How to Scale a Business

(Episode 1 of 2 with Rachel Haley)

How to Scale a Business

Rachel Haley is the co-founder and CEO of Clarus Designs, a consulting and outsourcing firm for startups targeted at optimizing rapid scale through improved operational strategy. 

Her core focus is flawless execution. She says, “I’d rather have a sub optimal strategy with flawless execution, as opposed to constantly shifting strategy to fit a particular box.”

In today’s episode, Rachel is going to share some of her best strategies to help scale a business. 

Rachel’s Journey

Rachel started her career at Hall Capital Partners focusing doing portfolio management analysis and financial modeling. While she worked there, she got a good view of what made people’s investment portfolios skyrocket. Her exposure to venture capital, private equity, and transformative small businesses helped her realize her passion of helping businesses scale. 

After Hall Capital, Rachel moved to Salesforce to work in the finance and strategy department. She had originally thought about starting her own company but didn’t have enough experience in business operations to do what she wanted to do, so she decided to take a few years to build her skills. 

At Salesforce, she also started to build up her network. In her circle, she met with a colleague who was also building out a Business Intelligence Group at a company called Admiral. They got together and decided to find a way to build a business. In 2015, she co-founded Clarus Designs with her colleague, which now has more than 100 employees globally. 

She explained that her biggest home run, Clarus Designs, came from lots of small choices over the years. Her greatest success with her company is their ability to increase their customer retention and build a business through great customer referrals. Some of her customers have stayed with her business for six years. 

More recently, Rachel has also worked as a senior director of sales operations and strategy at Snowflake Computing, where she helped the company grow from 300 people to more than 2,000 with more than 10 times the annual revenue. 

Throughout her career, Rachel has learned the best strategies to help businesses scale and develop flawless execution.  

5 Steps to Scaling a Business

Here are five key steps she shared with us today:

1- Establish a Set of Goals

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“The number one thing that you have to do in terms of operational execution is [hit] your goals. Figure out what those goals are at first,” Rachel said. “I think as simple as this sounds, a lot of companies overlook the value of setting out key objectives for that fiscal quarter or year.”

If we want to scale our business, the first thing we need to do is set our core objectives. What is the number one thing we want to accomplish? How will we know once we’ve accomplished it? When do we want to accomplish it? These goals are essential. 

Our goals should also be specific. Rachel explained that the more specific we are with our goals, the less ambiguity there is in terms of executing that goal. 

It sounds very simple, but Rachel finds that a lot of companies don’t do this properly. She explained that one of the biggest problems she sees is that businesses don’t communicate their goals, and end up with misalignment. 

“Everyone has their own agendas in terms of what they think is the most pressing issue for that year, or quarter, and everyone’s running in different directions, so I think the first thing that you have to do as a leadership team or as a solo entrepreneur is figure out what are your goals for this time period and pick no more than five,” she said. 

The goals that we create need to be clear and understandable by everyone on our teams. Part of this means documenting them well and keeping them in a place where everyone can see, or having monthly or biweekly meetings to go over these goals. Once we have established our goals, it is the leadership’s job to make sure that everyone knows what they are doing and is on the same page.

2- Create a Prioritization Framework 

As part of establishing goals, we need to develop a prioritization framework. We should figure out everything else that we need to work on and prioritize accordingly. Everyone on our teams should learn how to do this.

Rachel explained that she likes to use Eisenhower’s prioritization framework. Eisenhower’s framework focuses on two key questions: Is it important? Is it urgent? 

When we create our prioritization list we should ask these questions. We should prioritize what is important and urgent first, what is important but not urgent second, what is urgent but not important third, and what is not important or urgent last.  

Too often people try to focus on too many things. Rachel has found that biggest threat to our main goal is typically goals #4 and #5, not goals #20 on the list. We want to make sure we complete our priority list in order. While there may be three important things to do, we should always focus on the most important one first, before we spend time on other things. Remember, if we prioritize too many things, we aren’t prioritizing anything. 

Rachel explained that while she uses Eisenhower’s prioritization framework, she recognizes that a good system shouldn’t have many urgent tasks. 

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“If you have a really good system there should be fewer fire drills,” she said. “Make sure that all the projects and the underlying things that your team is doing or that you’re doing in that given period are directly impacting the . . . company goal. If it’s not directly impacting the company goal, then let’s defer it for a quarter or two quarters, even next year, and let’s even figure out if we need to do it.”

