Why grow a service agency?

Shane Pearlman is a partner and the CEO of Modern Tribe. In his ManageWP AMA, Ahmad Awais asked him a great question, and I really enjoyed his answer.

Ahmad has observed that it’s difficult to advance in the WordPress economy when working for other companies, and asked Shane how he addresses the stereotype that it’s difficult to get a promotion or achieve vertical growth in our industry.

Links are from me, and I’ve edited slightly for clarity:

That might be one of the best questions today. And a brutally hard one to answer. So, to start. As an owner, in 2014, we were at just over 20 people. I was happy. The business created enough income to support a fulfilling lifestyle, and time to enjoy it. I had absolutely no interest in growing. Our team would rotate every 2.5 to 3 years, historically.

We really, really loved the team we had and approached them to ask what it would take to get another 3 years. A career was the answer. The opportunity to grow and take on larger challenges, make more money. To enable them, we would have to get larger. In fact, I am reading a book right now, Managing the Professional Services Firm, where he explicitly states in the first chapter that you should not grow a services company to increase profitability (that is a fallacy); you grow it to provide opportunities for people which builds longevity.

So two years later, we have replaced ourselves with Project Managers, Managers, Directors, an operationsΒ team, and will continue to look at what our team needs to achieve their own vision of what it means to live well and do good work.

So how do you end up one of those people who levels up? That is tougher, but I have my own personal opinion: You find ways to be of service.

I personally tend to promote people who successfully solve the problems around them (even when they are not asked to). Look for friction in the business, and improve it — without making more work for people. The second part is key, as I see some people who try to be helpful but actually just get in everyone’s way.

I really like that Shane acknowledges that growth and profitability are not linked. In fact, they may have a reverse correlation, at least in terms of percentages.

There are a lot of reasons to try and build a bigger company, but some of the people I respect the most in our industry agree on the best reason: helping people they work with be happy and fulfilled in their jobs.


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