There comes a time in every entrepreneur’s life when they turn around, look upon their business, and say:
“I’m working too hard, for too little.”
“I’m overwhelmed, stressed out, constantly buried under deliverables and that’s no way to live life!”
And so, especially in the case of creative service providers, we decide to do what we so often resist:
We gulp ask for help.
Two Cents is About What It’s Worth
Often it’s somewhere on social media — either in a Facebook group, or on our own feeds, and we say something like:
“I know I need to figure out how to scale, but I’m REALLY stressed out.
I’m working way too much. I want to make more money but it can’t be just taking on new projects. There’s gotta be a better way to do this!”
And then, various angels descend from the heavens, boop us on the nose, and give us two pieces of advice, over and over:
“Just create a course!”
“Have you considered hiring subcontractors?”
I Dreamed a Dream That They Would Buy…
And after that, we say “WOW! AMAZING! SO SIMPLE! Why didn’t I think of that??”
And within a week, we have a course built and selling steadily, and a stable of A+ subcontractors taking work off our plate.
We make eleventy-billion dollars a month.
Richard Branson invites us to his private island.
Russel Brunson falls to our feet and weeps that he surely does not know our secrets.
And we see that it is good.
OK OK. Hyperbole aside, I think you can see what I’m getting at:
One Does Not Simply Scale a Business
The advice around scaling is often simple and straightforward.
And it’s also, in some sense, not entirely incorrect.
Courses and subcontractors are great ways to scale your online business.
The problem is this:
Everything that happens AROUND creating these scaling strategies is way more complicated than we understand at first blush.
Because both options offer us a whole silver platter of NEW, stressful struggles to wrangle with, like:
Courses being challenging to create, prove, and sell.
Subcontractors being, in fact, entire human beings capable of making mistakes, getting messy, ghosting, and not giving us exactly what we want exactly when we want it.
Takes Time to Make Time
And, to add to all of this: both of these strategies take time to set up and refine so they can actually take time and work off our hands.
Time we simply do not have… when we are REALLY stressed out under an avalanche of client work, and undercharging.
However, the “make a course” and “hire subcontractors” one-liners are often offered up as actionable advice regardless of circumstances.
Often by folks who don’t have subcontractors, and have never created a course.
So, naturally, we had to do a #HAMYAW on this very thing – and explore where this one-size-fits-all approach goes wrong (and right)… and what to do instead.
In “How to Scale Without Really Trying”, Find Out:
- What the typical “growth ladder” for freelancers –> Fancypants Entrepreneurs looks like… and why, so often, it makes EXACTLY 0 SENSE
- Where courses can harm more than they help…. aaaand where they can actually help.
- My own failed course creation story
- “Which flavor of sh*t sandwich do you prefer??” – Liz Gilbert
- What most folks don’t think about before hiring a subcontractor (and why it often bites them in the butt)
- What’s WAY more likely to solve your overwork issue than courses or the agency model
- How to solve the “hire a subcontractor!” problem when you’re TERRIBLE AT MANAGING PEOPLE (like we are)
- And more!
And while you’re over there, feel free to pour some tea:– What’s some go-to, one-liner advice for small biz owners that drives YOU bonkers?
And!- What’s your experience with this brand of scaling advice? Have you had GREAT success with courses and subcontractors? Or some nots-so-great ones?
TELL US ALL ABOUT IT, BB.
Enjoy! And we’ll see you over there.
We’ve got a lot to say.
All right, here we go. All right. (both laugh)
I don’t know why I did that. Okay. Let’s try this again.
Welcome back marketing nerds of the world. It’s time for another episode of HAMYAW and today we wanna talk about two things that get recommended to everybody. When they ask the question, how am I supposed to scale my service based business?
That’s right folks, you asked for it. So we are bringing you an episode, not only on digital courses, but also scaling and the agency model, subcontractors, all those things people recommend when you have too much on your plate, when you’re doing too much, when you’re finding ways to make more money while doing a little less.
