- Luisa Zhou built a multimillion-dollar business with zero full-time employees.
- When she launched her company, she wanted the freedom to live her life while earning a good income.
- She’s been successful by streamlining her product lineup and systemizing everything.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
When I started my current business, I had a clear idea of the type of business — and lifestyle — I wanted to build.
After managing a seven-person team in my last corporate job and building a mobile payments startup with a multimillion-dollar valuation before that, I was burned out on big teams and office politics.
What I really wanted was flexibility — the freedom to live my life while earning a great income and not being tied to managing a team or complicated business.
Today, five years into my current business teaching ambitious employees how to turn their skills and experience into their own online businesses, I’ve essentially built a multiple-million-dollar system that runs without any full-time employees (except for me).
Here are my top four tips for running a lean business.
1. Hire the right people (Hint: It’s not A++ players)
While I don’t have full-time employees, I do work with a small but mighty team of contractors. And my “secret” for hiring the right people goes against the grain of a lot of the common advice on hiring.
I didn’t look for traditional A++ players who are driven and want to be a “superstar” or climb the corporate ladder. Because my business doesn’t have one.
Instead, I looked for A players who had different priorities.
Don’t get me wrong: The people I hired were self-motivated, experienced, and good at what they did. However, they get satisfaction not out of having a certain title or team size, but out of earning a great income and having a flexible lifestyle themselves.
2. Streamline your product lineup
Over the last five years one core product, a course called “Employee to Entrepreneur,” has brought in over 80% of my business revenue.
And it didn’t happen by accident. With my goals and priorities in mind, I designed my business around this product from day one.
That allowed me to systematize my business in a few ways.
I was able to focus on building, testing, and improving the course over many years to make sure it was truly robust and best in class.
I was also able to drive a higher volume of students into the course, which allowed me to build more content and coaching calls, as well as a bigger community to support the course and make it self-sustaining.
Finally, because of how long we’ve been selling this product, my customer support knows it inside out and is well versed in handling questions and delivering the best client support possible.
As a result, instead of constantly scrambling to create and deliver new products, we’ve been able to build a robust system that supports our community, delivers great customer service, and offers a top-notch product, and then live our lives.
We do sell other courses and offers, and while we have similar delivery, customer support, and sales systems (more on this in a bit) set up for them, they’re mainly designed to complement our main offering.
This doesn’t mean that we have all of our eggs in one basket. Instead of diversifying our product offerings, we’ve instead diversified our traffic sources and partnerships, which I felt was easier to do (because we have systems for those as well) and more enjoyable than constantly creating new products.
3. Systematize, systematize, systematize
If no business can occur when you’re not working, then you don’t really have a business. That’s why even though my business is branded around my name, it doesn’t rely on any one person (me included). Instead, it runs on a series of systems.
Here are the five main categories of systems that my business runs on:
- Marketing (which consists of content, design, and client acquisition, including paid traffic, partnerships, social media, and organic traffic)
- Operations (for example, customer support)
Our content creation process is one example of what I mean by a system.
With the goal of creating content to drive organic traffic, we publish one to two blog posts a month. So we have a documented, step-by-step system for determining how to choose the blog topic, guidelines, and format and how to write the content, publish it, and promote it.
We have similar documentation and processes for every piece of the business, from setting up an email to send to my email list to helping a client reset their course membership site password.
This way, independent of who specifically is and isn’t working on a particular day, the business can continue to run smoothly.
4. Have a clear accountability layout
This tip is taken from Gino Wickman’s book, “Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business.” When I first read this a few years ago, it was a huge “aha” moment for me.
Wickman suggests that instead of having an organization chart, which focuses on who reports to whom, it’s better to have an accountability chart, which lays out what each person is individually accountable for. This way, it’s clear who is responsible for what and there’s no “passing the buck.”
Here’s a quick overview of what my main accountability structure looks like:
- Within marketing, individual contractors are responsible for content, paid advertising, partnerships, and design.
- Within sales, I have contracted salespeople.
- Within operations, a few contractors are accountable for customer support and technology.
- Within coaching, I personally coach a small group of clients, and I have program coaches for my Employee to Entrepreneur program.
- And last but definitely not least, within finance I have a bookkeeper, accountant, and payment collections team.
Note that the accountability structure supports the systems I laid out in the previous step. In other words, this is system-centric: I hired the right people to support the systems. I didn’t first hire and then create systems around the people I hired.
What’s also important to note is that each role has clear processes and metrics for success. And it’s not complicated! For example, customer support’s number-one metric is to help clients resolve their questions within 24 business hours.
This way, we’re able to operate like a well-run machine. Because we have the right systems, which create the right roles and the right people in those roles.
As a result of all the above, my contractors mostly only work a few hours a week for my business. And I don’t have to spend much time managing them, either.
Plus, this also frees up my time to focus on driving the business via partnerships and strategy, and of course supporting my coaching clients.
As you can imagine, it took a lot of work upfront to set all of this up. (And it’s still a work in progress because there’s always room for improvement and we aren’t perfect.) But the work was well worth it. It helped me build an amazing business that I love, that allows me to do what I love, work with people (contractors and clients) I love working with, and live a life that I love.
And here’s the thing: After having helped thousands of people do something similar for themselves in so many different industries, what I’ve seen time and time again is that if you’re willing to put in the work, you can do it, too.
Luisa Zhou is the creator of the Employee to Entrepreneur system, which teaches people how to leave their day job and start their own six-figure-plus business working for themselves. She’s been featured in Forbes, Inc., Entrepreneur, and more. Read her comprehensive guide on how to start your own online business today.
This article was originally published on Insider November 4, 2019.
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