empire building

There are two types of business owners:

1. Those who just want to run a profitable, stable business that funds a quality lifestyle for their family and their employees, and

2. Aspiring empire builders with visions or building something much, much bigger.

Today’s article is speaking to the second group.

Keep in mind, though, that not everybody in that second camp has the same final motivations.

Some want to build an institution and leave a legacy. Some want to create generational wealth. Others want to prove something to themselves and others.

But whatever the motivation, the aspiring empire builders are still ramping up when most of the business owners in the first group are leveling off in a “life is good” comfort zone.

And it’s at this point that every fledgling empire builder faces his trials, in an almost archetypal, “Hero’s Journey” sort of way.

In fact, if you’re an aspiring empire builder, I can tell you right now that there are seven very predictable trials you’ll face along the way:

Trial #1: Creating a System For Stable and Predictable Lead Flow

It’s a classic, chicken-or-egg, catch-22 kind of thing.

In order to handle more work, you need more people, but you can’t keep those people busy and fund the increased overheard unless you have more demand.

And it’s at this point that outsourcing your lead generation to a third party — typically to Google — becomes not good enough anymore.

Because the bigger you get, the more diminishing returns drive up the cost of leads.

You have to turn to increasingly expensive third party aggregators and other lead sources.

Not only does this cost too much, but the lead quality often sucks.

In other words, you start to suffer from Feed-The-Beast-Itis.

That’s why the day you invest in creating a long-term, stable, and more predictable lead flow is the day you cross the threshold into Empire-Building Growth Mode.

It’s also why I listed this as the first trial you’ll face on your journey. In fact, overcoming this trial kicks starts the rest of the journey and makes it possible.

It’s also one of two Empire Building trials that a Wizard of Ads partner can offer the most help with.

Trial #2: Getting a Handle on Cash-Flow

There comes a day when it makes sense to finance that new truck instead of buying it because paydays keep getting bigger.

In other words, your business starts eating through cash like a beast.

Getting invoices out and cash in starts to become a thing. Credit cards taking a couple of days with the money creates actual pinch points.

Before you know it, you have a line of credit so that you don’t go out of your mind making sure there is enough cash in the bank.

What you watch is your cash flow projection report because cash flow has become king.

The profit you see on the income statement is consumed by the flow of money into the business and money out and the time in-between.

If you haven’t faced this trial yet, you’re going to run into the money surprise. You’ll think you have money in the bank, only to find out you’re in a cash crunch.

Empire builders maximize cash flow to accelerate the growth of their business.

Trial #3: Systematizing Recruiting and Onboarding

If you wait until you need someone, you’re at least three to six months behind the curve.

And that’ll hamstring your growth more than anything.

Once you HAVE stable lead generation, causing demand to come flooding in, you’d better be able to get those people recruited, trained, and on-the-job in a timely manner.

If not, you’ll end up wasting the very leads you spent so much money to acquire.

That means starting the hiring process before you “need” the new guy, so you’ve got time to train and onboard them, outfit them, and have them ready to service customers and generate revenue when the time comes.

And as you can imagine, that goes double for service businesses.

Because your service is only as good as your people.

So you can’t just hire a warm body. You have to hire the right person.

Then you have to train them to provide that service in a manner in keeping with your brand standards and style.

That means that while purely informal On-The-Job training might work for the smaller guys, it won’t work for you.

You’re going to have to figure out a systematic, repeatable, and reliable process for onboarding new hires.

As well as a method for recruiting and screening great people beforehand.

These are real challenges, and ones you’ll have to face if you want your business to reach empire status.

Trial #4: Cementing Your Company Culture 

When you get to talk to and coach every employee every day, you can sort of get away with having your values just seep into the company through osmosis.

But not anymore. Not if you’re growing and constantly adding new people and at least one layer of leadership cements in place between you and front-line workers.

You’ll note that in the previous trial, a big part of onboarding new people was indoctrinating them to your company’s beliefs, values, standards, and ways.

Well, you can’t enculturate new people to your company culture unless you’ve established and defined that culture to begin with.

That means formalizing your We Believes and standards of behavior, and Brandable Chunks.

