Operational Scalability: Ariana Rodriguez of AR & Company On How To Set Up Systems, Procedures, And…

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Operational Scalability: Ariana Rodriguez of AR & Company On How To Set Up Systems, Procedures, And People To Prepare A Business To Scale

Prioritizing Customer Experience and Feedback:

Finally, setting up systems to receive and act on customer feedback is vital. This ensures that as you expand, you’re continuously improving and meeting your customers’ needs. It’s about making feedback a cornerstone of your growth strategy, ensuring that customer satisfaction scales along with your business.

In today’s fast-paced business environment, scalability is not just a buzzword; it’s a necessity. Entrepreneurs often get trapped in the daily grind of running their businesses, neglecting to put in place the systems, procedures, and people needed for sustainable growth. Without this foundation, companies hit bottlenecks, suffer inefficiencies, and face the risk of stalling or failing. This series aims to delve deep into the intricacies of operational scalability. How do you set up a framework that can adapt to growing customer demands? What are the crucial procedures that can streamline business operations? How do you build a team that can take on increasing responsibilities while maintaining a high standard of performance?

In this interview series, we are talking to CEOs, Founders, Operations Managers Consultants, Academics, Tech leaders & HR professionals, who share lessons from their experience about “How To Set Up Systems, Procedures, And People To Prepare A Business To Scale”. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Ariana Rodriguez.

Ariana, the dynamic force behind AR & Company, has redefined the landscape of operational consultancy with her remarkable journey of scaling a bootstrapped agency into a thriving enterprise in just two years. Based in New Jersey, Ariana has carved a niche in the world of business operations by not only championing efficiency and innovation but also by bringing a much-needed touch of humanity to the process. Her approach goes beyond mere numbers and strategies; it’s about nurturing and scaling mission-driven agencies in a way that’s sustainable and aligned with their core values. Under Ariana’s visionary leadership, AR & Company has become synonymous with a kind of consultancy that respects the human element in business, understanding that true growth is measured not just in profit margins, but in the positive impact made on communities and individuals. Ariana’s commitment to this holistic approach has not only set her agency apart but has also become a beacon for mission-driven businesses seeking to expand their horizons without losing sight of their foundational principles.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Before founding AR & Company, I spent seven years in project and operations management for a major New York City Health Care System. The onset of the pandemic was a turning point for me. With two small children at home, I discovered that working remotely significantly improved my work-life balance. On a whim, I began offering consulting services online to small and nano businesses. This venture reignited a spark of creativity and passion in me that I hadn’t felt in a long time.

After a year of providing these ad hoc consulting services, I took the leap to pursue it full-time. The response was overwhelming, and within a year, I expanded my team to five members to meet the growing demand. My vision was clear: to bring C-suite level operational expertise to small businesses, enabling them to scale sustainably. I realized that while many entrepreneurs have brilliant ideas and a strong desire to serve their communities, they often lack the operational know-how to do so effectively without facing burnout.

My goal with AR & Company was twofold. Professionally, I aimed to empower these businesses, helping them to materialize their dreams and impact their communities positively. Personally, it was about creating a fulfilling work environment for myself, one that allowed me to be more present and involved in my children’s lives and their schooling. Starting this business fulfilled a creative need within me and addressed my desire to have a more balanced and engaged family life.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

One of my most memorable, if not exactly the funniest, mistakes when starting out was trying to ‘save the world.’ As a child, I dreamt of being either a writer or a superhero, and that desire to make a significant impact never really left me. This led to a tendency of overextending myself, both in my corporate role and later in my business. I found myself saying ‘yes’ to everything, often leading to chaotic and overwhelming situations. It was a bit like trying to be a superhero in the business world, which, as you can imagine, had its share of comical outcomes.

The real turning point came when I realized I was almost recreating the corporate job I had left, burdening myself with more tasks than necessary. I was trying to build a business, but instead, I was crafting another job for myself. This experience taught me three crucial lessons:

Trust Your Gut: I learned to trust my instincts and focus on what I knew I was best at. Listening to experts is valuable, but it’s also important to stay true to who you are. If a certain approach doesn’t resonate with you, it’s okay to forge your own path.

Set Boundaries: It’s essential to keep boundaries and not overcommit. This means understanding your limits and not trying to be everything to everyone.

Delegate Effectively: Recognizing my strengths and weaknesses was key. I’m great at operations and strategic thinking, but execution can be a challenge, partly due to my ADHD. So, I’ve learned to delegate tasks that require meticulous attention to detail to my team members who excel in those areas.

