Former stay-at-home moms Kristen Christian and Lisa Foley started their home-organization business Bee Organized after realizing that the inflexible hours of a corporate job wouldn’t work for their families.
Three years later, the entrepreneurs have turned Bee Organized into a thriving business. They have franchise operations in Dallas, San Francisco and Oklahoma City. The business owners employ 17 part-time employees – many are stay-at-home moms in need of flexible hours – within Kansas City.
The growth has been so explosive that the two knew they had to be more intentional about their day-to-day processes to properly scale. Growing too fast without clear operational direction could water down the product that Foley and Christian worked so hard to create.
It led them to ScaleUP! KC, a free program offered by the University of Missouri-Kansas City Innovation Center with support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The program includes classes, peer mentoring, professional guidance and more. It’s open to small businesses like Bee Organized who operate in a small market capable of supporting more than $1 million in annual sales and who want to rapidly grow their business.
Consider the end game
Christian was hesitant at first. She wondered, What successful small business owner has time to step away from their business every Thursday?
“As with any entrepreneur you’re really drinking from a fire hose all the time,” she says.
She laughs now at her short-sighted thinking.
“ScaleUP! was amazing because they really encourage you to look at the end. What’s your end game? What’s your goal? The day you’re walking out of your career,” Christian says. “What does it look like to you, and then let’s plan backward for you.”
These days, they consider the long-term effects of every business decision.
“That’s become part of our verbiage and jargon,” Christian says. “How does this decision line up with our end goal?”
Taking advice from peers
ScaleUP! experts and other entrepreneurs also guided the two as their business hired a part-time employee to handle business development to grow the Kansas City market.
Until then, the entrepreneurs handled every business decision in the Kansas City market. But other business owners in their ScaleUP! cohort reminded them that they can’t do everything and scale.
“It’s not healthy or realistic to think you can do everything,” Christian says.
The owners also are working on a job description for an operational manager, who will take on many of their day-to-day roles. They’ll still oversee Kansas City business, but it frees them up to market their franchise operation.
It’s a scary step, Foley says, but feels less intimidating thanks to the long-term strategies that ScaleUP! experts helped create.
It was also easier after Christian was able to regularly seek the advice and tips from fellow ScaleUP! entrepreneurs. The group has a regular roundtable, where they share advice. They offered insight and professional friendship that the two owners expect to rely on for years to come.
“There is such a trust factor to be able to share your troubles and weaknesses,” Foley says.
Becoming a legacy business
Another major change for Bee Organized came when ScaleUP! advisors asked entrepreneurs to write down every process, philosophy and step required to run Bee Organized.
It might seem small, but that effort turned their business from a lifestyle business into a legacy business. Writing down every step of their processes was essential in their efforts to scale and perhaps sell the business one day.
“If you have a legacy business, which basically means that you have something that is repeatable and scalable, really what that means is you have systems and processes in place. You can omit yourself from that business,” Christian says. “I can essentially get run over by a bus and the business would keep going. And if you don’t do that, you have nothing really tangible to sell or to pass on.”
The entrepreneurs had spent so much time working on branding and their reputation — they needed a written plan in place to ensure franchisees and employees didn’t water down their efforts.
When they recently met with a franchisee, Christian proudly presented their operations manual, thanks to ScaleUP!
“This is what you’re paying for,” Christian told the franchisee as she placed it on the table. “This is what the franchise fee is for right here. It’s how we do everything.”
ScaleUP! also helped the owners analyze their finances through a different lens.
“Lisa and I aren’t good at numbers. We should be passing that on to somebody else,” Christian says. “But that doesn’t mean you take yourself out of the equation. That’s a dangerous thing that a lot of business owners do.”
ScaleUP! experts encouraged Christian to consider how adding a service would change the finances.
These days, Christian hears the ScaleUP! advisers’ voices in her head as she asks the proper financial questions before making decisions.
“For every dollar of growth, how much are you going to have to spend? If you’re wanting to double your sales in 2019, what does that mean? What is that going to take in marketing? Do you have the workforce?” she asks.
In the past, Christian and Foley might have taken on the extra workload without considering the workforce. They would have shouldered more and squeezed in more hours. But that’s not sustainable for a business to scale.
Automate when possible
ScaleUP! provided several other advantages as well.
Bee Organized implemented a customer-relationship-management program at the recommendation of ScaleUP! The CRM program was created by another ScaleUP! business, Kakkuro Suite.
The CRM allows Bee Organized to automate marketing messages to clients. After leaving a job, an employee can create a message checking in on the work that will be sent several months later.
“ScaleUP! is very, very big into getting you to automate things that you do on a regular basis to free you up for the bigger picture,” Christian says.
These days, Christian laughs at her old way of thinking. Especially the side of her that thought she was too busy to apply for ScaleUP!
“It’s never going to get easier,” she says. “You have to make the time.”