There’s a little bit wrong with a lot of the advice going on around both of these topics. So we’re gonna get into that today. But before we do, Margo, how do you feel about courses and agency models?
All right, it’s just so easy. Take everything, you know, package it into a course. All you need is a Teachable account and a few good ideas.
Bing. Join my school.
And then the money just comes in. All you have to do is tell people about it and cut sugar. I mean, really guys, really. Listen, we had a whole messaging episode with Shenee, where you do have to meet people where they are.
So I understand that the dream is, you know, passive income and having to work a little less hard, where things start, what is it? Steady stream of leads, clients, money while you sleep, like all of that. But like, then get a job. Entrepreneurship is not for the meek and you get that like
Yeah. 10, 15, 20 years in. If that.
I don’t know how many seasoned entrepreneurs a lot of the advice givers have actually talked to, or certainly not their audiences. But I do make a habit of surrounding myself with people who are way more successful than me and not one of them is like, “it’s shitting unicorns. It’s a great day.” It’s like more money, more problems. You know the saying?
That’s my next course title, “Shitting Unicorns”.
I think that what a lot of people miss out on in the course conversation is the reality of it. And I think, as somebody who’s gone through this myself, and Margo, I know you have as well because I followed that advice for a long time because the trajectory, the ladder is, you know, start your business, get enough clients, get enough clients that you like have a wait list and can pick and choose, charge high ticket, and then create a course or hire subcontractors ‘cause that’s the way to grow.
And right now, some people are actually finding that neither option kind of works for them. So they’re trying to figure out something in between, which is an adventure I certainly relate to, but I know in my case, when I was climbing the ladder, I thought I needed the course. And I created the Word Shops, which we did a whole other episode on called…
Kill Your Darlings.
Kill Your Darlings.
Why? Cause I retired it 18 months later, it was a behemoth, it took me like three years to build. And I just didn’t enjoy it at all. It could have made me money. I still have people asking for it to this day, which is, you know, an honor, but I, I don’t really have any interest in having it see the light of day again.
Can we talk about transferable skills, though? ‘Cause this is also what bothers me…
…is that like, okay, let’s start with the transition from freelancer to entrepreneur.
They’re different skills. There’s nothing wrong with being a freelancer for the rest of your life.
You can make fantastic money taking on projects. If you want to build a company that’s bigger where you employ other people where you’re building a bigger audience, whatever, your revenue is higher.
Like there are different ways to do that, but you’re gonna deploy different skills.
And so there’s the freelancer model, then that kind of graduates naturally to the agency model. So you go from executing to being in a sales role, like primarily sales and growth role.
Then if you switch that to courses, then you’re teaching. That’s a different skill. So like…
Each of those are completely different skills. First of all.
I think when we’re talking about a lot of people who are building personality driven platforms, which is a lot of our audience, you are thinking about yourself and what you bring to the table. And it’s not always the same thing.
So, I think about this a lot with doctors, cause I know that they complain.
Doctors go in, they want to work with patients, but if you want to go up higher, you become admin. Like you become managerial. That is not the same skill.
People who are good at fixing bones are not good at managing employees and team morale. Those are not the same. They’re not transferable.
Let’s just start with the reality of this advice. It’s like not even considering the human being on the other side, like maybe you shouldn’t build courses. Maybe that’s a bad idea for you. Maybe you have a personality that is built for radio. You know what I mean?
Maybe you have a terrible personality. That’s important to reckon with before you start a course.
All right, I used the wrong words, but you know what I mean.
I think there’s a couple of things missing from here. So one there’s your natural skill base and how you wanna expand and the ways in which you will do that.
For example, I fell into courses because I hated executing and I wasn’t as good at it. There were so many people that were better than me. I was really good at explaining stuff. So like it became clear that I needed to spend more time in the teaching, educating, coaching part of the business.
That was better for me. Sales was better for me. It was a natural evolution, but it doesn’t have to be a mandate.
And I think that’s what’s so frustrating about this advice is they talk about it like it’s Bible. There is no alternative. This is the one true path. It is the way.
