In December of 2018, we surveyed 146 of agency owners, freelancers, and consultants, to find out about their biggest business concern heading into 2019.
The most common obstacle these business owners reported they were struggling with was… TIME.
For professional service-based business owners, there are never enough hours in the day to get all their work done for their clients and work on building a long-lasting, sustainable business.
Between working on billable projects, handling clients' urgent needs, and managing employees, there isn't a minute to spare.
But if you want to make your business more profitable and scale your services, you have to devote time to working ON your business, instead of just working IN your business.
In this post, I am sharing TEN Business Growth Strategies that will help you get your time back while positioning your service-based business to grow quickly.
1. Fire your worst client
Most professional service providers have clients who take up way too much of their time but don't represent enough revenue to put up with the trouble.
I call this effect the “Sauer Principle,” which is like the opposite of the Pareto Principle. The Sauer principle states:
80% of the pain in your butt comes from 20% of your clients.
When you have a bad client on your hands, they steal your best time and energy, making it difficult to focus elsewhere. Nothing is ever good enough for these clients. When you get them great results, they complain that your rates are too high. If they have a down month (usually based on seasonal fluctuations in their industry), it's your fault.
The worst part is that these clients are typically the ones that nickel and dime you for your expertise.
How and why you should fire bad clients
So what should you do with this type of client?
Well, what would happen if you walked into your doctor’s office and spent the next eight hours berating them with complaints, but in the end, you were only going to pay them for a 30-minute visit?
They would KICK you out of the office immediately! And that’s exactly what you should do with your terrible clients.
Now, I’m not literally suggesting you should throw your bad clients out of your office (although that might sound fun). But you should plan to end your business relationship in a professional manner. Politely inform your bad-client that when their contract ends your business is moving in another direction, and you can no longer offer your services to them.
Your time is too valuable to allow bad clients to command the bulk of your attention. And you can’t grow your business by working with high-maintenance, low-rent clients. They demand too much for too little in return.
Let these clients go, and focus on replacing them with good clients that value your work, and respect your effort.
2. Up-sell an existing client on more of your services
Retaining the clients you want to work with is critical to growing a service-based business. If you’re continually losing or replacing clients, you get stuck in a feast or famine cycle. And that cycle can wreak havoc on your cash flow and your schedule.
How do you get clients to commit to more services so you can plan your budget and your time effectively?
Stay-top-of-mind with your clients at all times, and you’ll reap the rewards. Often a simple email like this one can help you lock-in a new commitment:
My team and I have really enjoyed working with you this year. It's been great to accomplish X, Y, and Z goals, and the results have been amazing.
We are starting to offer a new (service/price point/package/result) that you will find interesting. Let me know if you can find a few minutes to discuss. I think it would be a great addition for the (name of project/initiative/department/brand/team) project.
I'm open any time during 1, 2, and 3. Hope you have some fun planned this holiday season as well!
Look forward to working together on this project,
3. Create an SOP for one business process/service you can streamline or take off your plate
There are two common mistakes can slow a service-based business down to a grinding halt…
1) Wasting lots of time on low-value activities.
2) Reinventing the wheel every time you deliver a service to your clients.
If you spend all your time on tedious to-do’s, you’ll never have time to work on the strategies that grow your business.
And if you implement a new process everytime you need to get something done, you’ll always be starting from scratch. You won’t be able to scale your work.
Creating an SOP for repetitive tasks can help trim the dead-weight from these activities, and make your business more efficient. SOPs will also help train others to take over duties, that you as a business owner, shouldn’t be wasting your time on.
One of the most common service-based business tasks is delivering a monthly report to your clients. You can download my monthly reporting SOP, and use it to help you streamline your reporting, and free up more of your time.
4. Project your revenue and expenses by month for the next two years using three scenarios: Pessimistic, Realistic, & BHAG
You can’t grow your business if you don’t have a plan. Instead of planning by trying to predict a certain future, use a simple by-the-numbers model to evaluate how three different growth scenarios (good, great and stagnate) will impact your business.
Doing a profit projection exercise can provide you with loads of information about how you should be running your business. It will also help you understand how you can put resources in place to hit your growth targets, without over-investing.
If you want to perform this exercise for your business, you can grab our three-scenarios profit projection and revenue forecasting guide here.
5. Commit to fixing the thing you like least about your business in Q1 of next year (AKA a Quarterly Rock)
Spending time working ON your business, as opposed to in your business is easier said than done. When there is a lot of client-work to focus on, your in-house objectives are the first thing to get put on hold. But as we’ve discussed, you can’t build a better business without devoting any time to your internal processes and structure.
So how do you make sure you and your team commit to completing internal goals?
At my agency, we use a system called Quarterly Rocks.
Why accountability promotes improvement
Every quarter, each member of our leadership team commits to working on a “Quarterly Rock,” – a behind-the-scenes business improvement we agree to implement over the next 90 days.
Agreeing to complete your “Rock” on schedule means you dedicate additional time out of your day to make the business run more smoothly. You take accountability to work ON the business, in addition to your day to day role in the organization. Failing to complete your Rock means you let the team down because you didn't make the business a priority.
Do you know what happens when you assign accountability to individuals? Everyone completes their Quarterly Rocks on time, and the business makes significant progress toward operational excellence throughout the year!
