How to scale

Green shoots growing through the ground with a semi transparent speech bubble overlaid with the words ‘How to scale’

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how to scale Joy and about whether I even want to scale it.

I’m in the privileged position at the moment to be able to turn down requests for work. Sometimes that’s ok if it’s not exactly the kind of work I want to do. But it’s hard when it’s a great project and the only reason to say no is that there simply are not enough hours in the day.

I’m also aware that I didn’t set up Joy to be busier. In fact I was looking to work less. Or at least reduce the stress I felt at work. It could be that these are different things entirely as I do enjoy being busy — especially when I’m working on things I love.

I’m also aware that the landscape for agencies is changing and we have a bit of a ‘missing ‘middle’ situation due to lots of the mid size agencies being acquired over the last few years, founders leaving etc. This has left us with a few ‘big boys’ and lots of micro agencies (places like Joy).

If Joy and others are going to fill this gap I think there is an opportunity to redesign the agency model. I’m interested in what these alternative models might be and how I might scale Joy in a way that feels right for me.

So this is the inside of my brain at the moment and the thoughts and questions that are running through it.

I don’t want to hire anyone

I worked alongside the founder of a growing agency for many years and saw first hand how stressful it was holding the responsibility of paying other people’s wages. I don’t want this — this is really important to me and I need to keep saying it, and writing it, so that I don’t get sucked into thinking it would be ok and waking up with a team of 5 people one day.

I miss being part of a team

On the flip side I miss people and the sense of belonging that being part of a team brings. I miss having people to bounce things off and it would be nice to have at least one other human who I could do this with. Collaborators and people I encounter in shared working spaces give me enough to get by but I do crave that depth of working relationship I had before.

Is my lack of a clear purpose holding me back?

Sometimes I think that it’s easier for people who run businesses to get behind scaling their business because it means they can ultimately have more impact. You can see this with businesses that have a clear purpose. I’m not even a year into Joy so I’m going to cut myself some slack here, especially as my goal for year one was experimentation, but I do wonder if defining the purpose and having a clearer proposition for what I offer might help me clarify my thoughts around scaling as I move into year two.

Do I simply just want to work less?

I need to be ok with the answer to this being yes — but I’m not sure if it is or not.

When I started Joy I wanted to write more, make knitted things, travel more and see my family more. I have done a lot of this and being freelance has given me this freedom but I still do find it hard to say no to work because I enjoy it and I like being busy.

I want to earn good money

I feel like women struggle to say this out loud without hiding their face inside their jumper, but it’s true. I don’t just want to earn more money to build a cash mountain in my spare room, I want to fund the lifestyle I dream of. Being able to swim in my own pool every morning without battling the Better Gym app. Having my own holiday home that my family could use. Eating amazing food all around the world.

Scaling could mean I earn more and I think this is one of the things tempting me because when it’s just me, my earning potential has a cap.

I want to do things differently

There are things about the agency model that annoy me. I hate how freelancer’s fees get marked up. I hate how hierarchical it can quickly get. Working on a time based model makes scaling difficult. The endless debate about project managers or no project managers and the second endless debate about who’s involved in new business — both are tiresome.

I don’t have the answer here and I’m interested to speak to others who are exploring this or thinking about it. I think we could be quite radical and keep the bits we love about agency and lose some of the bits we don’t. But the question is how.

I’m going to take myself off to Broadstairs, on the Kent coast, in December to do a little retro with myself and celebrate my first year in business. Hopefully my thoughts will get clearer with some good long walks on the beach.

But for now, if you have any thoughts I’d love to hear them.

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Emma Parnell

Freelance specialist in user research, service design and brand development. designforjoy.co.uk Previously @wearesnook, @nhsdigital, @wearewithyou.