Yeah and I think they also don’t talk about what a tremendous amount of work it is. And I think that’s the reality too.
A lot of people don’t really realize. I was talking about the behemoth of a course I made. It took me three years, but it’s a fire hose.
And that’s the other thing.
I value the experience of creating a giant course because it taught me so much. I learned so much through that process of talking to audiences about what they want and building it.
Sending it to production, spending $10,000 launching this shit. It was just an end to end incredible learning experience for me.
But at the end of the day, it was embarrassing and somewhat difficult to turn around and be like, this is not it.
So I don’t regret it for that reason because it was an important journey. But what frustrates me about the, “you should build a virtual course” conversation is that they’re easy to develop, to build and to sell.
Because I think a lot of people are like, “passive income run ads to it, make money while you sleep,” and there’s a lot more to it than that.
It takes a while to get an evergreen funnel running properly. It’s never gonna be totally hands off maintenance, frankly.
And I think there’s a lot people need to know about how human beings receive and retain information. I do this with my students all the time. When they’re creating courses, it’s like, how much value can we shove under this mattress? Do you know what I mean? Like how can we surprise people and delight them by giving them a waterfall of information?
And they only watch the first four episodes…
And they only watch the first episode and they never finish it.
And people were like 3% of people don’t finish courses. It must be because all courses are bad. And it’s like, yeah, but also because freelancers, historically, aren’t educators.
Like we have a lot to learn about how people learn and receive our information in particular. For me, it resulted in a huge stripping down of everything I created after that.
Which again is very important, but we can’t be looking to courses as kind of this panacea and a solution.
What it often does is create new problems. And the key is if you like those problems more, go hang out over there. But you might not.
What flavor shit sandwich do you prefer?
I stole that from Liz Gilbert. I just think it’s so perfect. It’s so perfect.
But you bring up also a point that I think no one talks about this enough, but it’s demand. Do you have demand?
Are people asking you for these things?
We keep building stuff because we think it’s the next evolution of our business. But has anyone asked for them? Is your audience dying for courses? Are they looking for education?
Cause I know one of the things I ran into, why I shifted away from marketing is that people who pay for marketing, my clients were business owners, but the people who read about marketing are marketers.
Clients don’t want to read about marketing. They don’t give a shit. They wanna know that you can solve their problem and they wanna give you money to do it.
So that’s in the executing world. And so there was this disconnect. I had no demand.
People were like, “Oh, you gotta do a course on marketing, gotta do a course on marketing”, and I was like, for who? My client doesn’t wanna learn marketing. They had zero interest in learning marketing. They wanted to pay me to do it for them.
So I think we have to be really, really, really clear on who’s giving us money and what they need and how to serve them.
This is also what’s interesting, ‘cause again, I work with my clients on this a lot, is that a lot of us are actually serving two markets if we want to teach. And if we want to serve.
You know, it’s the high ticket clients who are gonna pay us all the monies to have it done for you, and the people who are like, I wanna know how you do things. And there’s almost no overlap.
You know, I think that we talk about courses as a down sell and a big part of it is like, okay, it’s a down sell, if they’re really not ready and they need to learn. But if they’re at a level of success where they’re very busy, they’re not gonna wanna take a course. They just want –
someone to solve the problem.
But a lot of people are afraid of that and I don’t necessarily think you have to be.
I think there’s a version of business that I know, I kind of play in a little bit, where you know the people on your list who want to learn from you, they’re coaching clients. They are future mentees, all that great stuff. And just people who want to hang out with you and read what you’re working on.
But then clients, they’re not on, they’re not on your email list. They’re talking to each other you know, you’re meeting them in workshops. You are meeting them at events. You’re meeting them elsewhere basically.
And it’s important to do that traditional, I mean, I meet clients in social media as well. Let’s be honest. But I think that what people are missing when it’s like “just create a course” is that that’s an entirely different beast because you have to make sure you have an audience for it.
You have to make sure you have that interest. You have to make sure you have the ability to produce and continue to market it and continue to send people to it and sell it to people even when you’re too tired to want –
to do it anymore. Even when you’re sick of it.
