Tips for Expanding Your One-Person Startup


The time has come, and it feels as though you’ve made it. Finally the startup you’ve labored over for months, maybe years, is ready to grow. You just can’t hold down all the pieces by yourself. Congratulations. It’s time to expand.

While the initial feeling might be positive, expanding your business can be an anxiety ridden chore. Plenty of factors remain for your consideration, and choosing unwisely can cost you money that you simply cannot afford. It’s time, then, to put together a blueprint for how you’ll handle the process.

Need a cheat sheet? Here’s a quick outline for the process. It’s a series of ideas that a mentor imparted on me, and which I’ve used in my own dealings.

1. Get office space first

Intuitively it seems that hiring a staff would be your most important task. Get the right people and then worry about the rest, right? While this seems ideal, it’s just not realistic. Before you hire a staff you’ll need a place for them to work. Think about it:

  • You’ll need a place to interview them. People will feel quite a bit more comfortable interviewing in an office than they will in your apartment or house.
  • Prospective employees need to see that you have your act together. Show them furnished office space and you’ve shown them you’re credible and serious about your work.
  • Leasing office space will remove the temptation to hire remote workers. We’ll go over this in more detail shortly.
  • Prospective employees will have a concrete sense of their work environment. Interview them even in a temporary office and they might not be sure what’s in store for the long haul.

It might hurt to lease office space and not have employees in it for a few weeks or even a month. That might feel like money wasted. But it’s merely part of your overhead. Given the difficulties of hiring people when you don’t have an office in which to interview them, it makes perfect sense to eat those few weeks of your lease so that you can get everything in order.

2. Hire local

Let me be up front about this: I have worked remotely most of my professional career. It worked well for me and the mentor who hired me. But this isn’t always the case. When my boss tried to further expand the business, she looked for more remote workers. None of them worked out as well as I had. In fact, in the long run none of them worked out at all. The longest tenured one lasted eight weeks.

Some people simply cannot handle working from home. They might think they can, but it takes a certain determination that most people simply do not possess. People do, however, understand the value of getting up and going to the office every morning. These are the types of people who tend to work out better. With the same startup we ended up hiring half a dozen people to work in newly leased office space. Five are with us today.

You’ll narrow your talent pool by looking only locally, but you’ll also increase your chances of retention. There are just too many complications involving remote workers. Some of them are flat lazy. Some don’t feel connected enough to the company. Some are in it for the hustle and will amble to an fro, collecting money wherever they can. You’ll find that locally hired people prove far more reliable in both the short- and long-term.

3. Hire lieutenants

When you’re starting to expand your company, chances are you’re looking for people with specific skills. You might, for instance, need a programmer to take some of the load off yourself. You might need a designer, and you probably need someone to run the books. Obviously looking for people with these specific skills is tops on your list. But you should consider one big factor when evaluating prospective employees: would you take their advice?

Your first employees should be something more than people who show up for work at 9 and leave at 5. They should be your counsel, so to speak. They should be people you trust not only to get the work done, but also think about the work in a meaningful way. You’re hiring them to take some of the load off yourself. While some of that load is labor based, some of it should also be based in the brain.

Additionally, there’s no better way to retain the right people than making them feel appreciated. A 9-to-5 employee who does the work and forgets about work when she leaves will not provide nearly as much value as one that helps make strategic decisions — who lends her thoughts to the business as a whole. Those lieutenants can help you grow your startup even faster.

4. Spend on productivity

You’re probably dishing out a fair amount of cash for office space, so you’ll probably want to hold back on other expenses. But that’s the wrong mindset. Office space is but a single line item on a startup expense sheet. There needs to be plenty more in there. It will hurt your wallet now, but it will pay dividends later.

In order to be productive people need tools. They need computers, preferably with two monitors. Seem excessive? It’s not. Using two monitors can increase productivity. That comes not only from studies on the matter, but also from personal experience. Comfortable chairs also make it easier to sit down and get deep into work. It’s tough to concentrate for hours on end when your rear falls numb every few minutes.

Get them water coolers for their offices. Stock a kitchen. Make sure that they have everything they need to be the most productive employees as possible. It will cost you a pretty penny up front, and you’ll probably have to extend your line of credit. But you’ll see that investment pay you back in terms of productivity.

5. Prepaid for the unexpected

At one point in the recent past I was working in an office daily. It was a comfortable one, and all the employees had all the tools they needed to remain productive. And then an unforeseen disaster struck. The toilet clogged, and it made a mess. Worse, it turned out to be seriously broken. When you work in an office with just one bathroom, you do not want to hear that.

Ever since then the office has always had spare toilet parts, so that we never befall that same disaster. But it goes beyond that. You need to look ahead and see when problems might arise. I’d suggest the following:

    1. Ask your landlord about a generator. If the power goes out your startup basically crashes until it comes back on. A generator might prove a wise investment.
    2. Make sure you have spare air filters for any heating and cooling units inside your unit. Maybe management is supposed to change them, but don’t rely on them. Change them whenever you need to keep the place feeling comfortable.
    3. Keep some plumbing fixtures around, so that you can quickly repair anything that breaks.
    4. In the same manner, make sure you’re stocked with extra light bulbs.
    5. A rule I live by: you can never have enough power strips.

Make sure you’re prepared for unexpected events that can disrupt your business. Otherwise you’ll be wasting time. And as any startup owner knows, time is directly correlated to money.

The above does not represent a comprehensive guide to expanding your startup. As mentioned earlier, it’s a blueprint: a framework around which you can make smart decisions. There’s plenty of work ahead. Putting a plan in place can make that work just a little easier.

About the author: Joe Pawlikowski writes, edits, and consults for several blogs in different niches. He keeps a personal blog at JoePawl.com.