Every business aims for growth. Once you hit that first mark and sales boom, it’s all upwards from there, right? But if you’re not prepared for it, growth can actually be incredibly risky and even detrimental to your enterprise.
Wearing many hats is already a major challenge for small businesses. When you’re suddenly met with a demand for managerial and operational changes, plus a huge weight has shifted to your staff, it’s all too easy to lose the thread of your own operations. In order to prevent that from happening, you have to ensure you have a sound growth strategy and a system to help you handle unexpected expansion. We’ve rounded up five key points to get you on the right track.
Plan the stepping stones
Companies largely focus on their long-term goals, which focus on an ideal vision further down the line, and their short-term goals, which focus on immediate strategy and improvement. Rarely anyone plans for the in-between period as they expect it to be just the timeframe where business is “as usual” and they work steadily towards the long-term vision. But that’s how unexpected growth can hit you like a ton of bricks, and you’re suddenly left in a frenzy of short-term goals to fill the leaks in your strategy.
Instead, build a growth strategy by defining your goals for this in-between period. It’s best to space them as 3-5 year milestones which serve to propel you towards your long-term vision. And when you’re contemplating these goals, reflect on the possibility of rapid growth and how it will affect your current resources (both human and financial) and operations.
When you think and plan in this way, you’ll be able to build a certain level of flexibility into your operations and systems so that you’re able to snap right into it when you begin to scale – even if it’s sooner than you expected.
Don’t lose sight of the customer experience you’re delivering
In regards to the previous point – you want your entire system to work like a well-oiled machine to ensure your customers stay satisfied.
Of course, it can’t all be perfect from the beginning. But when you see sales accelerating, you want to shift all your focus to your operational structure to ensure that you continue building quality products and delivering them in time with the expected quality of service. It gets staggering with rapid growth, so you have to go back and tweak your back-end support systems to keep up with the new conditions.
Make sure your operations are structured to handle the demands of customers – from the creation of the product to its delivery. Rely on automation where possible, re-examine your order and delivery system, and outsource wherever you need to in order to handle growing demand. But while a logical strategy such as customer service automation improves operational efficiency, you want to make sure that you automate carefully so you don’t lose that personal touch. Make things work so that this newfound glory doesn’t get you drifting away from your customers.
Watch the finances
A growing business needs specific financial management. When faced with rapid expansion, you’ll need to think about refinancing or borrowing money, collecting outstanding debts, channeling your finances to operational changes, and a myriad of other things. Don’t hesitate to get help (you’ll certainly need it) and stay grounded by focusing on:
- Fully understanding your cash flow and precisely how it has changed
- Budget redefinitions and evaluating the cost of things such as equipment purchases to suit demand
- Creating a necessary budget for operational changes
- Planning for the cost of staff and new hires
Be ready to let go of the things that simply don’t work anymore
You’ll have to let go of old systems and things that are just slowing you down. Time is of the essence now, so think as a minimalist: what can you subtract in order to make everything work better? Maybe you’ll need to shorten your meetings in order to make them more efficient, outsource a large portion of your tasks, or get rid of your least profitable product. Maybe you’ll also need to rethink your marketing strategy and get rid of the customer segments which are driving the least value so you can focus on those segments which will help you drive sustainable growth.
The point is to relieve your staff of tedious tasks, maximize efficiency so you can handle the immense changes thrown at you, and create a space where you can altogether focus on what’s important.
Focus on your staff and leadership
We’ll save the most important factor for last. In order to stand a chance at handling rapid growth, you need to focus on your leadership skills and have the right team around you. Be flexible and keen to learn, and don’t expect any less from your staff, so make sure you’re building the right company culture and encouraging open communication. You’ll be facing new hires to meet the growing demand, but before you start picking the best people to fill the new positions, make sure your current team is ready to evolve with you.
Too often do we see small businesses propelled to fame only to have the quality of their products, service, and delivery completely diminished because they can’t keep up with the colossal demands of growth. That makes for unhappy customers, and so growth turns into degradation. But with the right people and leadership, you’ll be able to build this ship as it sails towards new horizons. Think ahead, be adaptable with your systems and operations, keep your customers satisfied, and you’ll be able to get a hold of your own success.