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Beginning with our January 2000 issue, the Business Management series has explored the key strategies and issues involved in profitably maintaining and growing self-employed businesses. Part 1 provided tips for making the transition from employee to entrepreneur, and outlined four top business sectors for the self-employed. Part 2 offered advice on effectively dealing with financial issues such as bookkeeping, payroll and insurance. Part 3 delved into the strategic planning (time and project management) needed to develop and operate an effective and profitable workplace. In this, the fourth and final installment, we show business owners how to determine the optimal time to expand a one-person operation into a company with employees.
When Cheryl A. Cwiklinski, CEO of Comprehensive Computerized Business Services Inc. (CCB) in Chicago and Schaumburg, Illinois, started her professional staffing company in 1982, she worked alone for 18 months before taking on a staff.
“I outgrew that initial office three times before I ventured out and hired my first employee,” says Cwiklinski. “I got to the point where I literally could not do it alone anymore.”
Cwiklinski started CCB as a private computer-training facility, and as she gained more clients, she needed more space.
At that time, Cwiklinski was one of the more than 10 million Americans who had made the decision to sign their own paychecks. When she went out on her own, leaving a well-paying job at Xerox Corp., she realized two key things: she had a built-in client base in former Xerox customers and the knowledge that she could provide services her former employer did not.
At the time, her company offered word processing and personal computer training. CCB now offers full-service personnel placement (computer programmers, and administrative, sales and marketing support personnel), and on-site diversity and technical training. Cwiklinski’s company, which now employs 125 people, grossed close to $10 million last year.
During the firm’s early days, Cwiklinski tackled several challenges. In an effort to build her company, she found herself working day and night, six days per week, training all of her clients herself. She also managed the day-to-day operations of her company.
At the time, Cwiklinski worked in a small, spartan office space. She was not unlike the thousands of self-employed people who use their living rooms, and even their kitchen tables, to conduct business. They wear all the hats needed to keep their companies afloat. For many, though, the time eventually arrives when they must hand a few of those hats over to someone else.
Before taking the plunge and hiring employees, there are several factors to take into consideration. “What people must ask themselves,” says Bennie L. Thayer, president and CEO of the National Association for the Self-Employed in Washington, D.C., “is whether or not they can truly handle the business alone. They need to assess if they’ve reached a point, in terms of the growth of the business, where they need to bring on additional employees.”
Assessing the current state and future possibilities of a business can be difficult and confusing. Determining ways to build your client base