This journey taught me that while my ambition to ‘save the world’ is admirable, it’s also important to be realistic and focus on what I can do best. By trusting my instincts, setting boundaries, and delegating effectively, I’ve been able to grow my business without losing myself in the process

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

What truly sets AR & Company apart is our unwavering commitment to bringing humanity back into the realm of operations. We recognize the critical need for companies to be operationally efficient, not just to save money, but to foster a sustainable and thriving business environment. However, we’ve observed that often, this drive for efficiency comes at a high cost to the employees. Our mission is to change that narrative.

We’re not just about streamlining processes and cutting costs; we’re about creating a balance where scalability and growth go hand in hand with a human-first approach. We believe that a company’s strength lies in its people. That’s why our focus is on empowering small businesses to achieve true scalability, while simultaneously ensuring that their employees feel valued, respected, and motivated to give their best.

Let me share a story that encapsulates our ethos. We once worked with a small business that was struggling to scale. Their operations were a tangle of inefficiencies, and employee morale was low. Our intervention wasn’t just about introducing new systems; it was about understanding the human element behind every process. We restructured their operations with a focus on employee well-being and efficiency. The result? Not only did the business see a significant improvement in operational efficiency, but employee turnover dropped, and productivity soared. The employees felt heard and valued, and this was reflected in their work.

At AR & Company, we believe that when you empower your employees and put their well-being at the forefront, you’re not just doing good business; you’re building a better, more sustainable future for everyone involved. That’s the kind of impact we strive to create with every client we work with

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Flexibility and Adaptability:

In business, the ability to adapt and be flexible is crucial. The initial idea or plan often evolves as the business grows and faces new challenges.

When I started AR & Company, the business model and strategies that worked in the early days needed to evolve as we grew. For instance, the operational processes that were effective for a team of 2 were not sufficient when we expanded to 7 employees. I had to be flexible and adapt our strategies to accommodate this growth, ensuring that our operations remained efficient and effective.

Confidence and Trust in Your Gut:

Confidence, coupled with a strong gut instinct, is essential for making decisive and effective leadership decisions.

There was a critical moment when I had to decide whether to pivot our service offerings to cater to a broader market. It was a risky move, but my gut told me it was the right direction. I confidently steered the team through this transition, and it paid off, leading to significant business growth and diversification.

Trust in Your Team:

Trusting your team and their expertise is vital for scaling and growing your business. It’s about letting go of the need to control every aspect and empowering your team to excel in their areas of specialization.

Delegating responsibilities was a challenge for me, especially as AR & Company is my brainchild. However, I learned to trust my team with key aspects of the business. For instance, entrusting the marketing strategy to a newly hired expert was difficult, but it allowed me to focus on other growth areas. This trust not only improved our marketing efforts but also fostered a more collaborative and empowered team culture.

These traits — flexibility, confidence, and trust — have been pivotal in navigating the challenges and opportunities of leading AR & Company. They’ve enabled me to grow the business sustainably while maintaining a team that feels empowered and valued.

Leadership often entails making difficult decisions or hard choices between two apparently good paths. Can you share a story with us about a hard decision or choice you had to make as a leader? I’m curious to understand how these challenges have shaped your leadership.

One of the most pivotal decisions I faced as the leader of AR & Company involved choosing the direction and business model for the agency. When I first started, there was significant pressure to adopt a traditional agency model, which primarily involved hiring out project managers to support other companies. This path, while proven and familiar to many, didn’t resonate with my vision. I wasn’t interested in turning the agency into just a sales machine; my passion lay in being actively involved in strategy development and solution creation for our clients.

The decision to diverge from the traditional path and establish a consultancy agency instead was not taken lightly. I knew it meant we would be doing more than just providing project management support. We would offer comprehensive operational strategies, combining my expertise with the skills of a team of specialists in their respective fields. This approach allowed us to become a fractional team of operators, not just fractional COOs or online business managers. We filled a unique niche, offering holistic operational solutions rather than just strategy or implementation services.

This decision was a defining moment for both me and AR & Company. It required a deep understanding of our strengths, a clear vision of the kind of service we wanted to provide, and the courage to walk a path less traveled. It taught me the importance of staying true to your values and vision as a leader, even when it means making tough choices. This experience has shaped my leadership style to be more visionary, courageous, and authentic. It reinforced the belief that great leadership is not just about making decisions; it’s about making the right decisions for your team, your clients, and your business ethos.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Operational Scalability. In order to make sure that we are all on the same page, let’s begin with a simple definition. What does Operational Scalability mean to you?

