10 Things We Learned While Scaling Our Consultancy

27 January 2016 by Terrence Donnelly

So you’ve survived the gauntlet that is a consultancy for long enough to find this blog post. Congratulations. Perhaps you find yourself faced with a decision: whether or not to scale. If you choose to do so, here are some helpful tips that we've learned on our journey as we've grown Teeps.

1. Identify Your Customers

Before you begin scaling your consultancy, take the time to truly understand your customers. At Teeps, we categorized the types of customers we were building apps for and calculated the percentage of our revenue that each type represented. In our case, we determined that around 8% of our customers were responsible for more than 80% of our revenue. This statistic was shocking and immediately impacted the way we ran our business moving forward.

Interestingly, we found that the 8% of our customers shared very similar traits with each other. They tended to be better prepared and more willing to work within the processes we've adopted for our business. This created much better synergy between them and us.

Knowing metrics like these will help you when it comes to marketing strategies, growth, and forecasting the future of your company. Cater your brand to your 8% and watch your revenues grow.

2. Know Means No

Sometimes a customer is not a good fit. If you aren't comfortable with the scope of work required for a project, if the customer’s budget for a project isn't where it needs to be, or you just have a bad feeling about the situation, just say no. It's better to say no than to say yes and lose money on failure cost due to a bad working relationship or terms that hurt your ability to do your best work.

We say no often. Teeps receives hundreds of inquiries each year from prospective customers needing app development. Many of these inquiries are from customers needing rescues or fix-up work on their existing apps. We find that many of these customers built their project on an inadequate budget overseas and are feeling the burn of their bad investment. These projects often require total re-writes. In this case, if a customer is not willing to re-write the project the right way with our experienced team, we feel as though we are already working against each other. We almost always decline these types of projects whose quality won’t meet our standards.

This customer is an example of a bad fit for us. We selectively choose customers that share our values and desire a long term relationship with our team, allowing us to build them a great product. You should do the same.

3. Stop Hogging All The Hats

If you find yourself working 12-16 hour days in order to accomplish tasks in every area of your business, you’re doing it wrong. If this is you, just stop. Take a moment to write down all of the things you do in a day. You’ll notice that your list resembles a job description (or likely 7 different job descriptions.)

Now that you've got your list, decide which of those things you can delegate to your current team. You may notice that it’s time to hire someone to fill the gaps. Don’t give into fearful questions like: "What if the job doesn’t get done?" or "What if quality suffers?"

At the end of the day, hire people you feel like you can trust. Make sure you set very clear objectives, and have confidence that your team has your back. If the job doesn't get done to your standards, manage and guide your team until they get it right. No one wins when you try to do everything yourself.

4. Create Workflows & Processes

Processes are extremely important to define and abide by while growing your business. This is the entire franchise model; a sellable playbook of processes that have a greater chance of success when followed. Processes need to be defined and monitored, then iterated during periods of growth.

We quickly realized the processes that worked for Teeps when we were just a team of four immediately broke when we grew to a dozen. Now, as we approach twenty team members, we are revisiting many of these processes in order to maintain maximum efficiency.

As your team grows, you may also feel the burn of little to no documentation. It is incredibly important to document your new processes. If you’re in the game to be acquired, good documentation will only increase your odds. Here are some of our processes we’ve documented:

  • Onboarding new hires
  • Conducting customer meetings
  • Booking new projects
  • Code quality guidelines
  • Code review practices
  • Regression testing plans
  • User Acceptance Testing plans

Proper processes can help disambiguate everyone's role in your company, while keeping day to day work efficient.

5. Ask Your Customers For Feedback

Your customers will almost always be happy to give you feedback. Ask them as often as you can.

We invite our customers out for food or a beer and ask things like:

  • Why did you choose our team?
  • Did we meet your expectations?
  • What could we do better in the future?
  • Would you recommend us to someone you know seeking mobile app development?

This provides incredibly valuable insight into how you can improve your processes, communication, and professionalism on your future projects.