Some smaller companies believe that branding is something only the big guys do, because they can’t yet afford to run mass-media brand-building ads.

But this is silly. Branding goes way beyond advertising and is something you have to do at any size.

More importantly, branding should be as much for internal communication to employees as external communication to prospective customers.

This is one reason why this trial (along with the first) is one where a good ad consultant can offer the most help.

In fact, any advertising consultant worth his pay ought to instinctively understand that disaster awaits the company whose external branding conflicts with its internal culture.

That situation inevitably leads to high turnover, disappointed customers, and poisonous word-of-mouth / reviews.

And here’s the trial within this trial: in cementing your culture, you’ll inevitably lose people. Including at least one key person.

Because in the absence of a defined company culture, employees will inevitably inject their own personality and values into the void.

Then some of them will take it as a personal insult when they’re asked to conform to the new way of doing things and project the company culture instead of their own personality.

Those people won’t want to be confined to new standards of behavior, new scripted language, and so on.

Let those people go. Even if they were crucial, go-to people before your growth spurt.

Hey, there’s a reason getting the right people on the bus and in the right seats is one of the earliest steps in transforming from Good to Great, right?

Trial #5: What Used to Work No Longer Works

Growth stresses systems.

Especially systems that were never intentionally set up for scalability in the first place.

So don’t be surprised when your accounting systems need to be revamped.

Or your system for answering the phone needs an overhaul.

Or dispatching. Or payroll. Or IT.

You could handle each problem as it arises.

Or you could look ahead and ask yourself if what you’re doing now will handle twice the volume. Or quadruple the volume?

Then plan ahead.

Because you’ll have to face this trial on your way to building your empire.

What used to work when you were half the size, no longer works at your current size.

Trial #6: Figuring Out the Logistics of “More of Everything”

If the previous challenge has to do with systems, this challenge has to do with physical assets.

More office space, parking, trucks, equipment, uniforms, etc.

Some of these problems can be solved simply by throwing money at it, assuming you have your cash flow figured out and under control.

But many of them take advanced planning and manpower.

Moving to a new building takes a lot more than money.

Getting a new truck bought and equipped and wrapped takes a fair amount of pre-planning, especially in today’s supply chain environment.

That makes waiting until the problem becomes painful a non-option.

You have to face this trial by looking ahead and planning ahead.

If you embark on a path of exponential growth, how soon until you need to move to a new building? At what pace will you need to add new trucks?

And so on.

Trial #7: Trading One Set of Problems for Another

My colleague, Gary Bernier, likes to say “Growth is great. Growth Sucks.”

And it’s true.

Saying, “Well those are the right problems to have” is easy enough.

But those problems are still problems. They still bring their own headaches to sort through.

Because even when you’ve passed through all the previous six trials, new ones will emerge.

What do you do when you’ve topped out the growth potential of your market?

Opening another brand in a new town comes with its own challenges.

As does offering another service?

Or opening a new business in the same town.

And even the most ambitious of empire builders typically, at some point, look at ways to buy their life back — to reestablish work-life balance, which comes with its own challenges.

That makes excepting that you’ll never entirely be on cruise control while in growth mode its own, final, Boss-Level trial on your journey to Empire-hood.

The Secret Cheat Code for All These Trials

If you’re reading this list and it all sounds familiar, or you’re eagerly anticipating the journey along with the trials, you should know there’s a “cheat code.”

The cheat code is getting the right consultants and mentors in your corner.

While Wizard of Ads consultants are indeed, advertising consultants — and therefore perfectly suited to help you crush Trial #1 and Trial #4 — they’re also business consultants, in as much as they get paid on growth, and therefore have a vested interest in helping you past all of the trials.

That makes them an ideal sounding board. ‘Cause when you’re in empire growth mode, you often have no one inside your organization for truly frank discussions.

And few people outside your organization understand your business, which makes a consultant you can talk to worth his weight in gold.

Hey, if you’re really on a hero’s journey — and you are — then you’ll need your sidekick/mentor to join up at some point after crossing the threshold.

Why not make that happen sooner rather than later?