Scott Daigger Of Buddy Web Design & Development On 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Scale Your Business
An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
Get operational back-up. As things ramp up, you’ll be busy with the day-to-day operations of serving customers, but as CEO, you’re also chief sales officer. When you have more prospective customers, you’ll be spending a lot more time on sales calls. And thus, you won’t be able to spend as much time on the day-to-day operations. So, whether that means more front line staff, more operational team members, a project manager, or chief operations officer, make sure you have people you can lean on to keep the business running smoothly as you’re pulled into more and more activities that will drive revenue growth.
Startups usually start with a small cohort of close colleagues. But what happens when you add a bunch of new people into this close cohort? How do you maintain the company culture? In addition, what is needed to successfully scale a business to increase market share or to increase offerings? How can a small startup grow successfully to a midsize and then large company? To address these questions, we are talking to successful business leaders who can share stories and insights from their experiences about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Scale Your Business”. As a part of this series, we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Scott Daigger.
Scott is founder of Buddy Web Design & Development (www.BuddyWDD.com), an award-winning website development firm headquartered in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Scott is an alumni of the University of Wisconsin, with his undergraduate degree and MBA from UW’s School of Business. Scott’s professional background has been heavily focused on leading organizations and teams focused on technology development, start-ups, and innovation.
Thank you for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?
I’m originally from Wisconsin, went to UW-Madison for school, and spent a good portion of my career there. But, I’ve lived in Michigan for about 12 years now. My professional background is primarily in business operations and leadership, mostly focused on technology development, start-ups, and innovation.
What brought me to Michigan was around 2010 I was recruited to work for a large healthcare system in Grand Rapids and help lead up its innovations program. In that role, I worked with senior leadership, doctors, nurses, and clinical staff to help develop and launch new healthcare technologies, such as medical devices, software, and equipment.
That was a really cool job, but about three of four years ago, I started getting the itch for the next step in my career, and really wanted to focus more on software development. While I’d led up software projects before, I figured it would help my resume out if I learned some coding. So, I started learning web development on the side.
My intent at that point wasn’t necessarily to pivot and become a coder — I really liked the business side of things — but figured it would help out with my competency and credibility in software leadership roles. However, I ended up really enjoying web development. And, after about 6 months of learning and building out a portfolio, I actually started landing some freelance work on the side.
Around that time, I was feeling ready for a change and the next step. So, after discussing with my wife, I decided to leave my corporate job, and pursue freelancing. That’s how Buddy Web Design & Development got started.
Soon after I left my job, Covid hit, so that was interesting timing, and so my first year or two of freelancing was pretty up and down, balancing work with taking care of our daughter, who was starting virtual kindergarten at the time.
However, in the last year, things have really ramped up for Buddy. We’ve worked with bunches of new clients, grown our team, and really evolved from a solo freelancer to an actual team and growing business. It’s been a really fun and interesting journey, and I know we’re just getting started!
You’ve had a remarkable career journey. Can you highlight a key decision in your career that helped you get to where you are today?
Definitely. There actually was a key moment that kind of sparked all of this, at least with Buddy. Our family took a trip to Disney World back in the spring of 2019. Not sure if anyone else ever feels this way, but on the flight back home, I was having a little bit of the post-vacation blues, and was just thinking about what I was heading back to at my job. It was in that time of reflection I just sort of decided, what the heck, I was just going to dive in and start learning coding. It was something I’d dabbled with prior, but never really committed to. I wasn’t sure where it was going to lead, but I just decided that I wanted to pursue that, as I felt confident it would open up a lot of doors for me, even though I didn’t know what those would be at the time.
What’s the most impactful initiative you’ve led that you’re particularly proud of?
Coming from healthcare, where I was helping develop technologies to take care of patients and directly improve lives, the bar is really high when it comes to choosing just one impactful initiative. I had the opportunity to work across all sorts of patient types, but the ones that struck me the most were when we developed new products for babies in the intensive care unit. We developed several new technologies for neonates, in particular, and seeing them in person gives you a huge appreciation for how delicate they are, and how much care they need.
Developing websites is a pretty different realm, comparatively, but even so, it’s always really rewarding to help someone represent themselves or their business in a way they’re genuinely excited about. We recently launched a website for a local artist whose work is incredible, and he’s a genuinely great person, as well. Something that really struck me was when we first were working together, he mentioned he’d been doing art for over 20 years, but never felt proud of his portfolio website. Long story short, we were able to deliver an amazing site for him, and it was so nice to be able to help him finally have that online presence he feels excited about, and that really shows off his talents. Granted, it’s very different from something more literally life and death like in the hospital, but it’s still wonderful to really help people and make them really happy.
Sometimes our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a mistake you’ve made and the lesson you took away from it?
One of my first freelance clients provided a great learning experience! I had a client that I was really excited to work with. She was working in an industry I was really passionate about, and she was looking for a new website that sounded really straightforward. Basically, she had identified a pre-built WordPress template she wanted to use as a starting point. The plan was just to use that template, integrate in her logo, text, and photos, and that was kind of it. Super simple, on paper.
