Escape the Grind: How Business Flywheels Can Transform Your Company

Explore how business flywheels streamline business processes, turning effort into continuous momentum for growth and efficiency.

By Nathan Barry | February 16, 2024

What You'll Learn...

The dreaded heavy lift

Tell me if this sounds familiar. 

You’re sitting in front of your computer, trying to write anything.

There you are, staring at that blank page. That cursor is just… blinking.

It’s crunch time, you know how to write, you have to produce something. But what do you do? You’re stuck. You’re desperately searching for an idea, something to break the stalemate.

Eventually, you open a new tab. Social media, emails, those buzzing notifications on your phone – they become your escape—a way to run from the pains of writer’s block.

You may eventually even get it written, usually just in the nick of time. A few days go by and you have to write again, and you’re back to where you started, staring at that blank page. 

Isn’t it exhausting? That heavy lift to get momentum going and then you have to start all over each time? 

Loops like these were completely draining me until I discovered flywheels.

Flywheels are workflows that build momentum. Once you get them up and going, you just have to keep your flywheels moving, instead of starting from zero momentum every day

Join "Tales From The Tub"

Receive “no holds barred” entrepreneurial insights that break the mold – raw, unfiltered, and impactful. From The Baby Bathwater Institute – the underground founder community that mixes business with the science of fun.

Newsletter Opt-In

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

What is a flywheel?

To understand flywheels, you have to understand what a flywheel is.

I saw a flywheel in action for the first time a few years back. 

I was in South Africa working at an orphanage and our goal was to provide clean and reliable water. 

Because the electricity was unreliable at best, we installed a hand-operated pump. The water was so far down that it wasn’t feasible to use a typical pump, where you move the lever up and down. It would take too much effort to get the water flowing. 

So we used a flywheel.

A flywheel is a heavy metal disk that you can use to harness the power of rotation. Starting it was a monumental task. It took two of us, every muscle straining, to complete one rotation.

But then, once it got going, it became easier. Once it got up to speed, I could keep it spinning with one hand and the water would keep flowing. 

All it took was a strong initial effort and the magic of momentum.

Another way to think about this principle is a bicycle. When you hop on a bike, there’s that initial hard push to get the bike going. But once you get up to speed, it’s a matter of keeping your legs moving. 

Flywheels are workflows that build momentum. Once you get them up and going, you just have to keep your flywheels moving, instead of starting from zero momentum every day.  

What flywheels in business look like

There’s a misconception in business that drives me crazy. More business equals more work. If you’re doing it right and using flywheels, more business just equals more momentum

In “Good to Great,” a seminal book by Jim Collins, he says that the best companies build their core business activities into repeatable flywheels. With every turn, these flywheels drive the business forward, building momentum.

Here’s an example from an 8-Figure Newsletter

Sahil Bloom just wanted a million subscribers on his email list, that’s it. Every effort and resource he put into his business was laser-focused on that one goal. 

He thought: “I’ve got a book coming out, and I know my content is fantastic. I know how to build an audience. If I stay laser-focused on just the goal of growing a newsletter list, then I can get to a million subscribers by the time the book is released.”

So he starts driving subscribers from social media in the traditional way. Calls to action, lead magnets, “download the free guide” etc. On top of that, he’s going on other podcasts and sharing his content everywhere. 

It’s a pretty traditional playbook.

But once he got some initial momentum, he got a flywheel going:

  1. Sahil sends out two sponsored newsletters each week and he gets paid for each one. In the beginning, he makes about $1,000 in ads for each newsletter. Remember, his main goal is to grow his newsletter list, not just make money. 
  2. He uses all the money and invests it into acquiring subscribers through ConvertKit’s Creator network, where he pays for other creators to recommend his newsletter. He sets a budget for this, around $2,000 a week. He offers to pay $1.50 for every new engaged subscriber other creators send his way. 
  3. The more subscribers he gets, the more he charges for ads in his newsletter. Then he uses that money to get even more subscribers. At first, this might bring in a few thousand subscribers, but later, it could be tens of thousands, even 50,000 subscribers. 
  4. The list keeps growing. Eventually, he starts making so much from ads, $30,000 a month, that he doesn’t need to reinvest all of it. He begins taking some of it as profit, let’s say $15,000. The flywheel is in motion and he gets to take a profit

