Good post over on Venture Hacks today about the 4 Types of Scale. It transported back to the lengthy and often passionate discussions we had at GoodBarry/Business Catalyst about how to deal with some of the problems of scaling – whether they be technical, customer related, support related and so on. They were all scaling problems, dilemmas and trade offs. Spend money here, or spend time there? To hire or not to hire?

You can get yourself into a real trap when your business is growing and you need to scale up. You can focus on automation, you can engage your community more; you can outsource; you can buy a product and integrate it with your offering; you can hire someone to help deal with the load.

Doing any of those things has overhead that comes with it – money and time. Your money and time. Taking care of that overhead takes you away from developing and improving your core business. Whenever that happens, you get this horrible niggling feeling that you’re not doing the right thing, that you’re wasting time. That feeling drives you to make decisions based on expediency, which are usually crappy decisions. This is the trap. You feel like you’re doing the right thing and moving forward, but you’re not.

And bad decisions tend to keep begatting bad decisions, if you catch my somewhat biblical drift.

For example, as Nivi at Venture Hacks points out, hiring should be your last resort. Unfortunately, though, it’s often your first.

The reason for this is that it allows you to maintain the illusion that you can still focus on developing and improving the core business. That niggling feeling goes away, and you think: “great, now someone else can worry about that problem.” This is commonly known as “lying to yourself”.

The reason hiring should be your last resort is two fold.

Your opinions are infectious

They will likely inherit your disdain for the task you hired them to undertake. They’ll get the same niggling feeling. As the founder you’re setting the culture of the place, consciously or no, based on your own attitudes. Fail.

Hiring is not a shortcut

Hiring seems like a shortcut. It’s not. It’s a longcut. You need to find someone good. Then you need to teach them the ways of the force your product. Then they can fix the issue. By this time, it’s taken you much more effort and you’ve actually diverted more attention away from your core product than you intended. And now the problem is twice the size and even more insurmountable. Now you need to hire two more people to deal with it.

Let the bad-decision-begatting begin.

Hiring is great thing and it is a necessary part of growth. But the right time to do it is when you are growing the product outward, tackling new problems. Not when you’re groaning under the weight of your existing success.

There’s a balance between doing too much preparation for scaling – i.e automation – and doing too little. If you do too little, problems become very big, very quickly. If you do too much, you deliver way too slowly.

I think the trick is to push forward as hard as you can, but always consider the destination. What happens when you get there? What next? Will everything fall apart?

There’s no point running to the top of a mountain before nightfall if you don’t have a tent. But there’s also no point carrying a tent if you’re never going to get to the top of the mountain. That’s the dilemma of scaling.

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