Article - Why Strategy Doesn’t Work if You’re Small

articles operations tools / process systems people and culture strategy and planning Apr 01, 2022

READ: 5 mins
AUTHOR: Janusz Stabik

If your team is fifteen or fewer and your time feels fractured, then no wonder finding the space to consider a growth strategy feels farfetched, thinking in terms of vision, the realms of fairy-tale. 

The good news? Although vision and strategy are cornerstones of our consultancy, for you, normal rules don’t apply…and trying to make them is only going to cause unnecessary stress and drain valuable time. 

Small businesses can’t strategise because they’re already maxed out just keeping the wheel turning.  

It’s somewhat ironic that 29% of respondents to a US survey said they became business owners to ‘be their own boss’, when the reality for most is that they’re not only the boss, but the accountant, web-guy, marketing manager AND still on the tools. 

But without strategy, long-term growth is impossible: so how do you set your sights on being in a position to think strategically? 

In this week’s blog and video tutorial we help you begin to plot that course by focusing on what we believe is the most direct route to get to the point where you can apply strategy: simplicity. 


With all the best intentions, small business owners are people pleasers. They’re talented, run an eager and close-knit team and want to showcase their skills by saying yes to clients, new briefs, and to providing additional services. After all, that secures the contract, right? 

But for every new service added into your repertoire, the further you move from simplicity. And that matters because it steers you off course, making navigating to the place where you’ll have space to create a strategy that much harder. 

So, keep the business model simple. Which typically means:

It’s likely that despite being small, you’re running a complex business with different skills required to produce the service you’re selling, or providing different services within your agency. Offering those complimentary services will fragment your team’s time and prove hard to manage. 

One trick wonder 

Instead, our advice is to offer only one skill, service or discipline and say NO to the client requests which are only an addendum to the core strength of your agency…

This focus should give you momentum to go full throttle to a team of twelve:

  • Six fee earners in one specialism 
  • Two account managers / project managers 
  • A team member to quality assess the work 
  • A book-keeper
  • A marketing manager 
  • You 

Keeping things simple won’t keep you small: in fact, it means you’ll be able to scale your business model more rapidly. With these personnel in place you’re afforded the space to scale and get to a place where you can strategise. 

Small, Special

Tempting though it may be, for example, as a copywriting agency, to consider offering visual or brand identity services, the complexity confuses and counteracts your ultimate goal of growth. 

Why? As soon as you require multiple, skilled fee earners to cater for the different facets of delivering the brief. Equally you have no redundancy: absence due to sickness, holiday, resignation will thwart your timeline and threaten your ability to come through with the goods. 

You start to need a master's in coordination and plate spinning. Coordinating and managing two different skills, to deliver work for the same client, whilst each fee earner has a different portfolio of clients, is DIFFICULT, it's costly and it's stressful.  

Unless, you productise your offer (and ALL clients, get all services, and run through the same delivery process).  In reality, this is rarely the case, and the client selects from the a la carte menu placing the burden of coordination onto us and restricting our growth.  This can work when you're BIG, but when you're small, it's a growth killer.

JUST DO what you do and do it better, more efficiently and more proficiently than your fragmented competitors. 

Remember - every new service or skillset or discipline you add into the business reduces your ability to become profitable at it. 

Six or seven people doing the same thing means your internal resource is reliably backed-up, timelines secured and enables systemisation of your processes to eke out those profit margins. 


Things Fall Apart 

And we’re speaking from experience here: we know how it can go. 

I ran a web design and build agency which, when small, had only nine people:

  1. Front end coder
  2. Two back end coders 
  3. Quality Assessor 
  4. Account manager
  5. Project manager 
  6. UX designer 

If any one of the team were off: things fell apart. 

If a client didn’t come through on the timeframes they were required to our process, then budget and thus strategy would topple like dominoes. 

The fragility of the agency that does it all results in a frenetic pace and stalled growth - and the constant mirage of the game-changing contract, just out of reach. 


Want the fairy-tale ending? Focus. 

Running a small and perhaps new business is tough, we really get that. 

But the route to growth is simplicity. Avoid heading down divergent tracks in your quest for profit. Although it’s tempting to follow breadcrumbs laid down by clients (or let’s face it, personal ambition) on alternate paths, ultimately, as all good fairy-tales teach us, that way risk lies. 

For your agency’s profitable ‘happily ever after’: 

  • Stick to the one key service or discipline that makes the most money and say YES to that
  • Find six or seven team members whose time you can sell to deliver 60% gross margins 
  • Plus an account manager / project manager and marketer

At this point you can leave the coal-face and focus on winning new clients, scaling up further and mapping out a proper strategy.