Q. Dear Zenagos, my service business is going well, and customers really trust me, but I have more work than I can do. Should I hire another “me” to farm out work, or will that alienate my customers?
Let’s face it: You are the only you! Whatever it is that your customers like about you – your knowledge, your skills, your honest face – that will be difficult to duplicate. However, if you are your business’s only worker, that will limit what you can earn, and it will make you and your business completely vulnerable if anything ever happens to you. One critical test of a business is whether it could survive if the owner were “hit by a bus.” If it can’t, then you would be wise to start creating some backups. (And until they are in place, please do be careful when crossing the street!)
In business terms, you are wondering whether you should grow (“scale”) your business. As you think about it, consider the image (“brand”) of your business. In a service business, the more elite your brand is, the harder it is to add additional employees who can work directly with customers (“capacity”). For example, if you charge $14 for a haircut (a bargain price), the expectations of the customer will probably be mild, and there will be little reaction if you substitute a different stylist. If you charge $120 for a haircut (an elite price), then customers will demand a posh experience (perhaps a shampoo, special products, a scalp massage, and a blow dry) and will probably be very upset if they can’t see their favorite stylist. So, you need to decide whether it is better for your business to have a less elite (“downmarket”) brand, providing more flexibility around your employee hiring, or to go “upmarket” and serve more demanding customers who will be less flexible about who serves them. You are the only person who can answer this question, and you may need to experiment a bit before you land in a comfortable spot.
If you are considering your very first employee hire, then you need to prepare for how challenging it is to be a boss. It is much tougher to be an employer than an employee. You will be stunned by the new costs you add when you bring on an employee. You need to pay a variety of taxes, secure new types of insurance, and deal with paperwork and hassles. It takes a long time to build trust with an employee, and you may invest a lot of your time and money training your people, only to have them leave you for a direct competitor. Many service professionals conclude that it is easier to limit their business to what they can handle personally and not deal with employees at all. This is a matter of individual comfort. You may be able to speed your learning process by asking some other professionals about their solutions.
If you do decide to hire additional professionals, then assign employees to customers with conviction. If you show confidence in your employees, it will reassure your customers. Once you have built a positive reputation in your community, most customers will accept the professionals that you assign to them. Do be careful to sell your service and process, rather than the specific employee, and to stay in touch with each customer as the service is performed. That way, if that employee leaves, your customer will remain bonded to you and your company, not the particular employee. Also, make sure you set aside time to adequately train your new professionals and allow them to ask you questions about your process, style, and customers. You will be relying on them to represent your brand and your business, and you need to give them the tools to do that well.
Lastly, congratulations! If you have too much work, then you are doing something right. You already have a successful business, which is a lot more than many entrepreneurs can say. Take a moment to give yourself a pat on the back. And keep building relationships with experts who can help you anticipate what you need to do to keep your business healthy and growing.