4 Ways to Grow Your Business Without Hiringby@joachim
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4 Ways to Grow Your Business Without Hiring

by Joachim EeckhoutNovember 16th, 2022
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Growing a company is tough, and it can become even more difficult if entrepreneurs don’t ask the right questions. Most entrepreneurs think that with more employees, a company automatically grows. But smart companies know that their success doesn't have to be linked to their size. There are many ways to do more with your current team’s time, but exploring one of them could be a great opportunity for your business.

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Growing a company is tough, and it can become even more difficult if entrepreneurs don’t ask the right questions. I often ask myself how can I grow my company without adding more employees? Sounds counter-intuitive, right? But this question often led me to great results. Let me explain.

Let’s take an agency, for example. You can imagine any type of agency, like web development, marketing, recruiting, and so on. An agency’s business model is quite simple: the more employees they have, the more hours they can charge their clients. To grow, an agency needs to increase its number of employees so it can sell more hours.

In reality, this is not always so easy. Hiring new employees often comes with unexpected challenges, like higher management costs or organizational issues. It’s also hard to hire at the right time—hire too early, and you may find yourself with resources you don’t fully use. You may also simply face another issue: hiring is too expensive for your business’ current financial situation.

So, how do you keep growing a small business when hiring is not an option? Asking the right questions could help.

The techniques I will describe don’t require developing new revenue streams or taking a huge bet on new projects. I’m focusing on increasing growth by freeing up a part of your team's time. In other words, do more with less.

Recognize what drives your growth

If you added more employees to your company, would you immediately unlock your growth potential? Answering this question can be confusing. Most entrepreneurs think that with more employees, a company automatically grows. This is far from the truth. It’s quite common to see companies breaking apart after they reached a certain number of employees. But smart companies know that their success doesn’t have to be linked to their size.

Take Basecamp, for instance—a popular project management tool. Basecamp is used by millions of users, but the company behind it, 37signals, only has 60 employees. While its user base hasn’t stopped growing in recent years, the same small team managed to maintain the required quality of its product without having to hire concurrently.

Basecamp’s founders recognized very early on that they didn’t need to raise a ton of money to build a great software company. Their growth was never bound by the number of employees. Instead, they focused on creating a scalable product that can be updated and maintained by a small team. The founders also spent a lot of time creating a culture that prioritizes healthy growth.

Your company growth doesn’t have to be linked to your headcount. There are many ways to do more with your current team. I believe in the Pareto law (80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes), and I’m sure every business can find new ways of doing what they do best if they ask themselves good questions.

4 ways to do more with less

Here are some tricks I learned over the years from my own experience. They’re not your only option for growth, but exploring even one of them could be a great opportunity for your business.

  1. Use asynchronous communication

The average middle-level manager spends around 35% of their time in meetings. But the worst part is that 37% of those meetings are valued as unproductive! That’s a huge waste of time if your company needs to get things done. One of my working principles is asynchronous communication. I could (and I will) write a whole post about it, but I’ll share the basic principle here.

Asynchronous companies use strong communication rules to protect their employees' time. For instance, asynchronous companies agree that instant communication is not a good practice and favor delayed response. With asynchronous communication, employees are expected to answer instant messages, emails, and messages from other channels in the coming hours instead of the next minutes. Meetings are also the last-resort tool in asynchronous companies and should only be used when other communication channels are limiting.

For instance, if a colleague sends you a Slack message, it should be agreed that you need to answer in the next 4 hours (or more) and not the next 4 minutes! This may seem inefficient, but it’s actually the opposite.

Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, found that the typical office worker is interrupted or switches tasks, on average, every three minutes. And it can take more than 23 minutes just to get back to where they left off! When people are not constantly disturbed by notifications, emails, and meetings, they can find time for deep focus, and this is the best way to get more things done.

  1. Map your processes

I like to see small businesses as machines. If the cogs are well implemented, the machine will run smoothly. This metaphor applies well to small businesses. The cogs are the different processes that make your business run (or Standard Operating Procedures, as they are often called). If you look closely at these processes, you may identify hidden bottlenecks that can be removed and save you a ton of time.

I often think of an example from the book It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work by Basecamp’s two founders I mentioned above. In the early days of their company, they were frustrated by the amount of time it took to report to clients (the company was originally a software agency). They progressively reduced the size of the report, making sure along the way that the client was satisfied. Their reporting material changed from a long PDF document to a simple page. This change saved a ton of time on each project without damaging client relationships.

Similarly, they looked at how fast their customer support had to reply to users’ requests. They tested different hypotheses, answering tickets as fast as under 5 minutes to several hours or even days. In the end, they discovered that it didn’t matter for their users as long as they answered in the next few hours. So instead of trying to be as fast as possible, they were able to build customer support that was not constantly rushing to be the fastest.

I’ve often seen in my own company how outdated processes can waste a lot of time. And for employees doing these tasks, it’s not always easy to realize that they are wasting time (we are always biased by routine). If you want to reduce bottlenecks in your company, look at how your processes work and question them regularly. You may discover that you can save hours of work each week with a simple question: Why are we doing this task?

  1. Cut the superfluous

Another part of your business to examine are “side projects”. By side projects, I mean all the features, collaborations, or initiatives that are not linked to the core business. In my company, for example, we used to spend a large amount of time negotiating media partnerships with event organizers (this is quite common for B2B media). This was great to give us credibility and a presence on the event scene in the early days of the company, but nowadays this doesn’t bring us as much benefit. To change this, we simply looked at the pros and cons of having regular event partnerships and concluded that the time investment was not worth it. We are now focusing on a very small amount of partnerships, selected for their high relevance to our business. This gives us the opportunity to focus even more on our core operations.

You may have similar opportunities in your own business. To identify them, look at the different projects or tasks that are not directly linked to your main business. Or more simply, identify the parts of your business that don’t bring you money! Once it’s done, ask the tough question: Should we still keep doing this, or stop it altogether? You can’t imagine how much headspace your team can gain if you leave behind some low-priority projects.

  1. Hire external experts

My last advice to help your company grow without hiring more is to use external help. Platforms such as Upwork or Fiverr are a great place to find experts that can help you with occasional tasks without creating too much complexity for your business.

For instance, SEO, web development, and graphic design are areas that don’t necessarily need a full-time employee. Many companies ask their employees to become experts in many areas, but this is obviously very difficult and can’t compete with a true expert. So instead of trying to do things yourself, let a real expert help you. You may be surprised by the costs you can save. One hour of expert work is very often more efficient than weeks of trial and error.

The ultimate question: should you grow?

Sometimes, no growth is the best answer to your problems. This may sound very strange (or stupid depending on who you ask) but some businesses may do better without the constant struggle to grow.

Being content with what you have already built as an entrepreneur could reduce your stress. At some point, it may be more interesting for managers to stop adding projects and instead focus their energy on providing a healthy work environment for their team.

I may be swimming against the current with this philosophy, but I’m proud of owning a small business that supports the lives of a tiny team. Trying to grow at any cost would automatically bring consequences in our organization and way of doing things. I’m always preaching for a calm and relaxed workplace, even if sometimes it means doing less or doing things differently than most of the competition.

So what can you do for your own business? The ultimate answer lies in questioning everything you and your team do on a regular basis. It’s not an easy task, and it can lead to heated discussions (nobody likes change, after all), but asking simple questions about what you do could bring extraordinary results.

Photos by Joe Green, Austin Distel, and Luke Ow