To me, operational scalability is the capability of a business to grow rapidly and efficiently, meeting increased demand without compromising the quality of service or significantly impacting the team. It’s about having a business model and team structure that can be effectively duplicated, allowing for swift expansion.

This concept hinges on several key elements:

Rapid Growth Capability: It means being able to scale up quickly in response to market opportunities, adapting to growth seamlessly.

Service Quality Maintenance: Despite the pace of expansion, the quality of our services remains a top priority. Our systems and processes are designed to ensure that service standards are consistently upheld, no matter how much we grow.

Efficient Team Duplication: Operational scalability to me is like having a blueprint for success that can be replicated. It’s about integrating new team members smoothly and bringing them up to speed efficiently, so they’re almost immediately as effective as our established team.

Robust and Flexible Systems: Our operational infrastructure is built to support and sustain growth. This means having systems and processes that are not just robust but also flexible enough to adapt to our expanding needs without overburdening our resources.

Team Efficiency and Morale: Finally, it’s about maintaining the efficiency and morale of our team, even as we grow. This involves effective training, support, and preserving our strong company culture, ensuring that our team remains cohesive and motivated.

In essence, operational scalability is about creating a business that’s not just ready to grow but is strategically designed to excel in growth. It’s about ensuring that expansion is a smooth, efficient, and sustainable journey for everyone involved.

Which types of business can most benefit from investing in Operational Scalability?

In my view, there isn’t a single type of business that benefits most from investing in operational scalability; rather, every business, regardless of its size or industry, stands to gain from it. Operational scalability is a universal need for businesses aiming to grow, whether that growth is in terms of expanding the team, increasing sales, or reaching new goals.

For example, product-based businesses can significantly boost their profit margins by finding efficient ways to produce their products. This is a form of operational scalability where the focus is on streamlining production processes to handle increased demand without compromising quality or incurring unnecessary costs.

In the world of consultancy, like AR & Company, operational scalability is about templating the work we do with clients. Even when offering customized solutions, having a templated process allows us to onboard new team members more efficiently. They can then handle clients in a consistent manner, maintaining the quality of service as we grow.

For businesses with educational programs, scalability might mean automating certain aspects of the program. This automation ensures that as the number of participants grows, the quality and accessibility of the educational content remain high.

In essence, scalability looks different for each business. It might involve process planning and efficiency, onboarding and support for new team members, or integrating technology and automation. The key is to identify the specific scalability needs of your business and address them strategically. This approach ensures that as your business grows, it does so in a sustainable and efficient manner, ready to meet the challenges and opportunities of expansion.

Why is it so important for a business to invest time, energy, and resources into Operational Scalability?

Investing time, energy, and resources into operational scalability is crucial because it lays the foundation for sustainable business growth. To reach new revenue levels and expand your business, you need a robust infrastructure that supports an increase in team size, client numbers, and overall business capacity.

Think of operational scalability like building a house. Without a solid operational foundation, expanding your business is akin to building a house on sand. Sure, it’s possible, but it’s inherently unstable. Over time, you’ll likely see cracks in the foundation, leading to potential collapse due to erosion or other issues. On the other hand, a house built on a concrete foundation is stable and enduring. It doesn’t require constant reinforcement or repair.

This analogy perfectly mirrors the importance of operational scalability in business. By investing in it from the start — templating processes, defining efficiency metrics, and integrating technology like AI and automation — you’re essentially building your business on a ‘concrete foundation.’ This approach not only ensures stability and sustainability but also makes it easier to expand your ‘house’ in the future. You’ll be able to scale up without the risk of structural weaknesses that could jeopardize your business’s longevity and success.

In essence, operational scalability is about preparing your business for the future. It’s about creating a framework that can support growth and withstand the challenges that come with it. By focusing on building a strong operational base, you’re setting your business up for long-term success and stability.

In contrast, what happens to a business that does not invest time, energy, and resources into Operational Scalability?

If you neglect to invest in operational scalability, it’s like building your business on a foundation of sand. In the short term, everything might seem fine, but as time goes on, the instability of this foundation becomes apparent. Just like a house built on sand, your business will start to show cracks in its foundation. These aren’t just superficial issues; they’re fundamental problems that can lead to potential collapse.

