April 19

How to grow a small service business


We’ve been there.

The days of baked beans on toast, eggs with tofu, and times spent looking longingly at the delicious spread on your friend’s Instagram feed (gulp), as you sit in your tiny desk, wondering how to grow your business.

It can be tough.

And caveat.

I’m not there yet. I’m not a kickass founder that has flipped 3 different businesses.

June 2020 was the first year I started our training business, whilst I was still a know-nothing full-time worker in a charity.

And in October 2021, I finally quit my job without a job lined up, to do the service business fulltime.

I know.

It was stupid. At that time, I had only earned all of $1290, and invested more than $21,000 into the business.

Nothing seemed to work for the first two years of our business.

Are you constantly worrying and losing sleep about your business?

But then suddenly, in 2022, we finally made enough money to survive. Whilst our revenue for the year was $27,000, not a terribly high amount, it was still a significant milestone.

Maybe that’s you today. You’re struggling to keep yourself going. You’ve just enough, but you don’t have much.

You’re paying the bills, but deep down, you want more. You want to have a thriving service-based business.

But the frustration seems to be that you’re constantly on a doom loop, serving your current customers, but never seemingly able to grow it beyond just you.

Accept that it will be hard

One of the quotes that have inspired me is from Shane Melaugh, the founder of Thrive Themes.

He writes,

Entrepreneurship is problem solving in hard mode.

It’s true.

You’re all alone on a fight, and you have to refine how you deliver your service.

But one of the most common mistakes we make is that we are constantly looking over our shoulder at the next shiny object (don’t get us started on Xero), wondering if that new shiny thing is going to help us grow our business.

Are you chasing the next new shiny thing?

We may look at a new business idea and wonder if we should do it. Or we may have a newfangled technology everyone talks about, that everyone says you must try, like ChatGPT.

Or some guru may say you need to post more on LinkedIn. Instagram. Start a TikTok channel!

It may, but it will definitely do harm to your business.

It will make you unfocused.

One of the most crucial things has been for me to accept that this journey is hard, and to just do the boring work, even if I’m not sure where it’s bringing me.

Whilst you may not necessarily have the immediate effect of having a sudden stroke of enlightenment that will supercharge your business, this acceptance keeps you calmer.

Each time I feel anxious about what the next step is, I just tell myself,

I don’t know. And that’s okay.

That said, growing a service business starts from the product.

What service do you provide?

Do you know the outcomes it gives to your clients?

What makes them keep coming back?

It’s not about having a long to-do list, but the right to-do list.

In Michael Port and Andrew Davis’ book ‘The Referable Speaker’, they talk about how speakers often focus on the wrong things.

They may do:

  1. Linkedin
  2. Podcasts
  3. Blogging
  4. Instagram
  5. Books

But none of these end up sustainably adding to their business because it does not focus on the one key thing.

The speech.

Before you are famous, people buy the speech, then they buy you.

But if you’re famous like Obama, people buy you, and then the speech. If you were Obama, your name alone would draw crowds.

That’s why in the very early days of business, you should make sure that your service product is better than your competitors. If you don’t know what makes it better, you better find out.

Getting business is good.

But until you’re delivering

  1. Outcomes that are better/faster/cheaper than others
  2. Higher than average customer satisfaction
  3. Faster than usual customer support (less than average of 6 hours)

People may not buy you.

Track your sales outreach

Do you know the points where your leads drop off? Why?

What are the common reasons that make them go,

Ah not now.

If you don’t know the answers to those, then you might be constantly losing more potential conversions.

Tracking can start with a simple spreadsheet where you track each stage of your sales pipeline, and where people fall off.

This is a simple pipeline structure from Tom Abbott, one of the top sales gurus within Asia.

If you don’t know where your sales is coming from, you better start thinking (Credit: Soco Selling)

You need to focus on sales

As much as you may believe that you’re changing the world with your product, you need to pound the streets, and tell people about it.

One of the first products I sold failed because I didn’t do enough in terms of trying to sell it. Instead, I sat at home and thought, “As long as I have a good product, people will come.”

This is erroneous.

Sales will get you the money to grow your business.

And yes, not all of us like selling. And selling is tough.

Make no mistake.

But at the end of the day, if we are willing to frame it as sharing about our work, rather than ‘sell’ our work, that may better help you overcome the internal resistance towards selling.

Do you know where in the cycle you are in terms of your selling?
Do you know where in the cycle you are in terms of your selling?

Control your costs

One way is to see where you’re spending money, and where your money is going.

Look at your bank accounts.

Do you even know?

Do you know where your money is going?

Closing your eyes and keeping your head in the sand might not be the nicest thing to do.

Things like payment gateways might seem like a few percentage points, but they can add up to quite a bit over time.

Know your skill gap, and grow it

Very often, we don’t see business building as a skill.

Rather, we may be tempted to chase the YouTube gurus who talk about how they have grown a $100k course business, in 2 weeks.


You know that.

Exponential rises like that don’t just happen out of thin air.

There’s a process of growth that happens.

Look at the following chart from Shane Melaugh.

Rank yourself according to these 6 skills from 1 (being the worst), and 5 (being the best).

Ask yourself where you’re doing best, and focus on that.

Business is about going slow, to go long

In a time of instant gratification, we want the business that makes us money, fast.

But that won’t happen immediately.

Learning that you’re building internal skill, which may not immediately translate to outward growth, will help you in your journey.

Be patient. You will get there.



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