How to Scale a Business and Embrace What Comes Next
Written by Sarah Hernholm
Scaling a business is not for the thin-skinned, the easily overwhelmed, or the faint of heart. There are moments of complete frustration, days when “what the ___?!?” is your mantra, and times when you just might find yourself crying and curled up in the fetal position (or maybe that’s just me). It requires patience, flexibility, commitment, sacrifice, humility, and heart. But wait … isn’t that what most great things require?
Scaling a business can look different based on sector, location, customer, and one’s personal definition. In my case I’ve scaled from 1 school, to 5 schools (in the same city), and from 1 city to 4 cities across the country. Different types of scaling. Similar types of challenges.
Before I jump into my “lessons learned”, it might be helpful to know a little bit about me. It might provide a little context, or explanation around why I’ve done things and how I’ve done them. I’ll keep it brief: middle child, entrepreneur, theater major, visionary, West Coast raised - but love being asked if I’m a New Yorker, former teacher, worked in film/tv, founder of 2 businesses, co-founder of a few, and I’m known for my “nomadic tendencies”. Why do these things matter? Well, because like many (or a few) of you reading this, I didn’t go to business school, I’ve had a couple careers, and my passion turned into a business (very different than my business turned into my passion). My background also speaks to why I’m someone who is pretty comfortable being uncomfortable, and being uncomfortable happens a lot when you’re scaling your passion/business. I’ve learned over the years that the more you can embrace the tough times, the discomfort, the challenges … the better your scaling journey will be.
So, here’s what I’m gonna do. I’m going to share a good ol’ Top 4 List (I know, I know, it should be Top 5, but I like doing things a little different) of things to embrace while scaling your business.
TOP 4 THINGS TO EMBRACE WHILE SCALING YOUR BUSINESS
Embrace the rejection - no doubt you think you’ve got an amazing offering (program, product, opportunity) and you are stoked to take it to different markets. Here’s the thing - not everyone is going to want what you’re selling. This truth hits harder to those of us who turned passions into business. It can feel sooooooo personal when you hear “no”. It’s like they are saying, “No, we don’t need that right now” and you hear, “No. I don’t need you. I don’t want you. I don’t like you. I don’t believe in you …..” STOP. Remember, a “no” can be a “not yet”, and if you focus too much on the “no”, you’ll miss the “yes” around the corner!
Embrace the learning - sometimes as founders it feels like we need to know everything and if we don’t know all the things, it means we are less than. Nope. Not true (cue: imposter syndrome). I’ll let you in on a secret - I’ve sat with top CEOs that “don’t know”, and they are running huge companies. But what they do know, is the value of surrounding themselves with people who are subject experts and they learn from them. I’m so grateful for my mentors who pick up when I call, let me stop by their office, or even meet me for pancakes when I’m in town (shout out to David A.!). I continue to remain a student, and I truly love the learning process that comes along with scaling my businesses.
Embrace the failures - is this when I’m suppose to mention the time I created a program I thought for sure would “sell out” and make “great impact”, but then landed totally flat, and I sheepishly scaled back the promotion? Well, yep, that happened. And so have many other failures and setbacks. I guess I’ve just gotten so use to seeing failure as feedback, that I just embrace it as part of my journey. I’m someone who likes to live on the edge a bit, take risks, and move fast. Failure is inevitable with that type of personality. A friend once asked me, “Why are you so comfortable taking such big risks?” My response - without even hesitating - “Cause I’d bet on myself any day of the week.” I know I won’t get everything right, but my work ethic is on point. I know I can work myself out of any situation. Double bonus is - I’ve learned to work smarter, not “harder”.
Embrace your awesomeness - if you are someone who has turned a passion into a business, made it profitable, and are gearing up for scaling, you are already a rockstar. You’ve done what many people haven’t … you’ve executed. So many people talk about doing things, leaving the 9-5, making their hobby a business, but not many actually do it. You did. Celebrate that and remember that you chose this! You don’t have to scale, you want to scale. Reframing “have to” to “want to” is important. If you don’t like the direction you’re headed in, you can make a different choice. Scaling, like life, is just one choice after another.
Also, heads-up, it can get a little lonely out there. People aren’t always gonna get you, or understand why you work so much. They might advise you to have more work/life balance, or try and tell you scaling isn’t necessary. They might think what you’re doing is “crazy”. I find those people annoying, but I try and think they mean well. My advice? Don’t waste too much time explaining yourself to others. Stick to actions. Stick to execution. Stick to what you know … your passion, your heart, your business. You’ll find your tribe … we “crazy” ones always find each other.
And P.S. - Embrace the lulls — there will be downtime during your journey. It can be tempting during those times to get fearful, anxious, or worry. Breathe. It will pick back up again, and when it does you’ll wish you binged that show, went for the walk, or just slept a little more.
In 2009, Sarah Hernholm left her elementary school teaching days and launched WIT - Whatever It Takes. Currently, WIT is the only college-credit social entrepreneur and leadership course for high school teens in the country. As Founder/President of WIT, Sarah helps launch WIT sites all over the country, and motivates teens to launch enterprises designed to change their communities. Sarah also created Smart City Saturday (SCS), which hosts teen only hackathons around the country. These hackathons provide teens the opportunity to spend the day tackling their city's greatest challenges and then at the end of the event, present their proposed solutions to city-officials. Along the way she has delivered three TEDx talks: Power of Authentic Self-Expression, The Importance of Asking - "Why is this happening for me (not 'to' me)?”, and Place More Commas Than Periods
In everything she does, Sarah lives and leads with "11 Tips for Doing WIT". These Tips help develop greater emotional intelligence, along with activating an entrepreneurial mindset. As a result of the proven impact of the 11 Tips for Doing WIT, Sarah has partnered with organizations, companies, school districts, and parent groups to teach the 11 Tips for Doing WIT. These Tips resonate with everyone. While not everyone will be an entrepreneur and launch a business, EVERYONE can develop an entrepreneurial mindset, and benefit from developing their emotional intelligence. 11 Tips for Doing WIT handbook for living WIT, coming January 2019.