Scaling a business, lessons learned from the bunkers
The recent press coverage is gathering our small company quite a bit of attention, including being mentioned in an internal Dell morning email that reaches every employee at Dell.
All of this leads to wanting to write about those pains all small business owners feel, and some of the tools and techniques I'm finding of great value.
Short and Concise
As this blog post will be, terseness is not a virtue but concise, precise verbage is. And sometimes the best response is no response at all.
Example: Everytime you send someone an email, that distracts them from something they would otherwise be working on. So does that extra "thank you" or "thanks again" email really need to be sent? Think about it, or don't for that matter.
Example: Do you enjoy reading emails that are multi-paragraph and could arguable be a term paper? Probably not, so don't send them. You are saving yourself and the possible reader a great deal of time.
If your business can afford it, a team lead per segment of the business is crucial. These are often referred to as "Directors" or "Senior VPs" who generally report to the President or CEO; "team leads" suffice for us. This keeps you moderately abstracted from the inter-workings of your company's engine. A critical step in being able to manage a quickly growing business.
At a minimum you should have one team lead, this person may wear many hats, they report to you. Starting with a baseline structure even with a 1-2 employee setup gets you on the right track for future growth.
This is a matter of the type of clients you are servicing and the industry you are in; vague. We work with dev shops that use a scrum model where they may have a routine morning scrum meeting. We've chosen the bi-weekly meetings where each team lead gets 2-5 minutes to lay out on the table the status of their projects.
My team is able to work without a formal meeting topology because we work in an open office with only a single private. Open offices are fantastic for ongoing collaboration but your team must be trained to interrupt when necessary. I'm a strong advocate of the open office style, grab a pair of headphones and get at it.
Be serious about the fact that you are in business to perform a specific set of functions.
Example: We're a web host with hundreds of high capacity servers. We architect some of the most complex private clouds that our industry has seen, yet we outsource our email. Why? Because you are either a pure Microsoft Windows shop and hopefully outsourcing to an Exchange hosting provider, or you are an OSX/Linux shop (as we are) and are outsourcing to Google Enterprise.
Example: I state as a fact that we employ the smartest software and system architect in existence, Mr. Shore's Academic achievements aside there is no person more capable of building operational tools than Brian. We choose to build upon pre-built tools such as Puppet and Ubersmith, because his time is of far greater value leveraging what the Puppet and Ubersmith teams have built rather than re-inventing. Enterprise grade email and spam filtering is not our business.
We use Basecamp to track ongoing projects; building private clouds or managing internal assets. I take a daily digest and skim through it. I've chosen a single point of communication to be email. We use skype/gtalk/basecamp/confluence/jira/ubersmith but at the end of the day you need to pick a single tool that will funnel the vast amount of information you are getting, or eventually will receive as your business grows.
Email was my choice because it is reliable between various hardware devices, and it can funnel in requests from basecamp, new tickets into our enterprise queue that I may be working on, offline gtalk conversations, and of course the daily email intake.
As a long ago Ultima Online gamer the best explanation is to pick a weapon and use it well. Mine is the email client.
Business development is enjoyable, and you will find growth to be both rewarding and stressful. Never take for granted the blessing of being your own boss, and never let work life interfere with the most important: Family.