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How to build your business so it grows quickly – but is also sustainable
When we think about successful startups or small businesses, we think about companies that create massive growth in a short period of time. In fact, many people think of “hockey stick growth” – where there is an initial period of linear growth, but once the business hits an inflection point, revenue shoots up sharply.
But while that kind of growth may be the long-term goal for any startup, entrepreneurs often place their focus on achieving it right away and lose focus on what matters. The problem with that sort of tunnel vision is that it diminishes the importance of the period of linear growth that comes before the rising handle of the hockey stick – that is, the blade. The blade typically lasts about three to four years, and it is where the most important work is being done.
The blade period is where you establish your core values, your company culture and your brand identity. It’s also where you will develop the client experience you want to provide and create the initial business model when you take your product or service to market. In short, it’s the make-or-break period of any business.
Scaling a business is not easy to do, which is why it should be done as thoughtfully and meticulously as possible. Because in the long run, when you do hit that surging growth curve, you need as solid of a foundation as possible to hold you up. Here are the most important things to keep in mind when figuring out how to scale your business in a mindful manner.
Know your purpose
Scaling a business is reliant on creating customer loyalty. The best way to create customer loyalty? Focus on employee loyalty first so they can spread the word and pass their enthusiasm for your company on to those they serve. Employees are loyal to companies whose purpose and values align with their own so they can feel their careers have a higher purpose. Scaling your business will ultimately fail if you don’t first start with your “why” of going into business in the first place. Knowing your purpose and successfully communicating that to your team is the way to make them raving fans of your company and drive growth in an organic manner.
Develop a business map
Most entrepreneurs have a business plan, but have you thought about developing a business map? Business maps are an effective, comprehensive way for meeting your company’s goals and scaling your business. Creating a business map prompts you to ask questions such as: What business are you really in? What was your reason for getting into this business in the first place?
Business maps encourage and challenge you to look at where you came from, define your purpose for starting this business and look ahead: What’s next for your business and where does your company ideally end up? Having this sort of documentation of your goals is a crucial part of how to scale your business and will be a helpful reference for when times get tough.
Perfect your product or service
With their focus on massive growth, many business owners forget to ensure that their product or service is solid. They often figure that they will just fix it after getting more users or more distribution. However, if you don’t work out the kinks and get rid of the bugs now, they will only get worse when you are scaling a business. The early years of your business is a time to listen to feedback, find issues and improve your offerings until they meet your customers’ expectations. When you focus on creating a product or service that is of excellent quality, many of your growth issues will take care of themselves. Working on the issues in your first version also helps you assume more control when you scale your business because you will have a deeper understanding of what you and your customers want and need your product or service to be.
Create thoughtful processes and operations
How to scale a business doesn’t just involve growing upward and outward – it also means ensuring that your internal processes and operations are functioning seamlessly. The last thing you want is to start losing customers you’ve worked so hard to acquire because some part of your infrastructure is weak. While perfecting processes, keep in mind that some of the systems and processes that work when your company is in its early stages won’t work on a massive scale. This is where adaptability and flexibility come in, as you may need to tweak processes as you grow. Establishing a framework of what works and keeps your business running smoothly in the early years is key to scaling a business because it forms a solid core. While you can always improve on this core as growth occurs, it’s much more difficult to go back and create it once you’ve grown past a certain level.
Establish your team
It may seem obvious that you have to establish a strong team if you want to scale your business – you can’t handle everything on your own. Developing a management team that is flexible and can grow with your business is an important component when it comes to learning how to scale your business.
Your team is not just about your employees, though. To scale a business in a sustainable way, you must work on developing external relationships with suppliers, partners and other outside organizations who will be part of your overall growth.
One of the best things about operating a small business is the ability to establish intimate relationships with your customers. You get to give them the experience that you want from beginning to end. And the goal should always be to create a raving fan – someone who will be a staunch advocate for your brand and help you scale your business by spreading the word.
Remember, the community that you create around your business can bolster your foundation so that you have even more strength and leverage as you grow. So take the time to really build the “team” that will propel you into the future.
Learn when to delegate
If you’ve built a strong team, you should have enough trust in them to delegate many important tasks so you can work “on” the business instead of “in” it. However, as a business owner, you want to feel like you’re involved in every aspect of your company and will sometimes have a hard time letting go in certain areas. If you really want to learn how to scale your business, you must delegate tasks to those on your team. What are you doing that someone else could handle?
Don’t trade your time for dollars. Your business has to be able to run itself and thrive even when you’re not there. Do this by addressing limiting beliefs such as “If I want something done right, I have to do it myself” and by establishing delegation habits that allow you to own your time.
Build your brand
To successfully scale a business, you need to learn who you are as a company and what you offer your customers. How do you compare to the competition? What do you have that no one else does? What are your biggest weaknesses? What makes you so powerful? What is your message? How do you disrupt your industry?
It could take years to answer these questions, but you can at least start with a basic framework and build from there. Smaller businesses have the benefit of being able to shift gears more readily than larger corporations. So if there is a need for a new approach, use that as an opportunity to innovate and adapt.
Remember, your brand will also set the tone for your company’s culture as you scale your business. It will set the standard for how you make your hires and will help you establish the kind of client experience you want. It will impact marketing, sales and design efforts, and it will influence the kind of company you ultimately become.
Work on your networking skills
“No man is an island,” and this is even more true in the case of entrepreneurs who are scaling a business. You must develop and cultivate a vast network of colleagues, business coaches, resources and mentors who can connect you to the right people and ensure you continue to grow. Attend regular business networking functions in your city or join an industry-related group that offers continuing education and connections to other professionals. Get involved in personal or business coaching and reach out to those who have been in business longer than you to see if they are willing to connect and possibly become your mentor. Scaling your business is not a solitary task. The more people you have on your side, the more successful you will be.
Continue adapting and innovating
If you’ve hit a plateau, it might feel like scaling your business is impossible. The truth is, scaling is never impossible, but you may need to change what you’re doing if you want to scale successfully. When was the last time your business focused on innovation? When did you last assess the things holding your company back and tackle them head-on? In business – and in life – if you’re not growing, you’re dying. Don’t change things at your company just for the sake of change – when you strategically align your choices with your ultimate purpose, scaling your business will come easily. Take the time and do it right. Adopt a winning mindset, but be mindful as you do so. Remember that massive growth is one thing, but it’s sustainable growth that makes for a lasting company.
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