Your Growth Strategy

I’ve mentioned the idea of right-sizing before. Even though you might not know for sure where you want to end up in your business, it’s still good to get in the habit of thinking that way, because it will inform any number of decisions, like:

  • How big/fast/reliable does my webhost need to be?
  • What will my metrics of success be?
  • What kinds of projects get priority?

Most of all, knowing where you’re aiming will prevent diffusion of focus. 

Focus Is All You’ve Got

You’re a one-person show. The buck stops with you. Unlike bigger companies, if shit isn’t happening, you can’t throw more money at it. You can’t throw more manpower at it. The only thing you can do is give it more of your focussed attention.

The other problem of being a solopreneur is that the world is full of intoxicating opportunities. Opportunities are EVERYWHERE. But unless you’ve got a plan in place to help you harness the opportunities that will further your goals, and ignore the opportunities that will diffuse your focus, you’ll end up with a pile of random accomplishments that didn’t take you anywhere you wanted to go.

Figuring Out Your Growth Strategy

There’s a ton of ways to do it, I’m sure. But the way I do it is to zoom out to a date that makes sense to me — usually between one and five years. I fix the date firmly in my head. August 17, 2014. I have taken steps to ensure that my copywriting business is served by a well-compensated stable of writers and ably overseen by my VA. My primary responsibilities are the acquisition of new clients, as well as with the morale of my sub-contractors. 

What does this mean to my business? Well, first and foremost, it means that I need to think like a firm, not an individual. It means that I shouldn’t create a cult of personality around my writing like Erika Napoletano or Ashley Ambirge, because then people will want me and only me and that goes against my long term plan.

Now, I’m not sure what kind of numbers I can put to this yet, but it doesn’t matter. Numbers don’t matter to me in this instance. What I want to — intend to– create is all in that short paragraph.

I will give you another example that includes numbers. This is for my book business, and I’ve been running it for a year in September. By Summer 2013, the book business will have grown enough to pay all the household bills. We have consistent and reliable sources of inventory, and inventory levels will never drop below 3000 books. This will allow a cushion to develop so that by 2014, periods of travel of up to three weeks will be possible. 

I can go into more detail because after a year, I have a lot more experience. I know, for instance, that an inventory of 3000 should guarantee me $5-6k in sales in even the slowest months of the year. I know that I have to replace 300-600 books every month, except in Q4, where I have to replace as much as half my inventory on a monthly basis. I could not have known that last year. Last year I hoped it would pay the bills, but I had no way of knowing. Then I discovered the difficulty of sourcing good used books, and resigned myself to it paying about half the bills. And then I stumbled on another avenue for used books that I hope will solve my inventory problem. If it doesn’t , then maybe I won’t meet my target. Or maybe I’ll find another way to do it; I do have all year to double my inventory, after all.  You don’t know, but you have to plan.

A Caveat

The benefits of being small is that you can seize opportunity when you stumble upon it. You have to be flexible enough, though, to decide to discard your previous plan and start down a new path, with a new growth plan.

Plan By Working Backwards

Working backwards from your target is how you put your plan in place. What has to happen to create this? This is an art, not a science. You can’t expect to get everything the first time, or the tenth. Whenever you discover you missed something, just slot it in there. Adjust targets as necessary. Plan the work, work the plan. Add management cliches  as necessary 🙂

I have a spreadsheet with targets by month. I used to use a big 4-month whiteboard calendar. It’s all good.

How do you plan your growth? Any insights to add?


9 thoughts on “Your Growth Strategy”

  1. FYI. I like anything that involves spreadsheets.
    I only plan out a year at a time but I project out three years or so. The projections give me the loose guide rails I need to have a vision and a long-term strategy. For example, I project my family to be in Beunos Aires at this time three years from now. We’ll stay for a few months and then make our way back to the U.S. to resume most of the lifestyle we left behind.
    My plans however, move on a rolling 12 month calendar. As much as I love spreadsheets, I keep this in an action workbook in Word format. I revisit this at least weekly and in the two years since I started it, I try to change it as little as possible. My philosophy is to pick a few big things and give them a hell of a shot. If my plans are changing all the time or my highest priorities are fluctuating back and forth, then I have bigger problems that need to be addressed.

    1.  @joeyjoejoe That’s cool. Why Buenos Aires? 
      I myself feel no particular urge for one big, overarching goal. I’m pretty meh on the travel. I have a house. I no longer care about finishing my degree. As long as I’m learning all the time and having new experiences, I’m not very fuss about how that happens.

      1.  @Shanna Mann It might not actually end up being Buenos Aires but I’ve always had that location in mind for a number of reasons.
        1) It’s foreign and they don’t speak English (which I like). Melinda and I both know and speak enough Spanish to get by.
        2) The cost of living is crazy low.
        3) There’s only a 2 hour time zone difference from MN
        4) It’s a huge city (which I like) and close to some pretty nifty natural wonders of the world
        5) It has a European style culture which we dig
        6) Public transportation is good
        7) Lots more

  2. “unless you’ve got a plan in place to help you harness the opportunities that will further your goals, and ignore the opportunities that will diffuse your focus, you’ll end up with a pile of random accomplishments that didn’t take you anywhere you wanted to go.”
    Insiders and outsiders; stepping stones and dead weight. I just keep on following fascination because I don’t have a plan. I don’t. Ugh.

    1.  @spinhead Do you WANT a plan? I am given to understand there are people in this world who don’t obsessively plan everything because that takes the joy out of it for them. Maybe you’re one of them?

    2.  @spinhead Methinks it’s a balancing act that we may not recognize we’re doing: having *enough* of a plan to pull yerself back to The Path To Your Target (assuming there’s one of those, too), but not being soooo obsessive that ‘Keeping to the Plan’ becomes a distraction, itself!
      (sometimes ADD-ish is a blessing, sometimes it’s a real curse, eh?)  K

  3. I am constantly re-discovering the value of ‘working backwards’. I still get in over my head when I underestimate how long something will take to actually accomplish.

    1.  @Karen J I underestimate stuff ALL the time. Don’t even try, often. Because it depends too much on variables; energy level, state of mind, whether I’ve done all the thinking ahead of time that I need to do, that I have all the necessary pieces in place. So instead I just focus on getting things done ahead of time.

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