6. Hire Proactively

As a consultancy, it's very easy to see a bunch of work coming through the pipeline as an indicator that you absolutely must hire lots of people, and that you must hire them right away.

When in this situation, slow down and ask yourself if it's completely necessary to add a new team member without proper interviewing and vetting. Hiring the wrong person can be more detrimental than not hiring at all. If you don’t take the time to find the right candidate, you run the risk of falling into reactivity when it’s time to clean up the fallout. If you haven’t guessed by now, reactivity is bad.

Develop indicators that allow you to know when to hire before it’s too late. To prevent this issue at Teeps, we built a development schedule widget into our internal company dashboard. We can now look at the flat screen in the development room and see the apps that each developer is working and for how long. This allows us to schedule projects a month or two out, ensures efficient utilization of our bandwidth and provides real data when deciding to grow our team.

7. Document Your Core Values

Write out all of the core values you want to follow within your company. Knowing your core values gives you a solid foundation to reference whenever you are facing adversity. Whenever you have important decisions to make where you feel a sense of ambiguity and aren't sure what to do, hold the situation up to your core values.

We've found that doing this can help disambiguate things very quickly. Remembering to do this before you go down rabbit holes or end up in opinionated discussions can prove instrumental to your success. The key is to keep everything moving forward.

For example, a couple of our core values at Teeps are Transparency and Respect. We practice transparency with our customers so that they know where their projects are at all times. We respect our team members’ personal lives and maintain sustainable 40 hour work weeks. We don’t believe in 12 hour days and we decline projects that would force us to deviate from this core value. Sorry, we won’t “Grind it out” for you.

8. Don't Be Afraid To Manage

If you don't come from a strong managerial background, chances are you're not properly managing your team. It is important to set very clear expectations for your employees. Think about this in terms of answering common questions ahead of time for everyone. Here is an example of what this might look like for a Marketing Intern:

  • When am I expected to be here?
    • We work from 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday.
  • What do I do when I’m stuck?
    • Go to your Team Lead, explain the problem, and help identify potential solutions.
  • What are my daily responsibilities?
    • Writing blogs, posting to social media, managing Ad Campaigns on Facebook.

Routinely check in with your team members to ensure that they understand what is expected of them and that they are adequately meeting your expectations. Some people will manage themselves, but you can’t expect that everyone will. Some will need extra coaching in order to satisfy their job requirements. It’s important to know that you are their coach.

When people don't meet expectations or if repeated attempts at coaching fail, reiterate expectations and coach some more. If your expectations are continually not met, and you do not feel that there is hope for improvement, it’s probably time to let someone go.

9. No, You Don’t Know Everything

At Teeps, one important thing we do is hold regular meetings with the more socially and technologically connected members of our team. We understand that as managers, sometimes we aren’t always savvy to the ever changing social and technological landscapes. You may want to ask your team important questions such as "If you wanted to take us out as a competing business, what would you do?", "What do you think of our image in comparison to our competitors?", “Do you think we are providing the best service we possibly can?”, “What is a Twitter?”

If you are too stubborn or too afraid of change, you will likely see the end of your company at some point (probably earlier than you want to.) It is important to understand that things are always changing, and you can't always predict everything yourself. Allowing people to give you their valuable insight can help keep your company thriving and relevant for years to come.

10. Identify Areas Of Improvement

Listen to what people are saying around your office, as well as the feedback you are getting from your customers. Things may not always be running as smoothly as they appear to be at first glance. Take a closer look.

At Teeps, we realized that our existing customers weren’t clear on how to report issues with their apps after we had shipped them to the app store. In recognizing this, we learned how to point the finger back at ourselves, and fix a crucial communication problem. We quickly implemented severity levels for issues, communicated them, and gave our customers clear direction on how to report their issues to get them resolved quickly and efficiently.

Sometimes seemingly small problems are the hardest to identify, but can have a substantially negative impact on the overall health of your company.

Keep an eye out for areas of improvement and never fall into complacency.

Can your business benefit from a mobile app? Our team of code enthusiasts would be glad to chat about the possibilities and build something great, together.

Let's build your next big thing.

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