On top of that, Sahil uses mini-flywheels to write his newsletter twice a week. Here’s an idea of what one of those looks like:

  1. Sahil comes up with ideas and writes them down. 
  2. Someone on his team helps to put the content together and make it look good, so Sahil doesn’t have to spend too much time on this part. 
  3. They publish the content in multiple places. They take parts of what they’ve written before in the newsletters and post them on platforms like Twitter. This helps to bring in new people who want to subscribe.
  4. Sahil finds new ideas by seeing what hits on social media. The flywheel is in motion, and Sahil is producing content faster (and easier) than ever.

If you’re starting to feel excited reading this, that means you’re starting to understand the potential of flywheels.

The Flywheel Recipe

For a flywheel system to be truly effective, it needs to meet three important criteria according to what I call The Three Laws.

First Law: Activities flow smoothly from one to the next

At its core, a flywheel is essentially a closed-loop system where each step reinforces the next in a continuous cycle. The goal is to get it spinning faster and faster over time through strategic optimizations.

A good way to visualize it is with, you guessed it, an actual flywheel. 

A basic flywheel

Picture a big circular wheel gaining momentum with each full rotation. The first few spins may be slow. But constantly reduce friction and leverage existing energy, and you’ve got yourself a lot of output compared to the energy you’re putting in.

Simply stacking random, unrelated tasks side by side isn’t going to work. For a task sequence to operate like an efficient flywheel, there has to be a seamless transition from one task to the next and those steps have to create momentum.

To do this, look at your process and ask:

  1. What is the most sensible order of tasks?
  2. Which tasks naturally flow into each other?
  3. How can you make transitions even smoother?
  4. What steps can you break down into even small steps?

Bonus tip for this law: If you identify inefficient processes holding you back and automate/streamline to free up resources, that extra time and energy gets funneled into the next link in your flywheel. Each refinement speeds the whole cycle up just a little more.

Second law: Each rotation is easier than the previous rotation

Usually, once the rotations start moving, time and money starts freeing up. But too many people stumble here.

Think about it this way, most people I know are trying to stay fit. The big challenge is the effort it takes to go to the gym, lift weights, do cardio, etc. 

Imagine this, what if you could go to the gym and you could pay someone to workout for you and you got all the benefits? They run on the treadmill for an hour, you lose half a pound. You’d do it, right? 

Unfortunately, that’s not possible. But in business, it is!

As the leader, you need to learn to delegate.

Delegating tasks to your team not only transfers the workload but also improves the process. Team members can suggest improvements, making things more streamlined. This consistent, improved performance creates its own kind of flywheel.

Unlike the gym, in business you can pay someone else and still reap the benefits. 

Another way to make each rotation easier is to increase your inputs. 

Here’s an example: a testimonial flywheel designed to easily gather glowing customer reviews.

Testimonials can be extremely persuasive for buyers. The more real examples shown of others improving their lives with your product, the more likely people will buy. 

Getting testimonials can be painful. But they don’t have to be. Here’s what it looks like.

  1. The cycle begins with a customer purchase. 
  2. The next step is a personal support call. At the ideal post-purchase follow-up point (e.g., 2 weeks), you offer to talk with them about your product. This 20-minute session is all about personal support.
  3. While on the call, the seller records a testimonial. With only 5 minutes remaining, you ask the customer: “Would you be willing to provide a brief testimonial?” Overwhelmed by the white glove service, the happy customer obliges. Their energy and enthusiasm from the helpful call show genuine appreciation.
  4. You upload your testimonial to your website. People watch it, they catch the enthusiasm, and they love the idea of your product.  
  5. More customers buy and provide testimonials. More reviews recruit further buyers who, in turn, provide their recommendations. Each additional ringing endorsement helps reduce friction for the next customer. With growing social proof, conversions increase, momentum builds, and you’re swimming in testimonials.

Once it brings in enough business, you delegate it to a team member and you don’t have to do a thing.

Essentially, this flywheel spins itself through automated customer base growth. The effort to get a testimonial decreases while the flywheel velocity increases – the perfect model of self-sustaining momentum.