Take out a few Facebook ads, it’s so cheap. It’s the cheapest time in history. You’re getting a discount. If you buy Facebook ads right now
I’m actually, unironically, I’m talking to a Facebook ads person today, but I want to tell you why. I have not paid for Facebook advertising. I mean, I’ve done like boosted posts, but like in the history of my business, pretty much.
And the reason why I’m doing it now is because I have the plane built. Like I have the offer stacked. I know where everything lives and how it feeds into everything else. So now I’m like, all right, how do we put a jet engine, you know, in the plane.
Yes. Sequencing numbers y’all. Okay, so what I said was a little flippant, because I actually love ads. Y’all know that. I love ads, but I do think that people jump to think of them as a panacea for top of the funnel leads without considering number one, the offer –
if someone’s meeting you for the first time and you’re like, here’s a $5,000 project.
Like nope. Second of all, they’re a much more long-term play, right?
Yeah. Like you need exposure, you need familiarity, you’re not necessarily gonna drive buyers, you’re gonna drive email list subscribers, for example, or viewers.
It’s audience building, a lot of the time, it’s awareness building. But then there’s also, you need the foundation built and you need to know what you don’t know.
So like copywriting, design stuff, and also the specifics of the platform. ‘Cause Facebook has a formatting issue where like, you basically need several headlines where it’s not just headline copy depending on how you do the ads.
So, like, It’s complicated, and it’s segmentation. It can get real, real complicated. ‘Cause It’s supposed to be the panacea, and it is fantastic, don’t get me wrong. It’s fantastic.
But it’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of work and it takes time. You need what? Six to eight weeks, sometimes up to three months to know what the control is?
You need the patience and availability. That’s the thing too. You know, it’s a whole, it’s a whole other arm of the business. You know, if you’re gonna build another room in your house, you’re not like I need more space. So I’ll just add an extra room.
Exactly. My shorthand is always like, you got to know what your customer lifetime value is first
Because that way, you know, if you’re paying too much for acquisition. If you don’t know those numbers, you have no idea if you’re getting a good deal or not, and you have to have been in business long enough to know.
Yeah and be able to look for that. So let’s talk about who should create a course and who shouldn’t. Real quick gut check. Who should be creating a course?
I don’t know why I did that,
I like it
but I like where we’re at now.
I’ll go with you. I already brought up demand. I think if you have an audience that is asking to learn and is hungry for learning about this particular topic. I do think enjoyment matters, but like skill…
So if you have that natural skill of speaking, explaining, teaching like a little bit of that, but you can learn that like you can get better at that. I would say the biggest thing though, people really stress about expertise. So I wanna talk about what it means to be an expert or not, because…
I think we have people who have imposter syndrome. And then on the other end of the spectrum are people who are like, I did it once…
Therefore let me tell you.
Yeah, I did it once for myself. Therefore.
To which I say… you can go fuck yourself.
Okay. So here’s the mix of expertise. You need to know something about the thing you’re teaching. You need to not lie about how much you know about it. You need to be very, very clear about who it’s for.
So if you were teaching social media to 70 year old plus, what an expert is, is gonna be very different than if you’re teaching social media to me and Hillary, right? So we need to consider your audience. We need to consider the discipline.
Hillary and I talked about this in the Imposter Syndrome episode.
Where it’s like, if you are claiming to be an expert in Law and you don’t have a Law degree, you are not an expert. If you’ve never taken the Bar and you’re teaching about Bar classes, right? So there’s some pretty obvious things here that don’t really need us to point a finger on it.
But on the flip side, if we’re talking about creativity, we’re talking about business, we’re talking about results or growth or meal planning or style or design. Like a lot of that actually has to do with the results you’ve gotten for people and the specific ways in which you’ve gotten those results and how you can help them reach their goals. That is fair game.
That is fair game. And I think that that is where it’s a matter of your own integrity and what your people are looking for. This is where I’m gonna use the phrase. I’m going to do it. You can serve them.
