Two years ago, I started The Big Lil on a total whim. I had just wrapped up my role as Executive Director at City Fruit; we were in the process of selling Stockbox; and I had NO idea that a global pandemic was about to hit. I was also really (REALLY) burned out and was attempting to invest in my own mental health.
I honestly thought this business would be a transitional effort, until I found my next big thing. But, it has stuck and it has grown, a lot. It turns out that this IS my next big thing and I couldn’t be more proud! Every single week, we get feedback that we’re doing really impactful work for our current clients; we continue to grow both our team and our client pipeline; and I am thriving as a second-time business owner (most days).
As we head into another year of growth, I wanted to take a moment to capture and share my biggest take-away’s from the past two years. What have I learned from the launch of a second business and how might others take the leap?
5 Big Lessons
1. Find your niche….but maybe not right away.
I didn’t start off as a fractional COO. I started off as a consultant. Yep, that’s it….A consultant. My initial client base was small and the work was all over the place – wherever they needed me, was where I went. Personally, I’m glad I started that way. I was new to freelance work; I wasn’t yet committed to this work; and – again – there was a global pandemic taking over my life.
But, about 9 months in, I decided to really dig in. I talked with my current clients, I got serious about networking again, and I gradually put the pieces together – how did my strengths align with what the world needed.
Once I committed to my niche, the business followed. But, I couldn’t commit to that niche until I really understood who my clients were and where they needed support.
2. Do your job for your own company.
Every week, I talk to bookkeepers who struggle to do their books; mission driven businesses who haven’t yet figured out how to take care of their employees; and – yes – fractional COO’s who haven’t built out their own internal systems and processes (speaking for a friend). Once my business really started taking off, I realized that I should have leveraged my own super powers for my own business! Thankfully, I have a team of incredible systems builders, so we’re doing this work together.
Don’t forget to take care of your own business first – especially in the areas that you are delivering for your clients. And, if it isn’t your super power, get the right support from somewhere else!
3. Invest in yourself. But, be wary.
I’ll admit – I came into this business with a track record in entrepreneurship and business management, so perhaps this advice will ring hollow…. I absolutely believe you should invest in your own business training and in building your own community of support, but there is also a whole industry of consultants/trainers out there, looking to capitalize on your inexperience – be wary. When I was launching The Big Lil, I couldn’t believe how much “support” was couched in signing up for a lengthy training series or an otherwise larger-than-necessary contract. And, as I spoke to other entrepreneurs, I consistently heard how little value any of those resources were actually offering.
So, I did none of it. I took every free course I could find; I networked; I researched my options; and I invested my own time and resources. The one piece I did spend money on was the amazing F Bomb community, which has now disbanded. It was truly transformational and it cost something like $20 a month, not thousands and thousands of dollars!
4. Consider your growth potential in your pricing model
Oh man, pricing. This is what every single freelancer talks about inside their heads, with other freelancers, friends, loved ones, and sometimes even their pets. Originally, when I thought of pricing, I thought of ‘how much did I want to get paid?’. But, there are some flaws in that thinking….
a. I had just come off a career working in start-ups and non-profits, so I had a totally skewed sense of what I should be making.
b. The business’ income from a client is not the same as what I should be making….hello, overhead!
c. I was not prepared for how the equation would change as soon as I hired someone else….hello, more overhead!
d. I’m finally hitting my target income but I still haven’t gotten it to where it can cover our household on things like retirement and health insurance. I’m still getting there!
5. Be clear on when THIS is your next big thing.
During the first year, I was doing client work; kind of trying to grow the business (but, also, kind of not trying); and applying for other roles. The moment I stopped considering my Plan B’s and really dug into this business, was the moment it started to grow.
I transferred the energy I had been putting into job applications, into networking and research. I dug into refining my niche. And, I went deep into my own professional education. Just like you can’t run a business that is trying to do everything for everyone, you can’t grow a business if you’re trying to do everything for yourself.
Plus 4 Quick Tips
1. Hire your bookkeeper before you’re 100% ready. I waited until I really needed them and, by then, I was in over my head.
2. Don’t hire your whole team (from 3 states) in one month – trust me, it takes a long time to set that all up!
3. Consider retainer pricing over hourly pricing! Everybody’s happier – I promise.
4. Have fun with your branding and build content that talks like you do!
5. Last thought: do it right. Pay yourself what you're worth. Be the employer you always wanted. Build a business that means something to the world. And, do this because it means something to you and your life.
Do you need more support on any of this? You can grab your free consultation here https://www.thebiglil.com/ But, I’m also happy to just chat entrepreneur-to-entrepreneur…I know this shit is hard!
Carrie Ferrence is principal at The Big Lil – providing fractional COO’s for start-ups, small businesses and non-profits.
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