I keep talking about this idea of a grown-up business, and it’s one which seems to resonate with a lot of the business advice clients I work with. But what do I mean by a grown-up business, and why would you want to be one?
The features of a grown-up business
A grown-up business is one where you’re used to thinking of your business as an operation, a series of processes, supported by systems and tools.
This is different from when you’re a freelancer, and you think of your business as a series of projects or jobs you do for someone else.
Your grown-up business is serious about making decent money and investing some of that money back into it.
Often this means delegating some of the work to other people, but you don’t have to have a team of staff to have a grown-up business.
You have already given some serious thought about getting some help and support for thinking about the strategy of your business, through business coaching or a programme of support. And you’ll be committed to learning and improving what you do.
And your grown-up business will have some systems in place to help it operate more smoothly, especially systems for marketing and business development.
That all sounds good, but why would you want a grown-up business?
What makes people want a grown-up business?
After working with hundreds of small businesses over the years, I’d say that there are some definite triggers which make someone make the gear change up to a grown-up business.
The big one is, recognising that it’s time to make some more money. Sometimes this is because something in your life has changed.
You may have got a new baby or you got fed up of having to move flats again, just because your landlord is selling up. So you’ve decided to make enough money to get a mortgage and some security.
It could be because you hit a big birthday ending in the number zero and decided that it’s time to get serious.
Or sometimes, business owners get fed up. They’ve had enough of being taken for granted by clients who don’t value what they do or that they have to hustle even to get clients at all.
Quite often, it’s recognising that there’s some potential in the business to do more than it’s doing.
Or sometimes the trigger is reading one of my blogs or the emails I send out every week talking about how to get serious about your business.
If you don’t already get those emails, by the way, here’s how to get the good stuff every week.
Let’s look at some of those elements of a grown-up business in a bit more detail.
Systems and tools
The crucial part here is thinking of your business as a series of systems.
I like to talk about a money-making machine, where you put in the time, resources and your expertise, turn the handle. And out comes money and satisfaction.
A grown-up business will have systems for doing things, which makes life a lot easier for you. When you have these systems in place, you don’t have to think about how to do something every time you do it because you have done it before and there’s a process for doing it.
Some people like to write all this down as a series of standard operating procedures. Others prefer to have it in their head but are clear on what to do when they have to, say, send out an invoice, or start working with a new client.
And others love to have as much of this automated, so they never have to think about it, and the boring stuff is pretty much done automatically.
That’s a source of joy for people like me who much prefer to get on with the creative thinking, and like to just press a button for the VAT return when the recurring reminder comes up on my screen.
I could talk about money and business all day. But let’s say that the owner of a grown-up business will have thought carefully about how not to overservice clients and how to get your fees to your sweet spot price.
One of the first steps to changing gear to a grown-up business is acknowledging that you don’t have to do absolutely everything yourself. Sometimes, you can pay other people money to help you so you can get things done faster.
This might be taking on your first member of staff or getting in some freelancers to do the client work so you can take on more jobs. Or it might be as simple as paying a virtual assistant to do 3 hours of admin a week or finding someone on People per Hour to proofread your blogs.
But being prepared to delegate and trusting other people to do some of the work is crucial to most grown-up businesses.
Another thing I’ve noticed about this tipping point where people start to change up a gear to develop a more grown-up business is that they seriously think about getting support. Especially support for the big strategic thinking about how to make the most of the opportunities in the business.
When you start thinking about business coaching and support for your business, this is a signal that you’re ready to go to the next stage and prepared to invest in yourself and the potential of your business.
This can be a bit of a scary moment, because you’re moving out of your comfort zone of just doing the work and getting paid, into developing a real business, which you’ve maybe never done before.
So it’s super helpful to have a trusted friend to help you on the way, someone who has been through this before and can point out the potential danger areas. And show you the shortcuts.
Your unique selling point
One of the significant differences between a freelancer business and a grown-up business is that a freelancer does something that lots of other people do. Copywriter, user experience person, plumber…these are all freelancers models.
If I need some copy, some improvements to my website, or my boiler fixing, I can google this, find a bunch of people and pick the one I like the look of.
A grown-up business might be selling pretty much the same services, but sells them in a way which is different to all the other people who do that stuff.
The grown-up business has a unique selling point that makes them stand out and makes potential clients want to use her, rather than the other folk. I’ve got a great video about this, using Seth Godin’s Purple Cow idea.
Getting on the case with marketing
Your grown-up business will be totally on the case with marketing and business development.
You will have some great systems for doing your marketing, which then means that you pretty much get to pick who you work with. Rather than waiting for that email to drop into your inbox with some new work for you – because that email may or may not come.
This is probably the most extensive area I help people with when they want to make that move to a more grown-up business.
It makes sense, doesn’t it?
If you recognise that you want to make more money, be taken more seriously, do more of the work you love to do… you’re going to have to do some active marketing and business development.
The kind that makes those emails drop into your inbox regularly, without you having to hustle to get another job.
Are you ready for a grown-up business?
You probably recognise some of these already in your thinking about your business. You might already have a lot of these areas covered, or you might be thinking that you’ve still got a long way to go before you have your own grown-up business.
This is exactly the time for us to have a chat about where you are right now and where the gaps are for you.
Let’s get together for a coffee and cake, either in person if you’re in Brighton or online if you’re not, and talk about your business, and what it needs to become a grown-up business.
Photo credits to Vervate