Any successful small business eventually reaches a point where the workload overwhelms its resources. When this happens, a company has two choices; cut back on clients or expand.
As most ventures find out, staffing up can be hazardous. In the effort to grow quickly to meet demand, many companies lose sight of their goals, hire the wrong people and fail to develop a consistent, welcoming culture, says Wil Reynolds.
Reynolds, the founder of SEER Interactive, a Northern Liberties-based SEO firm, is trying to do something else.
Reynolds started SEER in his apartment in 2002. Three years later, he hired his first employee. In the past year, Reynolds’ employee count doubled to 41. There are some lessons to learn from a company that can withstand that sort of rapid scaling.
Watch a video on SEER’s growth.
[vimeo 39747405 w=420 h=236]
One the earliest challenges that face scaling company, says Reynolds, is keeping the flow of communication and creativity alive, when going to a handful of staff to several dozen.
Adam Melson, an SEO consultant for SEER, has been with the company for four years. Because he was an early hire, Melson possess a unique perspective on how growth has effected SEER.
Melson recalled the early days saying, “If you needed something, you’d just go tap someone on the shoulder. Everyone knew every single project that was going on and the details about them.”
But, as the company grew, Melson said, communication became harder.
“Now, we’re much larger. Everybody can’t be an expert about every single project,” Melson said.
Reynolds said one reason his company is doing well is because he adopted a number of unique business practices. One such practice is Reynolds’ approach to gaining new clients.
“The thing that I am probably most proud of is we have never actively pitched anyone: ever,” Reynolds said. “Our business development and our growth has mostly come from our clients being willing to vouch for us and say, ‘These guys are good.'”
Reynolds said he believes that to have a successful business that can survive growth, you need to have, what he calls “rocks,” unshakable foundational beliefs. Something like his determination to only work with employees who bring passion to the job, having an impact in the community and creating a family-like atmosphere.
“You’ve got to have some rocks and they can’t be a profit-related thing because eventually, especially in a service business, clients are going to sniff through that,” he said.
Reynolds said that being based in Philadelphia has given him a certain advantage because of the type of people here.
“Philly is an underdog kind of city,” Reynolds said. “What I tend to find is that the people here have a kind of chip on their shoulder. They want to show people that this company, in Philly, doing search, might not be in San Francisco or New York, but we’re just as good as those guys.
SEER has come a long way from its roots. Melson spoke of one of their former office spaces. He described that old warehouse as an office with a tin roof and finicky climate control system. “Sometimes” the AC worked, sometimes it did not, he said.
“The rule of thumb back then was when it hit 90 degrees you could go home and work from there,” Melson said.
Now, SEER has opened their newest office space, the aptly named “Search Church” at 1028 N. Third St. in Northern Liberties. The nickname is appropriate because the building was a church that SEER renovated for its office. If you ride on Third Street near the Piazza, you’ll see it.
The bottom floor of the former church structure is now a more traditional office space. The upper floor — formerly the church’s nave — is still lined with pews framed by massive stained glass windows. The former church now sports a SEER logo behind the lectern and modern-looking chairs and tables for meetings where the chancels once were.
The expansive new building offers employees an opportunity to get up from their desks and work in other parts of the building. Reynolds said he thinks it is important to allow this sort of freedom.
“Giving people different spaces, within your space, is very important, especially if you want them to be creative,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds, despite his almost obsessive-like attitude toward SEER’s growth, is still planning for the future. He said he does not want to abandon the newly renovated church anytime soon. To prevent this, he recently began acquiring rental space in the surrounding area for future expansion.
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