From the mouths of HAMs, ladies and gentlemen. You heard it here first.
I think that I agree with you on all points before we discourage a bunch of, you know, potential genius course creators from doing anything ever. And we’re triggering imposter syndrome here.
I want to say that, you know, there’s a lot of conversations. I think we’re in the middle of one of those big how to build a course affiliate launches right now. ‘Cause I’m starting to see it pop up everywhere
This conversation and this question of, you know, we’re talking about what qualifies someone to have a course, having a small audience does not disqualify you. And I want to emphasize that.
Yeah not having any audience at all technically does also not disqualify you, but it’s going to make it more difficult.
And I think that if you want to pursue this, if you are at that stage and if you are at a place where you’re not really sure if people are asking for it yet, but you, you don’t really have much of an audience…
But you know, you think it’s something you should do, it’s something you wanna try, see it as not a fix or a solution necessarily because chances are, there’s gonna be a long road until it solves any problems – but look at it as the experience, as a growth experience, as something you want to try and experiment with…
I think the thing I would caution people against is the idea of a quick win.
Yeah, a quick solution.
Right. It’s not a quick solution. I think these are all longer term, business building avenues.
If it works for you.
Yup. And I think that this is, this by the way, segues beautifully into our, the second thing we wanted to yell at, which is the other panacea solution after courses, is what? Hire a subcontractor.
Build a team.
And I was probably five or six years into my business. That was always the end of the road.
And then I was like, “Oh no, I’m fucking terrible at managing people. What now?”
It was my mentor, Sarah Ashman, who was like, you don’t have to do that if you don’t want to. And I was like, what? Like everybody’s telling me I should. And that’s again a whole other skillset, the managerial piece.
But what frustrates me in this space is I’ll be, you know in one of our mutual Facebook groups and I’ll see someone and be like, “Hey, I have too much work”, or “this project is really stressing me out”. Like, “I don’t know what to do”. “What do I do?”
And it’s rare that I see this suggestion, like you’re a human being, push out the deadlines as far as they can go.
What is a solution people suggest? Just bring on a sub contractor. Just, just bring one, just go find one from subcontractor Walmart and just pick one off the shelf at a discount. So you don’t lose too much money.
There are great ones on the sale rack. And then you’re gonna put that whole ass person into the middle of this project that’s already stressing you the fuck out. What could go wrong, truly?
Sorry, I clearly have a lot of feelings about this because I’ve tried this guys. When I was young and innocent and pure of heart, I was like, perfect subcontract.
I don’t, I’ve worked with some great subcontractors in my day, but the time to hire a subcontractor is at the beginning of the fucking project or long before. So they anticipate. Not throwing someone in the middle of something.
I honestly, this is why I don’t go on Facebook anymore. And people will say that they get ragey about political stuff. And I’m like, no, I get angry about bad advice. Like it’s lazy.
If someone is asking a question about their business, the appropriate response is to ask them more fucking questions about their business. What can they handle? Why did they take it on?
Yeah. What is the nature of the dilemma? What’s the real problem? Because it’s probably not the one they presented.
If you are struggling with too much work, you are probably not charging enough.
You are probably dealing with difficult clients.
You probably haven’t set up a scope of work that’s appropriate.
There’s so many other things where you’re not managing demands and timelines.
Like there are other things and other ways that we can solve it, that aren’t just like outsourcing the amount of work in the middle of the project.
Yeah. It’s perceived solutions that miss a lot of steps. I think these are both.
Those with courses and you know, subcontractors in the agency model, because I think honestly the agency model is great, but if you want to be the COO of an organization like that, you have to realize that so much of your time is going to get spent in team management and politics and you know managing people’s feelings and managing the projects and managing the clients.
And that’s not necessarily what you want to be doing.
People love that.
There are people who love that.
But there are people who don’t. Me. Because I’m very bad at it and I want to be everybody’s friend, so then when it comes time to be the authority, I’m like… (Margo laughs)
You know, it just… that’s how I feel inside. And I have a great team, but I have my team because they are very self sufficient.
