Part 1: Building Your Business

Scale Your Business, Not Your People

How to Survive the Next Year, the Next Recession, and the Ongoing Reset of the Workplace, Marketplace and Recruiting Space
- Part 1: Building Your Business -

Since the Great Recession, most business leaders have been fixated on growth – and for good reason.  But even when the ‘going is good’, much of that growth is doing damage and putting leadership teams and organizations at risk – especially those in professional services.

Our current growth model is a problem and won’t serve us well going forward either.

Greater scale is what’s needed to build our business to win today and over the long-term.  


Growth vs Scale

Business growth and scale are often confused.  

Business growth can simply be an increase in revenue.  Most often this requires an increase in expenses to support and sustain the new growth.  For us in professional services, that support is typically in the form of hiring additional talent to produce the new work.

Business scale is different.  It is a process of increasing revenue with little to no increase in expenses while maintaining high quality.  Scaling a product-based business is typically easier than a service-based business.


The Problem with Growth

In general, service firms have a “one-to-many” distributed influence approach to growth.  

To progress professionally and generate profit, key individuals must take on increasing levels of responsibility and be leveraged over more clients and more staff.  As teams build-out, the “one” becomes more standardized and has less day-to-day interactions with clients and non-direct-report members of the team by design. This limiting connection, however, is becoming more problematic (more on that later in this series).

At the same time, each “one” often carries the burden of at least two roles as “doer-seller”, “principal-manager”, or “manager-service provider”.  The problem, especially today, is that our best talent is disproportionately burdened by this model. Workloads for most are skyrocketing, clients are demanding more, budgets are tighter, there’s less new talent, and there’s less time to fully engage and develop the talent we have.


“Even though much of the work is getting done and profits are high for most today, this is not “scale”.”

–Peter C. Atherton


Even though much of the work is getting done and profits are high for most today, this is not “scale”.  Operating in this mode is not sustainable and there is a cost – near-term to talent and culture, and longer-term to production in terms of talent burnout and disengagement and the bottom-line in addressing talent loss and service quality gaps.


The Need for Scale

Developing talent takes investment and time, and cost-effectively adding experienced talent is a challenge – unless you are truly doing something special to attract them (more on that later too).  

Relying solely on more of the same is not a credible strategy for today and won’t prepare us for a future trending more toward the amount of “value produced” than “time-spent”.  Increasing our ability to scale will be more critical to successfully competing and profiting.

For most firms, now is the time to adjust our strategic planning and invest.  As leaders, we can’t confuse the good market conditions of today with doing what’s right and needed to win tomorrow.


Designing for Scale

Scaling our business moving forward is likely to include the following elements:

  • Integrating new technology
  • Process innovation
  • Productization
  • Leveraging of the gig economy
  • Value escalation
  • Transformational thinking
  • In-demand branding

Re-opening our strategic plan or reconsidering its implementation in light of these elements is an important first step if we’ve not already done so.


Part 2 of this series focuses on growing our people to help scale our business.  Part 3 focuses on what it takes to build a brand designed to attract and save us time and money while increasing loyalty and retention.  

To your winning,

PS – Are you a leader who wants to take your engineering, architecture, or construction-related firm to the next level?  Learn more and apply to become part of The AEC Leadership Mastermind.

PSS – Do you want to learn how to excel and prevent burnout in you and your organization?  Check out the most important chapters in “Reversing Burnout” for FREE by clicking HERE.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Pete headshot

Pete Atherton

About the Author

Pete is the President and Founder of ActionsProve, LLC, author of Reversing Burnout. How to Immediately Engage Top Talent and Grow! A Blueprint for Professionals and Business Owners, and creator of the I.M.P.A.C.T. process.  ActionsProve works with professionals and business owners to create greater growth and profits through more effective employee attraction and retention, impact, and branding.  Prior to founding ActionsProve, and for more than 20 years, Pete was a very successful and accomplished professional engineer.  Pete sold his engineering firm ownership to focus on designing systems for you and your organization to grow and succeed in more relevant and effective ways.  For over a dozen years, Pete has also been serving in multiple capacities in the non-profit sector to achieve both local and global impact, and is a co-founder of the 100 Men Who Care chapter for Knoxville and the 100 Men Who Care chapter for Southern Maine.

For a more expansive biography and experience summary.

Join our LinkedIn network!

quiz are you overwhelmed 001

Are you feeling overwhelmed, or are you burning out?

There is a big difference and each requires a different approach. Take this FREE quiz to find out where you stand and learn exactly how you (and your team!) can get back on track.

quiz are you overwhelmed 001

Are you feeling overwhelmed, or are you burning out?

There is a big difference and each requires a different approach. Take this FREE quiz to find out where you stand and learn exactly how you (and your team!) can get back on track.

Scale Your Business, Not Your People – Part 1: Building Your Business