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Global Flipchart


March 2017
| Issue #7

Business growth in facilitation: grow in the direction of your dreams

By Rebecca Sutherns

As a facilitator and strategist, I spend considerable time helping leaders ensure that their strategies align with their mission and values to increase their impact. As an entrepreneur, it’s time to apply that lens to my own aspirations for business growth.

Let’s first examine how we can measure growth. Traditional metrics for tracking business growth typically include increased gross or net revenue, increase in clients and projects and increase in staff.

In a facilitation firm, the following might be considered: greater complexity of projects, higher day rate, repeat engagements, and more sole-sourced work.

But what about growth in the quality of work completed? Or an increase in my confidence as a facilitator, or in the reputational currency I enjoy with my clients? Or an upswing in flexibility and independence, as I balance paid work with other priorities? And what if I’m actually more interested in personal growth than business growth? Or if, heaven forbid, I’m not sure I want my business to grow at all?

Measuring growth by what motivates you

It is worth examining what we are trying to grow in our business and why. Motivations vary widely and success can take many forms, often influenced by personality, culture and gender.

For example, empirical evidence from Canada suggests that female entrepreneurs tend to value success criteria related to work-life balance and personal fulfillment far more highly than male entrepreneurs, with no gender difference in the importance attributed to desired financial outcomes or in actual business performance. At its core, business growth is therefore more a question of values than of metrics or tactics.

Ask yourself what you want to see more of: in your business, in yourself and in the world. Your answer will point to indicators of growth that are truly important to you. Go after those. Because your measures of success will likely differ from other people’s, so too will your pathways to achieving them. And reaching those growth milestones will yield far greater satisfaction for you than appropriating externally imposed definitions of success.

Growth metrics can change

In my journey as a solopreneur facilitator thus far, my aspirations for growth have reflected my season of life more than any measures that loan officers or shareholders would likely recognise.

At first, success meant finding ways to challenge my brain and use my skills while giving priority to parenting four busy kids. My main filter for choosing a project was whether I could squeeze it into our busy calendar. (I’m available? I’ll take it). I barely thought of my business as a business at that time – it was more a series of projects that helped me stay sane. (People will pay me for that? Bonus). Business growth was not explicitly on my radar. I was grateful for intellectually stimulating, socially meaningful work, but not particularly ambitious to see it expand.

The stories we tell ourselves are enormously powerful in shaping our behaviour. That way of framing “success” in my business – securing interesting work that fit well into the complex puzzle of busy parenting – drove me for longer than it probably needed to. Now, as my family responsibilities shift, I find myself consciously revising my narrative about my desired model of business growth. It’s an ongoing struggle to keep that emerging vision aligned with what is important to me.

For example, I help people collaborate effectively for a living, yet I am not as collaborative in my own practice as I would like to be. With more work than I can handle alone, traditional business growth models would suggest I hire staff. I may yet do so. But for now, I am exploring other more flexible models of collaboration that will allow me to stay focused on the facilitation work that I enjoy more than business management. Business coaches have recommended I raise my prices in the face of rising demand for my services and scarcity of my time. I may yet do that too, but not without a sober assessment of the implications of that decision on my loyal, lower-budget clients. Business growth targets are thus a manifestation of vision and values.

Growth implies change. Embracing it requires courage. As a twenty-year veteran of the facilitation industry, there are times I still make rookie mistakes. One is letting the dominant business culture shape my understanding of valuable work. Another is believing that this old dog can’t learn new tricks. So I have, at long last, crafted renewed strategic goals for my own business for 2017. I can see them from my desk. They aren’t fancy, but they resonate with me. They remind me that it’s never too late to [re]define growth and success, and then to pursue those aspirations – mine - unapologetically and with passion.

Rebecca Sutherns, PhD CPF is the founder and CEO of Sage Solutions, a facilitation and strategic planning firm based in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. She offers strategic clarity and time well spent to the community benefit sector, instructs courses in facilitation skills and stakeholder engagement, and is a sought-after speaker and coach.

Rebecca is leading a workshop at the IAFNAC Conference in West Palm Beach, Florida in May 2017 titled The Business of Facilitation, where you can continue this discussion.