Once we have our goals and objectives, we should make sure all our day-to-day projects are going to impact those goals. We can ask ourselves, “Is what I’m doing positively impacting our main objectives?” If it isn’t, find something else to do that is. 

Another thing we should remember when trying new strategies that align with our main goal is that we should give it a good shot for at least three months before deciding if the strategy works or not. Once we figure out our best solution to achieve our goal, we should create a strong structure to prove or disprove that strategy. One of the biggest mistakes is claiming a strategy doesn’t work within a couple weeks since we didn’t give it enough time. If we give it enough time and it doesn’t work, we can find a new solution and prioritize that. 

3- Have Good Communication and Transparency 

We should simplify what we are working on and make sure everyone knows what your goals and priorities are. Our team needs to be clear about the objectives and how we are planning to meet those objectives. Everyone should know exactly what their roles are and how they will contribute to the main goals.

“I would like to stress the word communication and transparency. Over communicate and simplify exactly what it is you’re working on and how you’re going to do it,” Rachel said. “A lot of the time, if the top level aligns but then the workforce isn’t clear on what’s going on, that level of miscommunication creates a lot of inefficiency. If you can, well-document what the goal is, what projects you’re doing to help get you to that goal, and have a clear understanding of how that’s getting done.”

When we can do this, when we can align our teams to our main goals and establish what everyone’s roles and responsibilities are within that particular objective, we are solving 85% of the problem.

4 – Put the Customer First

When I asked Rachel what her best monetization secret was, she said it is to create a really good product for our customers and implement really good customer service. We should make our customers’ satisfaction one of our top priorities.

“Put the customer first,” Rachel said. “Provide that consistent value. Be there. Listen, take their feedback, and adjust as best you can to service the requirements of the customer. Your customer base will make or break you in addition to your employees. If you have happy employees, they can provide a good service and help your customers. They will absolutely be your number one secret weapon in terms of really scaling the business.”

At Rachel’s company, they focus on their customers first and foremost. They always try to put the customer first and perform excellent services for them as best they can. Because they do this, they have been able to maintain a very high customer retention. 95% of their revenue at Clarus Designs is inbound referrals and word of mouth marketing. Their loyal customers are willing to leave positive reviews and refer their business to others because they have such a great experience with Rachel and her team. 

“We do as good of a job as we can to maintain a high level of customer service and excellence, and then the rest has really just taken care of itself,” Rachel said.

5- Hire the Right Employees

Rachel said that the biggest mistake she made happened while working at Snowflake. When she first started with the company, they had very few employees with only three people on the sales operations team. As the company grew, their operations team had to scale very quickly to 45 people in less than two years. Because of this quick growth, they didn’t spend enough time or put enough emphasis on finding the right people to hire.

“We were not focused on hiring and retaining the top talent,” Rachel said. “We were focused on getting projects done, and the problem is if you’re only focused on the output and the result and not focused on how you’re going to get there, things seem to fall apart.” 

Because they didn’t focus on building a good framework around how they hired people, they found that the role they hired people for changed to a completely different role in six months. This meant they ended up with a lot of employees who weren’t right for the role they were doing, and ultimately added a lot of unnecessary stress. 

“The true value of any company, in my perspective, is your human capital. Building a culture around that and having hiring and employee retention as your number one focus is probably my biggest learning lesson,” Rachel said. “From that I’ve been able to really reorient my perspective on how to properly hire, maintain, grow, and develop great employees because again, it’s your number one resource at a company. If you don’t have that, you really don’t have much.”

In the next episode with Rachel, we will dive deeper into how we can hire the right employees to help our business scale. 

Key Takeaways

Thank you so much Rachel for sharing your stories and insights with us today. Here are some of my key takeaways from this episode:

  • The number one thing we have to do to achieve our goals is to set the right goals and communicate those goals with the entire team.
  • We should develop a prioritization framework by deciding what is most important for reaching our goals. All of our projects and daily tasks should align with our priorities.
  • Our team needs to understand our main objectives and how we are planning to meet those objectives.
  • When we put our customers first, everything else seems to fall into place.
  • We should be intentional about who we hire and make sure we are hiring the right people for the right jobs.

Connect with Rachel

To learn more about or connect with Rachel:

Next Steps

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    About the author

    Nathan Gwilliam

    Nathan Gwilliam

    I help organizations navigate tectonic shifts that are transforming the business landscape, so they can optimize marketing, accelerate profits, and make a greater difference for good.

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