However, it didn’t end up that way. As we got rolling, she had a minor request here and there, just to tweak the design a bit. “Could you move that here,” or “Could you add in this.” Each request in and of itself was usually pretty easy. The project overall, though, evolved from something incredibly straightforward, to the never ending abyss of “just. one. more. thing.” It became a bit excruciating. My intent was to offer excellent service and make sure she was happy, but by the end, I probably should have charged 3 times what I’d proposed. Our billing was project-based, not hourly. And, it ended up being a hugely customized build, rather than the very simple site that she initially laid out.
Fortunately, I got a good customer review, and after that, I developed a really robust and detailed client contract template. Now, I’m much, much better about scoping out projects and the workload entailed, and have language in writing that talks about scope creep or how to handle additional work or changes as they come up. I still learn lessons with each project, and adjust the client contract for future customers regularly, but that one was a biggie for lessons learned.
How has mentorship played a role in your career, whether receiving mentorship or offering it to others?
Mentorship has been incredibly important, as no one has a monopoly on all the right answers. I’ve been very fortunate through college and grad school, and throughout my career, to have people to offer advice and guidance.
Now that I’m more established in my career — and have lots of mistakes and lessons learned under my belt — it’s nice to be able to offer mentorship to aspiring entrepreneurs, as well. Something I actually really enjoy about my role with Buddy now is, while operationally we help customers with websites, graphic design, etc., when I’m on sales calls with entrepreneurs, I’m able to really dive into their business, their goals, and their operations, and help leverage my experience to help not only with a website, but providing more broad guidance and consulting that can help them out, beyond just the site.
Developing your leadership style takes time and practice. Who do you model your leadership style after? What are some key character traits you try to emulate?
One of my favorite quotes on leadership is from speaker and author Zig Ziglar: “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” While I’m definitely not a perfect leader, I really focus a lot on hiring outstanding people, and giving them a lot of runway to just do their jobs exceptionally well. And for me, that means quality of character is equally, if not even more, important than technical skills, when adding people to the team. It’s really important to me that the team is made up of rock stars, and it’s awesome to set up a situation where each individual team member is a high performer, and knows they’re surrounded by other high performers. It really helps create a high performance environment.
As a leader, then, when you have confidence in your team, their quality of work, and their ability to get their jobs done, you don’t have to worry as much about the day-to-day stuff — provided you have your operations in good order — and it lets you focus a lot more on your team members as people, building culture, and their success and growth. It helps you put them first as individuals.
I think beyond building that sort of team dynamic and culture, though, other key characteristics or priorities I try to focus on are integrity, transparency, work-life balance, growth, organization, and having fun.
Thank you for sharing that with us. Let’s talk about scaling a business from a small startup to a midsize and then large company. Based on your experience, can you share with our readers the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Scale Your Business”? Please give a story or example for each.
First, get your operations in order. Something we talk about a lot at Buddy when it comes to operations, is that every client and every project will have its own nuances and variability, so we want to control variability as much as possible as we can on the behind the scenes operational stuff. We want everything we do to be as stress free as possible for our clients and our team, so we are incredibly organized. For us, this means we have processes established and in place. We have a central project management tool we use, and we use the same process for each project. We have document templates we use. Files are all stored in the same places and same ways. The more you can get organized and in a very simplified, easy to replicate routine, the better you’ll be able to scale up and serve more clients.
Second, get operational back-up. As things ramp up, you’ll be busy with the day-to-day operations of serving customers, but as CEO, you’re also chief sales officer. When you have more prospective customers, you’ll be spending a lot more time on sales calls. And thus, you won’t be able to spend as much time on the day-to-day operations. So, whether that means more front line staff, more operational team members, a project manager, or chief operations officer, make sure you have people you can lean on to keep the business running smoothly as you’re pulled into more and more activities that will drive revenue growth.
Third, figure out staffing before you need it. As you scale up, things can get busy quickly. Ideally, your focus should be on driving sales growth and serving customers. Having to scramble to hire people adds stress, pulls you away from the day-to-day work, and also can pressure you to hire less qualified people, if you just need to get help ASAP. By comparison, plan ahead on what your future hiring needs will be, and get hiring and onboarding plans laid out well in advance. So, when it’s time to pull the trigger, you either have potential candidates lined up, or, you can move quickly to fill roles. This might even mean finding several part time team members early on, that could grow into full time employees as workload merits it.
Fourth, don’t take on more work — or different kinds of work — than you can knock out of the park. This one might be a little more relevant to service businesses, but the bottom line is, you’re only going to be as successful as your reputation merits. People want to work with companies that have great reputations. So, while it’s tempting to go after any paying customer, if you can’t do an awesome job for them, it might make more sense to pass. In scaling up, you still need to think about the long term prospects of your business. You’ll do way better in the long term by doing great work for each customer, rather than trying to serve everyone, and only doing mediocre (or poor) work. Bad reviews, or a bad reputation, is a killer.
Fifth, keep on top of finances. As you’re scaling, revenues and expenses will be evolving quickly. Be diligent about reviewing cash flows regularly to maintain projections, monitor costs and revenues. As much as you can, start building up a cash runway for downtimes, because startups will ebb and flow — growth is not a straight line upward. Remember, cash is king, so make sure you’ve got more coming in than going out, and build up the cash reserves for inevitable changes or downturns.
