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Can Taking on Side Work Be Fatal for Your Company Culture?

Close your eyes and picture it: you’re the leader of an amazing company. The business is so secure that clients are bursting through your door (or crashing your website). You wave your magic executive wand, all the “bad” customers disappear, and you’ve only got spectacular, loyal clients left. But that’s not realistic. You may be […]

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Courtesy of Unsplash
Courtesy of Unsplash

Close your eyes and picture it: you’re the leader of an amazing company. The business is so secure that clients are bursting through your door (or crashing your website). You wave your magic executive wand, all the “bad” customers disappear, and you’ve only got spectacular, loyal clients left.

But that’s not realistic. You may be experiencing good business, but the chances of you being so secure you’d never toy with the idea of side projects can be far-fetched for many companies. And sometimes, that means flirting with the idea of taking on special requests from clients.

My advice: don’t fall for the idea that special projects are always in the best interest of your company or clients. Often, they’re not — and can even spell death for branches of your business.

Ways Breaking out of Your Comfort Zone Can Hurt You

It happens often with special or boutique projects:

  • The customer presents work that’s not your usual flavor.
  • You look at the project and recognize the unusual nuances that don’t quite fit the mark of what your company does.
  • You think, “Well, I guess we could do that,” even though you’re not super excited about it.
  • You reassure the client that your team can totally do the work. 

Does this mean that your team can’t wrestle this type of project and come out with a win every once in a while? Of course not. Any team worth their salt can adjust and learn if the right resources are on the table.

But the problem is, it requires time.

And lots of it. Your technical team, for example, can’t just automatically know the differences between what they’re used to doing/using and what the new client is asking for. You’ve got to train on new protocols or equipment. There can be trial and error, along with some testing to get over hurdles. And this can be exhausting for your team members, who didn’t sign up for this.

Ask Yourself: Are There Long-Term Benefits?

Are these skills something your team will need to use again? If so, the project could be valuable — like a graphic designer learning a bit of back-end coding. This can improve their designs and help them understand them on a more fundamental level, while also adding to their skillset. Better yet, you might be inclined to give them a promotion once their skills are up to par.

Then again, there could be some skills your workers won’t use again. And the amount of time it takes them to develop these for a one-time project could be a waste of everyone’s resources. In this case, you’re not building your team — you’re bogging them down with extra layers of work and stress.

And what if the client has a “meh” reaction to your result? A client who is underwhelmed with your product likely won’t ask to work with you again. And, in the worst-case scenario, they might even offer bad word of mouth. The internet has a wide net of “company reviewers” out there. This doesn’t reflect well on your company — workers want to feel proud of the work they’re accomplishing as a team.

Oh, yeah. Your employees? Totally burned out from trying to make everything work. Which can create a toxic work environment, and can often be the final straw.

The Counterintuitive Solution

The idea of pushing work away when you fall on tough times might seem counterintuitive. After all, real contenders do what they have to do to toil another day, right?

An alternative I suggest: consider entering that field and build out an entire division of your company towards it. Hire the right workers for that job. Find skilled specialists instead of overloading your current team.

Think about it. 

This is your opportunity to grow your company while taking on projects that aren’t exactly what you do, but are related.

For example, a realtor might consider opening a contracting branch of their team. Every day, realtors are asked about home-improvement recommendations. They constantly refer their clients to contractors and home inspectors to improve their home before selling, or to make their new home their own after buying.

Because they spend the majority of their day exploring a wide variety of homes with their clients, they are likely to have a good understanding of aesthetics, function, and what to look out for in a home inspection. This level of understanding could be a great starting point for contracting their own specialists rather than referring them.

And, often, a larger parent company can mean better workplace culture: employees have the opportunity to move to a branch that best suits them, there is more opportunity for growth, and (hopefully), more money in the pool means you have more chances to thank your team for their hard work. It’s a win-win.

Build Your Brand by Delineating the Work to the Right Team

As a business owner, there is a world of opportunity. It would be foolish to take on every opportunity without properly scaling up your business. However, looking at these opportunities to learn, grow, and extend the company is a positive way to create healthy business growth and increase your bottom line as a whole. And your employees will thank you for creating an environment where they can thrive and let their own special skills really thrive. The ones you hired them for.

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