Scaling is a scary proposition for any small business.
On the one hand, it means you’re doing great! New customers are flooding in. Profits are on the rise. On the other hand, all that success means big changes are right around the corner.
You’ll have to hire new employees to support your increased business. You’ll have to update and upgrade your processes, workflows, and strategies to make sure things keep running smoothly.
It’s a massive undertaking, one that requires everyone to be aligned on what your objectives are and what the best strategy is to achieve them. There will inevitably be some growing pains, especially when it comes to stripping out old infrastructure and replacing it with shiny new communications and productivity systems.
So yes, successfully scaling a business is never easy. But fortunately, with the right preparation and technology, it’s far from impossible.
When is the right time to scale your business?
There is no universal starting line for scaling your business. One company might be ready for growth after just a few months. Another might take a slower, grassroots approach and spend years in local markets before suddenly exploding across the country.
Instead of thinking about company growth in terms of months or years, instead focus on tangible signs that it’s the right time.
For instance, one of the first indications it’s time to scale up is that you’re becoming too successful for your own good. It feels like you’re pushing the limits of what your current workflows, technology, and team can handle on a daily basis. The sales or contracts keep rolling in, but you’re already starting to feel the pressure.
There are many reasons you might experience a massive but short-lived increase in demand. But if they keep happening, or the influx of new business just keeps rising – it’s time to put together a scaling plan.
Here’s our top tips on how to do exactly that.
1. Focus on the business you want to be tomorrow
The key to sustainably growing a business is to stay one step ahead of your own success.
Don't base decisions on where you are today. Today’s over. You already won. Instead, always be thinking about where you want to be tomorrow – and the next day, and the next month, and the next year.
Without defined objectives, it’s all too easy to waste momentum and misallocate resources. Unexpectedly becoming a $100 million company with a $10 million mindset is great at first, but quickly sputters out. Meanwhile, being a $10 million company already strategizing like a $100 million company helps you pave each step of that path as you go.
Take a deep dive into your business financials, processes, and technology to see if you’re ready for growth. This also needs to include a detailed sales growth forecast with expected new customers, orders and revenue. The more specific you are, the better your planning can be – and the more likely you are to scale successfully.
Always remember that expenses will go up. It’s unavoidable. What matters is how well you anticipate those costs and how effectively you handle them.
2. Invest in better technology
As your company scales, it becomes increasingly important to automate and streamline your processes. Automation helps you run your business more efficiently, and at a lower cost, by reducing the manual effort required to perform tasks.
For instance: Let’s say your team are rockstars at handling customer support calls (which I’m sure they are). That quality of service and personal attention becomes much harder to maintain once your business takes off.
With a unified communications system, you can dynamically route callers to the correct departments and even provide fully-automated assistance for basic questions.
Of course, increased automation is just one example of how improved technology helps you scale your business quickly. Systems integration and data management are also key to growing your small business into a global enterprise.
As you probably know by now, modern companies can’t run on a single technology platform. They need communications, billing, HR management, support, sales, industry-specific systems, etc. That’s a lot to manage, especially when they all need to talk with each other and share information effectively.
Don’t wait until your business has already outgrown your infrastructure. Start looking into what technology you’ll need now so your team is prepared and your workflows are already streamlined by the time you need to upgrade.
3. Always, always focus on making your customers happy
When scaling your business, acquiring new customers is a top priority. But even more importantly, you have to keep your current customers happy. There are two main reasons for this:
- You can’t actually grow if your poor service starts losing customers as quickly as you’re gaining them.
- Happy customers are your best source of marketing.
That first point is pretty self-explanatory, so let’s focus on the second.
When your customers are happy, they let other people know through reviews, referrals, and best of all – personal recommendations. What makes personal recommendations the holy grail of organic marketing?
A study from Nielsen on advertising, media, and peer recommendations found that a ridiculous 92% of consumers around the world trust personal recommendations and consumer opinions from friends and family above all other forms of advertising.
Your priorities and processes will change as you scale. Numerous new problems and opportunities will compete for your attention. Stay focused on your core values and make sure you’re always providing the best products and experiences possible for your customers.
4. Hire the right people at the right times
Having the right people in the right positions can often make or break a growing business. Yes, it’s essential to add experience and skills. But you also have to build a team wholly committed to your success. When everyone gets along and priorities are in sync, even the hard work is a whole lot easier.
For your business to grow, you obviously need new customers. To acquire those new customers, you’ll have to hire more marketers and salespeople to run more campaigns and close more deals.
Then you’ll need to hire more support agents to keep all those new customers happy, more billing specialists to keep the spreadsheets in order, more managers to oversee your growing operation… You get the picture.
Take the time to assess every department for skill gaps or potential openings before you start scaling. That way, you’ll know exactly who you’re looking for as needs arise and budget becomes available. Having a candidate with specific experience in mind also lets you spend more time ensuring they would be a great personality and culture fit.
One last staffing side note before we move on. When your company is small, there’s always the urge to try and get the most bang for your buck – to focus on younger employees who don’t cost much up front and can grow along with the business.
In many cases, this is a great strategy! However, especially when it’s time to scale, hiring industry veterans who have done this all before can pay off massively down the road.
5. Learn from your biggest competitors
The goal of every aspiring young business is to disrupt the big fish of their industry and take over the pond. As backwards as it sounds, the first step towards dethroning your bigger competitors is… learning to be just like them.
Look into their history to see both how they’ve successfully grown and what mistakes they made along the way.
Do a deep dive into their products and services to identify gaps you could exploit or future offerings you can add.
If possible, study when they added key staff and how many employees they had at different milestones.
The point of all this (admittedly sometimes quite dry) research isn’t to copy your competitors. The point is to acquire a detailed, intimate understanding of what they do well so someday you can do it even better.
Have more questions about how to successfully scale your small business? Want to see what FluentStream can do to improve your productivity and save you money? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 303-GO-CLOUD and selecting Option 1.