about. Categorize them into cohesive content themes which can then be expanded into monthly content topics.
  • Do market research to ensure said content themes align with whatever your audience wants to read/see. Never start pushing an unverified agenda. 
  • Delegate and outline tasks, optimize and automate.

 

3. Be Realistic: 

Remember that you can't please everybody and the success of your startup, organization, or small business will require that you remain focused on specific operating practices and revenue generating strategies. This quote by Market Circle succinctly summarizes why this is important:

"Aiming for a wide audience with huge differences in taste, expectations and life habits can lead to murky, uninspired businesses that everyone will forget. Worst of all spreading yourself too thin will cause you to lose your window of opportunity to reach new audiences and growth."

 On top of expanding our agency and growing our client roster, we also began experimenting with offline events. 

Although we loved engaging, encouraging and helping folks in person, we couldn't be in two places at once and ended up overlooking our online community. Our reach suffered, but the trust Saint Gabe has built over time paid off. We survived but learned a valuable third lesson:

Be realistic about what your team can handle. Don't "x" out new business goals or product ideas, simply use the Lean Startup methodology to strategically test and/or implement them. We've summarized their recommended practices below.

"Lean Startup focuses on an iterative learning loop. The process involves initial market research, customer profiling to build an original version of the solution to get feedback and iteratively improving it."

Lean Startup founder Eric Ries outlines the four principles as follows:

  1. Entrepreneurial management
  2. Validated learning
  3. Innovation accounting
  4. Build-measure-learn loop

To learn more about the Lean Startup methodology, check out their website and this handy blog by the folks at StartupGeist.

 

4. Focus on the Customer:

 Aside from radical transparency, Saint Gabe believes in continually retrospecting and findings ways to innovate what we do. One of the best ways to do this is to engage with whomever your organization or business serves. It may not be a scalable practice at first, but had we not done this prior to scaling I'm not sure Saint Gabe would've known how to grow. 

So the final lesson is: focus on your customer, beneficiaries, stakeholders etc. Neil Patel explains this perfectly:

"If premature scaling is focusing on one dimension of the business and advancing it out of sync with the rest of the operation, then to avoid this pitfall, entrepreneurs should focus on something that’s unscalable. Learning about customers, spending time with individual customers, listening to a customer’s complaints are all unscalable."  Your product (being awesome) and your market (being present). 

Focus is good, provided you’re focused on the right thing. Focusing on scaling is not the right thing. Focusing on your customers is, by contrast, healthy and essential.

Be aware that this doesn’t feel “smart.” Hanging out on the phone all afternoon listening to people complain sounds very unsexy, and quite antithetical to growth. Are you wasting your time? Absolutely not. You’re focusing on the only two things that matter:  Your product (being awesome) and your market (being present)."

 

We're thrilled we've expanded our team and are equally grateful for the lessons that got us here. However, I'll be the first to admit that we probably could've done things a little differently to ease the transition. We hope that these insights will help your business create a more efficient process. 

Also, stay tuned for next week! We're kicking off a new series where we cover the best website strategies for social impact organizations. We've even performed a few website teardowns that we can't wait to share.

See you soon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources: 

http://startupgeist.com/lean-startup/

http://theleanstartup.com/principles

https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/245603

 

 

 

Gabriella CookComment