Can you share a few of the mistakes that companies make when they try to scale a business? What would you suggest to address those errors?
There’s one big thing I see happen a lot when entrepreneurs scale up their business, especially less experienced entrepreneurs, and that’s trying to do too many different things, too soon.
In more detail, what I see happen is an entrepreneur will launch a business, and focus extremely hard on getting that company up and running, getting the brand established, getting early customers, getting a team in place, etc. However, once they start getting traction, they then get a bit of “shiny object” syndrome. They start thinking they’ve made it, as things are trending up, and their focus starts gravitating towards “what if we offered this!” (insert new product or service, or business model, here). They start thinking about different service lines, new products, new spinoffs or whatever. In essence, they start to take their eye off the ball from that initial product or service.
Just hypothesizing here, but I wonder if it might be a personality thing, that some people are wired as “starters” — that is, they love coming up with an idea, getting it rolling, and then moving on to the next thing. However, entrepreneurship, and scaling up a business, is a long-term endeavor. It’s not as easy as just starting it up, and handing it off, especially when you’re a small business.
My advice here would be to be patient, keep focused on whatever it is that you’re getting traction with, before you get distracted. Make sure you have predictable revenue. Get operational procedures and protocols in place. Get your team built out, with redundancies and back-up plans in place. Really make sure your initial, core business is sustainable and self-sufficient for the most part, before you start taking on your next big idea or initiative.
Scaling includes bringing new people into the organization. How can a company preserve its company culture and ethos when new people are brought in?
The biggest factor in creating and preserving a culture is to lead by example. You need to walk the walk, and reinforce that in others. Catch people when they’re doing the right thing, and call them out on it — recognize them in a group, especially. For example, things like, “Jane, that was awesome how quickly you got back to the client and fixed their problem. That kind of responsiveness really helps set us apart.”
As the company grows, and you’re not involved with team members as directly anymore, you can reinforce culture in the hiring and onboarding process, through education, creating and reinforcing your mission and vision, and sharing stories and communication with the team that reinforce your culture and values. Really, it’s all about consistent communication and reinforcement, and also being congruent to make sure you, and the business, are actually doing what you’re saying you value.
Many times, a key aspect of scaling your business is scaling your team’s knowledge and internal procedures. What tools or techniques have helped your teams be successful at scaling internally?
As things have grown, we’ve created standard operating procedures and templates, and baked these elements directly into our project management software to help keep things organized, and make sure we don’t miss any steps. We have lots of templates that are easy to use, and are consistent across projects.
On a regular basis, we’ll debrief after we complete a client project, and check in on what went well, and where we can improve, and we’ll adjust our procedures accordingly. This helps us always get better.
Regarding software, operationally, we try to use just a few software tools that are all easily accessible online. This helps keep things simple, organized, and easily available.
We use Asana for project management, and we have a handful of templates and checklists we use consistently for each project. So, that helps us keep on top of things, and everyone knows what to expect, process-wise. We use Google Drive for documents, and Slack for quick communication throughout the day.
What software or tools do you recommend to help onboard new hires?
Really, we just use the same tools for onboarding as we do for our other normal day-to-day operations. We try to just use a few software platforms online to keep things simple. So, as part of onboarding, we share Asana and Google Drive with new team members, and teach them about how we use each, but our actual onboarding processes are stored there, as well — so, everything’s all in one place.
For communication, we do lots of video calls together early on for live conversations and 1-on-1 time to make sure the new hire is up to speed and has questions or concerns addressed quickly.
Because of your role, you are a person of significant influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most people, what would that be? You never know what your ideas can trigger.
Because of my own journey, I’ve been a big fan of what’s been dubbed “the great resignation.” So, rather than creating my own movement, I’m more apt to piggyback on that one.
For me, and my team members, we’ve found so much satisfaction in doing freelance work and creating our own business together. We have so much more skin in the game, and are able to create a culture and work style that works for us — and that fits into our lives — compared to the more typical corporate life.
In my own life — and I’ve consistently seen this with others — it’s amazing how much work affects our personal lives. Logistically, our personal lives tend to be defined as just that time before we commute to work in the morning, and after we get back home at night. Stress from work is brought home, and is shared — either directly or indirectly — with spouses, children, and family members. When the normal job is wearing on you, it affects everything.
So, I’ve been really happy to see people say “enough”, and prioritize their own lives, their desires, and their own personal wellbeing. I think companies can do a lot more to really recognize people as people, not just cogs in a machine. I think by people resigning in mass and pursing their own endeavors, freelancing, starting companies, et cetera — or even just demanding better balance from their employers — it’s good for everyone, as it resets the benchmark on what’s normal and what’s acceptable for work and work-life balance.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
We post regularly on our blog with relevant information at BuddyWDD.com/blog, and I also share updates, advice, and insights on my LinkedIn profile at Linkedin.com/in/scottdaigger.
This was truly meaningful! Thank you so much for your time and for sharing your expertise!
Scott Daigger Of Buddy Web Design & Development On 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Scale… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.