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Winning Talent Development Firms Establish Their Operating System

Friday, January 27, 2023

Now that you understand the first six winning strategies to move your business forward, it’s time to create some momentum. While you may feel confident in your understanding of the industry, where you fit, and what you need out of it personally and professionally, to grow effectively, you must set up the systems and processes to help you scale your business efficiently. However, the next winning strategy—establishing your operating system—is often the most difficult for entrepreneurs to embrace because it requires an analytical and organized approach. Nonetheless, it’s a critical step in the growth of any business. If analysis is not your strength, you might want to hand over many of these duties to people more interested and qualified to conduct them.

Your primary activity is to create a financial system that enables you to keep on accurate pulse on how your business is performing. This includes establishing a monthly profit and loss statement and a balance sheet that will help you assess the businesses’ financial health at a moment’s notice. In addition, you will need a solid management team that can share the responsibility of running and growing the business with you. It’s critical to hire people who have expertise in areas where you aren’t particularly strong or don’t like to manage (such as finance, sales, marketing, or overall operations). The more processes you enact to scale through the creation and adoption of proper procedures, the more time you will have to do what you are best at and most enjoy (such as engaging clients, addressing solutions, building products, writing, or speaking, among others).

However, the most important item for sustainable growth is scale, so let’s decipher what it means for your business. First, you need to assess and decide whether your business is based more on consulting services or generic programs and products because the scaling opportunities are different for each. For consulting services, there are three ways to scale the business: how you staff your projects, package your offer, and replicate the process. Staffing a project to scale means using your people in the most cost-efficient manner for individual’s levels and skill sets. For example, typically large consulting firms charge high rates for young but highly qualified consultants, while senior personnel focus on sales and client relationships. Consulting firms generally package their offers with a generic approach or model that can be readily tailored to a client’s specific needs, and their project management approaches can be consistently replicated regardless of the assigned consultants.

For a business offering a program or product, the opportunities to scale include mass offer customization, managing inventory, and distributing widely. Mass customization is an approach used throughout all types of businesses and industries, and it involves creating a system of interchangeable parts that can be readily configured to meet any customer’s needs. (Think of Lego blocks or car colors, for example.) Inventory management is another way to scale an offer, particularly digitizing and providing on-demand solutions. Last, the wider your offer’s reach via partnerships, associates, licenses, and online distribution, the greater return on one-time product development costs.


These scaling techniques have an even more tangible benefit than the old “more for less” scaling mantra. They also provide an opportunity to manage any business risk or crisis by allowing easy expansion or contraction as needed.

Where are the opportunities for you to scale your business as you create momentum and build your business?

About the Author

Steve Cohen is founder and principal of the Strategic Leadership Collaborative, a private consulting practice focused on business strategy and development. A 40+ year veteran of the talent development industry, largely on the supplier side, he has demonstrated a proven track record for building equity by growing top and bottom-line performance for eight different consulting enterprises in the education and training industry he has either founded and/or led. He has been called on to consult with numerous firms needing strategic planning guidance, business coaching, and board advisory services.

His first book, The Complete Guide to Building and Growing a Talent Development Firm, was published by ATD in 2017. His recent follow-up, 12 Winning Strategies for Building a Talent Development Firm is now available on Amazon.

He can be reached at: 952.942.7291 or [email protected].

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