Third Law: Each rotation produces more than the previous rotation

ConvertKit’s unique storytelling flywheel, masterminded by our resident storyteller, Isa Adney, absolutely crushes typical case study or testimonial processes. It’s one of my favorite examples.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Identifying Creators: Isa spreads the word within the company to find creators with unique businesses and interesting uses of ConvertKit. This leads to a constant influx of potential stories from our account managers, product team, and customer support staff.
  2. Story Vetting: Creators complete a pre-interview survey. This ensures they’re a good fit and aids Isa in crafting interview questions.
  3. Conducting Interviews: Isa conducts in-depth, two-hour interviews, focusing on the creator’s journey and how ConvertKit aids their success. These insights form the basis of our case studies.
  4. Podcast Production: The polished creator story then becomes a script for an episode of the “I Am A Creator” podcast.
  5. Photography: We arrange a documentary-style photoshoot for each interviewed creator. These photos not only illustrate the story but also enhance our marketing and social media. Creators receive these photos for their use, and with permission, we share them on our Unsplash account for other creators to use in their own marketing. Now we have over 40 million views of our photos.
  6. Filming Documentaries: Selected stories are transformed into short documentary films for our “I Am A Creator” docuseries, coordinated by Isa and filmmaker Henry.
  7. Story Promotion: Our team drafts promotional content for each story, which is then used by our marketing team for comprehensive promotion across various channels. Creators also receive assets to share their stories with their audiences.
  8. Creator Referrals: The entire process not only attracts more customers but also leads to recommendations of other creators to feature.

These stories show up in all of our marketing. Whether writing articles or crafting talks, we use these authentic examples, all with photos and testimonials. Isa is also creating an internal database of these creator stories and streamlining access for the team.

This flywheel isn’t just a marketing strategy; it’s the core of our brand’s narrative. It eliminates the need for stock photos, as we exclusively use genuine images of creators who use ConvertKit, captured by our team.

Imagine this, what if you could go to the gym and you could pay someone to workout for you and you got all the benefits? They run on the treadmill for an hour, you lose half a pound. You’d do it, right? Unfortunately, that’s not possible. But in business, it is!

The Big Cheat: The 4 steps to execute your flywheel

Now that you’ve seen a few examples, let’s break down the steps for crafting an effective flywheel:

  1. Define a Precise Objective: Start by zeroing in on a crystal clear goal. What exactly are you aiming for? It could be gaining 1000 email subscribers, hitting $10,000 monthly revenue, or securing ten paying customers. Getting specific is crucial; a vague target leads to wasted energy. 
  2. Map Out the Flywheel’s Path: Once your goal is set, outline each step of the flywheel in
    sequential order, ensuring it forms a complete loop. Check if every step logically connects to the next, creating a tight, continuous cycle. 
  3. Streamline and Optimize: Now, scrutinize each part of the process. Eliminate or combine steps to reduce redundancy and friction. The goal is to create a smooth, obstacle-free process. 
  4. Monitor and Measure Performance: Finally, track the performance of each cycle. Observe which parts of the flywheel spin freely and which might be slowing things down. Take note of completion rates and where drop-offs occur to understand what’s effective and what needs improvement.

Remember, the key to a successful flywheel lies in detailed planning and continuous analysis. If you meticulously design each step and continuously evaluate its performance, you’ll create a flywheel that saves you time and money, all while driving your business forward.

Some final words of advice

Remember the secret is grinding out small, focused optimizations at a relentless pace. 

Test. Learn. Tweak. Repeat. Do this at hyper-speed, and these small improvements to your flywheels will bring huge results.

Don’t fall for the trap that to build your business you just have to keep cranking on that old hand pump. 

Work smarter, build a flywheel, and life gets easier. 

  • Nathan Barry

    In previous careers Nathan has been a designer, author, and blogger. After learning the power of email marketing he gave up a successful blogging career to build ConvertKit. Outside of work Nathan spends his time playing soccer, woodworking, and chasing after his three boys.

    View all posts

Join Our Newsletter "Tales From The Tub"

Stay updated on some of the strategies, highlights, and adventures that are going down amongst this tight-knit group of entrepreneurs.