If you have started a business around WordPress, you must have heard of PressNomics – the conference that helps people build businesses around WordPress. If you have no idea what that is, read on because the lessons learnt on that conference that I want to share with you are valid for every business in its early growth stages.
The PressNomics conference was all about the challenges of growing your business from a freelance, one-man-show model to an established multi-product, multi-client business with multiple employees. The sessions covered topics from hiring, management, to even finding the work-life balance. Here is what stuck with me from all the information exchanged there.
Adding manpower to your business
Once your business starts growing, you will most certainly need to expand your human resources to process the incoming work. The two natural ways you can go are either hire new employees or find partners to merge with. Though natural, it's never so simple as it sounds.
Chris Lema, a successful entrepreneur and business consultant, well-known in the WordPress community, opened the PressNomics conference with an inspiring presentation on work cultures and a major issue with hiring that you should keep in mind. You may like someone’s work very much, someone you want to hire, but the question is are they going to keep the high level of performance once you bring them over? Top performers become superstars within a specific environment. Once you take them away from their environment, it is very likely they lose their powers. So Chris says it may be better to put effort to build your own performing culture and create your own superstars. I have been with SiteGround for 9 years now, pretty much since its beginning and my personal experience fully confirms that. Most of our superstars are home-grown, we never hire managers outside the company and new people often join not because they have strong expertise, but because they have the potential to fit and learn. That’s because we have a very strong culture, which makes us unique and successful. We believe that in order to preserve that, we have to hire the right people. But very often the right people lack the knowledge they need and then we teach them to excel.
If instead of hiring you are considering merging with other small businesses, you may want to listen to what Lisa Sabin-Wilson, partner at WebDevStudios.com, has to say. She shared her experience of merging her design business with that of Webdevstudio, when she got two new partners - Brad Williams and Brian Messenlehner, who had a strong development background. Lisa chose her partners after she actually worked with them, outsourcing some work to them, met with them multiple times, and had at least 1 drunk conversation to strengthen the bond. Knowing who is the right partner for you is not easy and you should not rush it. SiteGround has attempted to acquire smaller companies before as a way to expand know-how and client base. Unfortunately, both times we held back because we did not feel the right click.
Manage an office or manage remotely
If you are moving from one-man business model to a company with employees, you have to consider if you want to manage an office or go with distributed teams and remote management. According to Shane Pearlman, partner at Modern Tribe agency, it’s great to manage a distributed team as you don’t have to pay office bills and you can go surfing any time you like. It's worth mentioning that in the WordPress community, many people seem to prefer the distributed teams because it allows them to hire the best of the best, without being bound by geographical boundaries. At the same time, I feel professionally challenged by the remote management model as for me it dilutes the strong team-oriented, work-hard-party-hard culture we have and I am scared it may affect the quality of our service and the efficiency to which I am so used. But yes, that’s personal – your own personality, company culture and values, your workflow are just some of the things that help you decide which management model to choose.
Do you have the work-life balance you want?
It’s a well-known fact - small business owners usually work like crazy even on weekends and without quality time with their families. Indeed, almost every person to whom I spoke at PressNomics said they work about 12 hours a day, no weekends. I somehow felt guilty because I don’t have that problem. Do I work less? I don’t think so cause I tend to work a lot. It’s just that I believe that one should work hard, but also leave quality “me time”. I believe good work procedures, discipline, optimized teams, even your business model are your tickets to that work-life balance. So you may want to re-think certain priorities and routines, and try to deliberately spare time for rest and other activities. Rest and change help boost your creativity.
Is your product designed to be usable?
Another common challenge of small business owners is the product design. I have seen so many tools made by developers, super-functional yet so unfriendly that I lose more time to figure out how they work than actually save time by using them….and often I quit trying. So one thing I really liked and fully support is the advice that Natalie Maclees, front-end developer and principal at Purple Pen Productions gave – you should always think about the use processes and consequentially the design of your product. The design defines usability and the sooner you start thinking about it and making your product more easily usable, the sooner you will manage to increase your adoption rate.
The power of connections
Every time I go to a conference I get amazed how drinking a beer with a random person at the event can later open new business opportunities for you. We attended PressNomics this past week (16-19 October) representing SiteGround, which was sponsoring the event. For us, the best part of it was the time and the opportunities we had to hang out with really nice and interesting people. The value of all this communication is not simply the great time we had, but also the fact that all these people helped us understand many things about their business that we could later apply to our own business. If you haven’t heard that already, let me say it – you get to learn most by talking to people.
And finally, don’t forget that business success does not come at any cost. The motto of PressNomics, thanks to Sally and Joshua Strebel from Page.ly who organized the event, was “live graciously”, meaning that you should not forget to give back to the community and help those who have less than you. Thanks for that guys, it’s good to be reminded at times!