When you build on an unstable foundation, you’re not just risking structural integrity; you’re also setting yourself up for significant future expenses. In a business context, this means that instead of moving forward, you find yourself constantly trying to fix problems that arise due to the lack of a solid operational base. You end up investing more money, time, and resources into patching up these issues, which is often more costly and less effective than if you had built on a solid foundation from the start.

The real danger here is that once there are cracks in the foundation, no amount of patching can make it as stable as a structure built on concrete. It’s a constant game of catch-up, trying to stabilize a fundamentally unstable system. This not only drains resources but can also divert your focus from growth and innovation to merely managing crises.

In summary, not investing in operational scalability from the outset can lead to a precarious situation where you’re perpetually trying to stabilize and repair your business operations. It’s a risky approach that can hinder growth and sustainability, proving that a strong operational foundation isn’t just beneficial — it’s essential for the long-term health and success of your business.

Can you please share a story from your experience about how a business grew dramatically when they worked on their Operational Scalability?

We once worked with an online education business that was struggling with completely manual systems. Every process, from client interactions to backend operations, was handled manually by the CEO and their operational support team. This approach was not only time-consuming but also limited their capacity for growth.

Our intervention focused on overhauling their entire client experience. We meticulously reviewed each process and implemented automations wherever feasible. It’s important to note that not every process was suitable for automation, but where we could automate, we did, significantly reducing the workload on the team.

The results were remarkable. By introducing operational scalability into their business, they were not just able to enhance efficiency; they fundamentally changed their business model. They doubled their prices and, more impressively, were able to double their enrollment. This led to a 200% increase in their revenue. Their business transformed from struggling to manage 50 enrollees to effortlessly handling 200.

This experience perfectly illustrates the power of operational scalability. It’s not just about reducing workload; it’s about unlocking potential for growth and revenue that was previously unattainable. By investing in scalable operations, the business was able to expand its capacity significantly, handle more clients with ease, and consequently, increase its profitability

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the “Five Most Important Things A Business Leader Should Do To Set Up Systems, Procedures, And People To Prepare A Business To Scale”?

To effectively prepare a business for scaling, there are five critical steps that I believe every business leader should focus on:

Developing Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs):

It’s essential to document all processes in detail. SOPs should outline not just the steps of a process but also define what ‘done’ looks like, troubleshoot common issues, and indicate who to approach for specific problems. This ensures that the team isn’t constantly seeking guidance for routine tasks and can operate more autonomously and efficiently.

Implementing Scalable Technology:

Leveraging technology is non-negotiable for scalability. This means moving away from paper and pen to digital solutions like project management tools, CRMs, and shared databases. These tools ensure that information is accessible to everyone and facilitate seamless communication as the business grows.

Robust Onboarding Process:

A comprehensive onboarding process is crucial. It’s not just about making new hires feel welcome; it’s about ingraining your company’s vision, values, and operational methods. This sets a standard for how work is done and ensures a unified approach to achieving goals.

Effective Communication Channels:

Standardizing communication methods is key. It’s important to define what types of communication (updates, attachments, discussions) should happen on which platforms (email, Slack, in-person, phone). This clarity prevents information from getting lost and ensures everyone knows how to access the information they need, especially as remote work becomes more prevalent.

Prioritizing Customer Experience and Feedback:

Finally, setting up systems to receive and act on customer feedback is vital. This ensures that as you expand, you’re continuously improving and meeting your customers’ needs. It’s about making feedback a cornerstone of your growth strategy, ensuring that customer satisfaction scales along with your business.

By focusing on these five areas, a business leader can create a strong foundation for growth, ensuring that the business is not just ready to scale but does so in a sustainable, efficient, and customer-focused manner.

What are some common misconceptions businesses have about scaling? Can you please explain?

More Employees Automatically Lead to Easier Scaling:

There’s a common belief that simply hiring more people is the key to scaling. While hiring is a part of scaling, it’s not the whole picture. Increasing headcount without improving processes can lead to inefficiency. It’s crucial to first optimize processes and systems for productivity. Hiring should be a strategic decision made when it’s clear that the optimized system is at capacity.

Scaling Is a One-Time Goal:

Some businesses view scaling as a singular goal or milestone. Scaling is an ongoing process. Businesses need to continually evolve and adapt their strategies to stay competitive and efficient. It’s not a one-and-done achievement but a continuous effort to grow and improve.

Existing Processes and Team Structures Are Sufficient for Scaling:

Businesses often think they can scale effectively with their current processes and team structures. Scaling usually requires significant changes. This might mean adopting new technologies, redefining roles, or altering operational processes to handle increased workloads. What works for a small team may not be effective for a larger one. It’s about adapting to the growing complexity and size of operations.

