I have been running my custom software and web development services as a one-man-show for 5 years now (I started working as a software developer right after graduation and after 3 years on the job, I quit and decided to take my chances being an entrepreneur and started the business).
Initially, the main concern was to pay for the bills and I started taking up projects and assignments from clients mainly by word-of-mouth. Although revenue has shown growths over the years, my operation pretty much remains the same. I have plans to hire and grow the business for the past two years. However, I have yet to take the plunge because I am still unsure about the greater vision of the company. I think it is imperative for my company to have clear goals and visions to be communicated to the future employees, hence my hesitation. Currently, with me busy handling my clients and working on projects, I find it very hard to start steering my company into next level of growth. Any advices and comments are much appreciated. Thanks.
Are you sure you even have a company? If you can't sell it and have the new owner run it independently, is it even a "company"?
As you have found out, it is a huge leap from being independent to being independent and growing your operation to something bigger than yourself. I've been there, and it's not easy.
Anyway, how much of a business background do you have? It's a very different level of skill and experience that you need as you go from making money to pay the bills to set up an operation with complex expenses and incomes, not to mention management and legal issues that pop up all around when you start to grow, hire people, sign more contracts, etc... So first, decide if you are up to it. It's a lot of trouble for some people, sometimes more than it's worth. Do you really enjoy managing people?
So decide that first...
If you still want to hire more people and grow you operation, realize that you will be doing a lot of management and very little coding. You will be running around putting out fires, answering client emails and phone calls, giving direction to your employees, tending to management stuff you may not like to do, and so on. If you are into technology as much as I am, you will very quickly miss the good old days of coding and keeping up to date on technologies.
Anyway, all those warnings aside. Let's say you still want to do this. Ok, well to generate a vision you need to give it a lot of thought, and you need to evaluate where you really are: Are you doing development for a niche market? If so, that's great, specialists are always in high demand. Do you want to continue to grow in that niche? What kind of operation would you like to have in 10 years? What would your life be like? these are very open ended questions and you may feel I don;t address your concerns, but you have not specified in any level of detail what you want, only that you are not happy where you are.
One last note: I'll repeat: You have to think how much you like management stuff. I come from a background very close to yours, except I did not start out on my own until after about 10 years' experience. You will be doing a ton of management stuff, so you better have a good taste for it, or a way to deal with it properly. If you screw up your corporate structure setup, or hire people without carefully-written contracts, or over-promise deliverables to clients because you need the work for your new employees, you will crash and burn quickly. There are many more ways to screw up if you make your operation bigger.
If you have an idea of what you want the company to be like, ie, perhaps you want to use the various tools from the Google Labs to help businesses to interact more with their customers over the web, then, that would be your vision.
You may want to see if you can find a salesman/manager who would run the business, so you can be responsible for the development. As there is more work than you can do, you hire someone on contract to help you out.
If the work remains steady then hire employees, and continue to grow.
The leap you need to make is to come up with an idea, be passionate about it, and get some business-minded individual to come in that knows sales/marketing and is organized.
Great to meet another fellow Malaysian on this site! Hope to catch up with you in person someday.
I was in your position many years back - working alone together with part-timers/freelancers and at some point, partnered with a friend and found some other partners to start a few startups that would grow.
Grow we did, eventually, with up to 80+ people at one point - at the three year mark, we reached exactly as where we planned out. Goal setting is key.
Of course, once your business grows, the responsibilities change as well. Other things start taking more of your time, and by then, you'd wonder if that's really what you want.
I'd definitely recommend this book if you haven't already read it.
Evan Williams built blogger.com while doing consulting, and 37Signals built basecamphq.com while developing on some early contracts.
From your experience of projects, you may have already seen some sort of trend or market needs from your client's operations.
If you want to have the experience of training someone, there are internship programs that you can participate to train someone for about 3-4 months. You'll get to experience all the joys of training someone, and then they leave. When you have a company of a given size, that occurs all the time.