I recently participated in a Red Team Consulting webinar on ‘How to Build the Right Team for Growth.’ In preparing for the discussion and as the ideas bounced around during the lively event, I had a chance to reflect on the journey that Wheelhouse Group has been on for nearly two decades—and it’s been quite a ride. In the early days of the company, my partner Laurie Axelrod and I were working directly with clients while also writing white papers, meeting with prospective team members to build a pipeline of consultants, managing our monthly invoicing, etc. In the last 5-10 years, our team has expanded, and Laurie and I have made the shift to executive leadership. We now have a world-class consulting team focused on client delivery for dozens of clients, and a strong internal/operational team. In the process, we have learned a great deal about what it takes to grow the team you need to grow a business. Wheelhouse Group is now a company of 100+ and we continue to expand every year.
What tips do I have for entrepreneurs and small businesses wanting to expand? Here are my top five:
#1 – It starts with exceptional delivery.
In professional services, exceptional client delivery is a must. In the early days of the company, many of our team members were 1099 consultants with skill sets similar to ours. Partnering with experienced consultants meant that we did not need to manage others’ careers, but instead together we all focused on client delivery. And the follow-on work came organically.
#2 – If you’re unsure where to start, outsource the tasks you like least.
Looking back I recall that the first task we outsourced was bookkeeping. We didn’t have to do much soul searching for this one—invoices were the task that Laurie and I dreaded most each month. My advice to business owners who do not know where to start? Find people who excel at all the things you don’t like to do.
#3 – Recruit a recruiter.
Finding people who are the right fit is critical to preserving the company culture, and Laurie and I managed most of our recruiting up until recently. That meant a lot of breakfast meetings at 7:00 a.m. before a busy day of client work. The upside was that we spent time with prospective team members to ensure they’d be a fit. The downside is that we were not always able to dedicate focus to recruiting, and we lost good people by not being available when they reached out. Also we were limited by our own networks, which limited our ability to further our diversity and inclusion goals. We now have a dedicated recruiter who has established and matured a good structure with an applicant tracking system, a referral program, etc. She also has helped us build a more diverse pipeline of consultants and leaders for Wheelhouse Group.
#4 – When considering acquisitions, make sure the leaders are a fit.
Three years ago we acquired a company that was in a similar space to ours, but with a different client set. The company was a good match on paper, and we knew we’d benefit from expanding our client portfolio. But the reason the partnership has been successful is that the leader of that firm, Joiwind Ronen, was a wonderful match for Wheelhouse. Her leadership style, work style and sense of humor are a great fit, and the transition was seamless.
#5 – Remember hiring allows you to operate at a higher level.
It’s important to remember that hiring new team members gives you breathing room—which allows you the space to become more creative with the many other needs of the business. When you feel pride in ownership, and you have literally started everything yourself, it can be hard to let go. But the positive reframe is that hiring means relief. Expanding the team is an investment you make to allow yourself to shift focus and operate at a higher level—which is what you need to be ready for what’s next.