Scaling Is Just About Growth in Size:

There’s a notion that scaling is solely about growing in size — more sales, more employees, more customers. True scaling is about growing efficiently. It’s not just about expansion but about enhancing your capacity to manage that growth effectively. This means not only increasing your size but also improving your operational efficiency, financial management, and customer satisfaction.

How do you keep your team motivated during periods of rapid growth or change?

During times of rapid growth or significant change, maintaining team motivation is crucial. I employ several strategies to ensure my team stays engaged and positive:

Maintaining a Positive Attitude: It’s essential to lead by example. I always strive to exude positivity, especially during periods of change. This sets the tone for the entire team. If I’m optimistic and clear about the benefits of growth, it helps the team see the bigger picture and understand the strategy behind our actions.

Over-Communication and Transparency: Effective change management hinges on communication. I make it a point to over-communicate during these periods. This means keeping the team informed about what’s happening, why certain decisions are made, and how these changes will benefit the company and them. It’s about ensuring they don’t feel left in the dark, which can reduce anxiety and uncertainty.

Open Door Policy and Psychological Safety: I maintain an open door policy, encouraging team members to share their thoughts, concerns, and suggestions. Whether it’s through town hall meetings, office hours, or casual check-ins, I make sure they have a safe space to express how the changes are affecting them. This not only helps in addressing their concerns but also fosters a culture of trust and inclusivity.

Welcoming Feedback for Continuous Improvement: I actively seek and welcome feedback from the team. Those ‘on the ground’ often have valuable insights into how we can manage change more effectively. This feedback is crucial for continuous improvement and helps in fine-tuning our strategies to handle growth and change better.

Recognizing and Rewarding Efforts: Acknowledging the hard work and adaptability of the team is vital. During periods of rapid change, I make sure to recognize and reward their efforts. This could be through verbal appreciation, bonuses, or other incentives. It’s about showing them that their contributions are valued and crucial to our success.

By combining these approaches, I aim to create an environment where the team feels valued, informed, and part of the growth journey. It’s about balancing the operational needs of the business with the well-being and motivation of the team.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite life lesson quote is, ‘Instead of worrying about what you cannot control, shift your energy to what you can create.’ This quote resonates deeply with me, especially as someone who has navigated life with anxiety. Anxiety, at its core, is often about the fear of losing control, about being at the mercy of circumstances beyond our reach. This is a challenge I continue to face, but this quote has been a guiding light in reshaping my approach to life and work.

In my personal life, whenever I find myself overwhelmed — say, when my kids are having a tough day — I try to shift my focus. Instead of getting caught up in the chaos, I ask myself, ‘How can we create a more peaceful or enjoyable environment?’ It’s about finding creative solutions to foster a positive atmosphere.

This mindset extends to my professional life as well. When working with clients, I often encounter various pain points. Instead of fixating on the problems, I focus on creating solutions. It’s about seeing the opportunity for improvement in every challenge. This approach has been instrumental in my work at AR & Company, where we often turn operational challenges into opportunities for growth and innovation.

Embracing this philosophy hasn’t been easy; shifting focus from problem to solution requires a significant mindset change. However, it’s incredibly empowering. It’s about channeling your energy into creation and progress, rather than getting bogged down by the things you can’t control. This perspective has not only helped me manage my anxiety but has also become a superpower in my professional life, allowing me to find effective, innovative solutions in the face of adversity.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

“Tech for Good”: Bridging Technology and Social Impact

“Tech for Good” would be a global movement that harnesses the power of technology to address pressing societal challenges. It aims to create a collaborative platform where technology professionals volunteer their expertise to develop innovative solutions for non-profits, educational institutions, and underserved communities. The ultimate aim is to create a self-sustaining ecosystem where technology serves as a catalyst for social change. By bridging the gap between tech talent and societal needs, “Tech for Good” seeks to foster a global community committed to using technology for the betterment of society. This movement aligns with mu passion for technology and innovation in business operations.

“Tech for Good” has the potential to create a significant impact by mobilizing the tech community to address global challenges, making technology a powerful tool for positive change.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Stay up to day with AR & Company at Arstrategies.co
Connect with me at linkedin.com/in/arianarod

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

Operational Scalability: Ariana Rodriguez of AR & Company On How To Set Up Systems, Procedures, And… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.