Assigning and completing quarterly business improvements allows your business to run more efficiently, take on more clients, and increase profit margins.
6. Free up your time – Keep, Kill, Combine
One of the quickest ways to free-up time to work on your business is to clear unwanted and unnecessary commitments from your schedule.
You can use a process called keep, kill, combine to eliminate time-sucking activities from your schedule.
To do this exercise, open your schedule to a typical work week. Then perform the following steps.
Look over your schedule for your most important activities. These activities are probably things like check-ins with your best clients, and time you’ve designated to work on projects with pending deadlines.
Star, circle or highlight any activity that you can’t possibly remove from your schedule without hurting your business.
Kill (Or maybe just cancel?)
Now that you’ve identified the high priority activities on your agenda look for anything you can get rid of. Cancel (or if you like, kill) any activity on your schedule that won’t contribute to making your business more profitable, efficient or fun.
Finally, look for activities on your schedule that can be batched or combined. For example, if you see redundant meetings, merge them. Or if you have multiple tasks scheduled that can be completed using one system (like your CRM, Google Ads, or Google Analytics), batch them together so that you can move seamlessly from one activity to the next.
7. Create a post on LinkedIn summarizing what you learned recently about your industry, and how your prospective clients can benefit from working with you next year
As a business-to-business service provider, you want to focus your inbound lead generation efforts where you have the best chance to reach other business owners. If you do your homework and position your posts correctly, sharing your expert insights on LinkedIn can attract a lot of interest from potential clients.
Expert tips for posting on LinkedIn
Here are a few tips from LinkedIn expert Isaac Anderson, about how to create a LinkedIn post that can bring attention to your business:
- Build the right audience – The primary audience for your LinkedIn posts are the people in your network. So work on developing LinkedIn connections with your potential clients if you want them to see your posts.
- Use an in-content CTA to drive traffic to your website – The contents of your post will only draw in a small percentage of inbound leads without some sort of hook. Offer your readers something of value (like a content upgrade) to click through and read your full post on your website.
- Create your community – Don’t treat a LinkedIn article like writing a blog post. Treat it like a conversation. If someone likes or comments on your article or news feed share, send them a direct message. If they are part of your target audience, put them in your messaging funnel and stay-top-of-mind.
To learn more about how to use LinkedIn to develop high-value relationships that can be worth $1000s in new revenue to your business, check out Linked Jumpstart.
8. Develop a profile of your ideal client using a real company as an example, then start a conversation with someone at that company
One of the quickest ways to grow a service-based business is to do work for the right clients. When you find clients that NEED your services, have an established budget for your work and depend on you to help them succeed… you can scale your growth quickly.
To find these types of clients, start by creating a profile of the companies that are ideal for your services.
How to profile your ideal clients
One way to create this profile is to use you’re existing client base. Look at your best clients' company size, total revenue, their prospective budgets for your work, and industry characteristics.
Once you’ve created a profile of your ideal client, use LinkedIn, Google, your industry connections, and other resources to find companies that fit that profile.
How to connect with your ideal clients
Once you’ve found some good targets, start up a conversation with the key decision makers at those companies.
Not sure how to approach your targets? If you approach this process from a conversational perspective (think what can I do for you), LinkedIn messaging can be an excellent way to engage your prospects.
You can also look for someone in your network, online or offline, that can help introduce you to prospective clients.
9. Talk with the owner of a similar business to yours and share the #1 business development tactic that worked best for you in the past year
Developing relationships with other service-based business owners can be invaluable to your growth.
Over the years I’ve participated in several mastermind groups where the group members, other business owners, shared their growth strategies and tactics. The ideas and information I gained from these mastermind groups have been worth at least $100k in revenue for my businesses.
To build your mastermind network, find at least one other similar sized business owner you can connect with, in a complimentary niche, and start sharing ideas.
10. Commit to learning to think and act like a CEO for your business
If your business is small, it’s tough to think of yourself as a CEO. And if you’re a freelancer or one person consultancy, it’s even harder to view yourself as anything other than a service provider.
But if you want to become more efficient, scale your work, increase your income, and grow your business, you have to think and act like a CEO.
The best CEOs take a profit-first approach to running their companies.
Adopting a profit-first approach in my business helped me stop running myself ragged trying to solve every one of my clients’ problems on my own. It helped me figure out when to hire employees and which hires would generate the biggest return on my time as well as my dollar. It also helped me figure out which clients to pursue and which ones to avoid.
Taking a profit-first approach helped my agency grow from six figures to seven figures in revenue, becoming a 5x Inc. 5000 fastest growing business in the United States from 2010-2014.
Not bad, right?
Want to Learn how to use a profit-first approach to grow your business?
If you want to learn how to think and act like CEO, while implementing a profit first approach in your business, then join me in Agency Jumpstart. In this unique training program, I’ll teach you step-by-step how to implement every growth strategy on this list. You'll also get access to my revenue models, pricing calculators, and service templates, as well many more tactics and strategies you can use to grow your business.
What’s your #1 business growth strategy?
I've shared some my top, easy-to-implement, time-saving business growth strategies. Now it's your turn. What’s #1 strategy you've used to grow your business? Share your most effective strategy for growing a service-based business in the comments below.