Once upon a time, you would grow a business by taking on people. You’d probably need space for them: a bigger office or factory. You’d need equipment for them to use. You’d need a way of getting them to work and back. If it was flexible, it was only because employment laws allowed it to be.
Not these days.
I was at two lunches this week with successful women, all running their own businesses or senior in their firm. So I did a quick survey of how they ran their businesses.
Nearly everyone had a different way of working, and few had actual employees. But hardly anyone was working alone. And everyone had a model that allowed them to grow their business flexibly while remaining in control.
So here are six possible ways to grow your business flexibly, from six different business owners.
A VA at your right hand
Do you need to meet the person doing your admin? One woman I talked to simply passes over all her admin to her virtual assistant. It’s clean, it’s simple, and for her, stress-free. They talk regularly by phone or Skype, so understand beautifully how the other one likes to work. This kind of relationship takes time, trust and delegation skills to develop, but it can be highly effective.
Partnerships are everything
One woman ran three businesses, without staff. But she has an extensive network of partnerships with other businesses, so she can offer her clients a wide range of expert services. Partnering is a terrific way of getting fast growth and expert help, without the overheads, admin and direct management demands.
Specialist employees as the centre of a general network
One of my favourite businesswoman runs a large network of contractors across the country. They do a lot of regular, clearly defined work for her. At the centre, she has a small network of employees with specialist skills who deal with the challenging problems and the work that requires skilled, bespoke input.
General employees as the centre of a specialist network
A very dynamic entrepreneur takes a the opposite approach to growing her business: she employees a small number of of core staff in her office to deliver regular work. When more specialist skills are needed, she brings in local freelances with particular experience to help. It gives her stability, but also means she can respond to clients’ requests even when they’re beyond the skills of her immediate team.
With an erratic work-flow, the low cost of interns is what makes things tick for another business owner. She has to spend more time training and supervising them than she would with a more experienced assistant, but for her the low cost in uncertain times makes it worthwhile. I’d probably suggest she supplements it with more experienced virtual assistance, but for the moment this seems to work for her.
A network of VAs
Other business owners share my current preference for a network of people with specialist skills. One woman round the table uses a group of remote assistants, all with their own specialism, including SEO, social media, web updating, bookkeeping, client relationships and research. It requires a clear head to keep on top of who’s doing what, but you get the advantage of expert help with whatever you’re doing.
I’d love to know what models you like and use to grow a business, and what makes them work for you. Have you used any of these models, and did they work for you, or not? Do let me know in the comments below.