I’m not somebody who could have a team that was sprawling and gigantic, you know, full of people at all ranges of expert levels. I pay for experts…
who can handle it themselves because I know that’s a weak point of mine.
You hire entrepreneurs.
You have the same issue I do where like I prefer to be managed.
I want my contractors to manage me.
I am baby. I want to be babied all the time. That’s kinda what it comes down to.
Tell me what you need me to do. What do you need me to do.
Just manage me, just manage me. Okay. Shout out to Haley, my amazing assistant.
She’s the best. And I am baby. And also Hunter my CMO.
I’ve been through a bunch of hires in the past as well. Who’ve also been great, but were not what I needed because again, they did not know how to anticipate needs. They didn’t speak the language of the industry.
There was a lot of training and management required that I was not prepared to do. And subcontractors, it’s the same story. I’ve worked with some great subcontractors who’ve needed some training and very little training and they’re awesome.
But at the end of the day, it was not a model that worked for me and I had to let that go. And I think there are always other options I think. And we have to give ourselves the freedom to, if we try something to let it not work and move on.
And shout out Company of One,
by Paul Jarvis, friend of the show. If you have not read his stuff, he has some great, great, great stuff on how to run a company of one that is as big or as small as you would like.
He’s okay. I think there’s also a lot of pressure. Like you don’t have a real business if you’ve got a course, you don’t have a real business if you don’t..
Oh I feel that. Your business isn’t real if you don’t have employees.
Yeah, a team or employees.
And I think that’s, that’s difficult and that’s also not necessarily true. Like I think there’s being an entrepreneur and being a freelancer, both are forms of, you know, businesses.
So I don’t want… we don’t want to shame anybody. We don’t want to send anyone running for the hills but I think…
If you are making money –
you have a business.
It’s like, congratulations.
If you’re making and losing money. You have a business too,
But it’s the exchange of cash –
These are just the ins and outs of this advice guys that we want you to consider before you take a step one way or another, or before you accidentally overload your plate and realize you need to throw another body at it half way through the project.
Don’t do that.
Yes. All right. Well wrapping us up here.
I think there’s so much advice out there that is overly simplistic. That is lazy and not thorough.
So if you are sitting online, reading through, sifting through, trying to figure out what you should do, just remember, dig deeper. Think about what your needs are and the reality.
Like, if It sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There is probably more to the story. And one of the hacks we like, talk to people who are more successful than you. Not that you perceive, but know.
What are their finances?
You’ve seen the receipts.
We’re gonna have another episode on optics here, but like, there’s a lot of posturing out there. So you want to make sure the advice that you are taking is from people who have built these businesses or who understand them at a level that they are giving advice, that’s helpful.
That isn’t so overly simplistic that it’s dismissive.
I think that’s what really gets me is that it’s offensive to the market and to those of us working so hard, and those of you working so hard, trying to make ends meet, trying to make your products and services really, really high quality and get them out to the people who need them that you know that you can help.
This does a disservice to you because we’re in this for the long haul.
We are marathon people who run sprints in between and we want you to keep going.
So we’re not saying don’t build digital projects. We’re just saying, go in eyes open.
If you want to hire a contractor, if you wanna hire subcontractors, do it early, start vetting, talk to people about how to hire. Do everything as if this is the long game, that you have a year to do it. Right.
Start thinking about courses. Is it something you wanna do? Understand that the first one you’re gonna build, you’re probably gonna hate, you know (laughs)…
And that’s okay.
And that’s totally fine.
You know, your first of anything is always gonna suck a little bit, you know. And you can also be the exception and not the rule. So God speed.
Be the exception! There’s that, too.
All right, you guys, we want to hear from you. What have you built or done or where you took some crazy bad advice or felt susceptible to it? Tell us about it in the comments below. I’m Margo Aaron.
And I’m Hillary Weiss.
If you liked this episode, please like it below and subscribe to our channel and share it with your friends. We will see you in two weeks. Bye y’all
Bye for now.
Photo by Juliet Clare Warren