As an entrepreneur, it is an incredible feeling when your small business begins to succeed. Suddenly sales are up, business is booming. It is a thrilling time.
But it’s also one of the most dangerous times for a start-up.
In the entrepreneurial space, rapid growth is rarely all good news. It opens up opportunities for cash flow problems, overblown expenses and overly-optimistic sales projections. It can also introduce inefficiencies in business operations and management that might see you micromanaging when you should be looking at the big picture. Flying by the seat of your pants may have worked great when you were a small team of ultra-dedicated superstars with skin in the game. It might not work so great when you have a big team of employees.
But you can manage rapid growth by keeping in mind one simple factor: people.
Your customers as people
Customer service must be front of mind. All the time.
Customers pay your bills. Customers buy your products and your services. Customers are the reason your business is alive. And behind every customer is a real live person.
Keep them happy.
Successful small businesses often create their point of difference by providing stellar, personalised customer service. And with a small, dedicated team, a core of loyal customers and a flexible management style, it’s easy to be responsive.
But rapid growth makes providing this level of customer service extremely difficult. When sales are up and your business is expanding, it’s easy to get sloppy and let your customer service fall flat. New team members may not be as invested and management may be less hands-on, meaning solutions aren’t as quick or flexible. And as customers increase, it’s also easy to fall into the trap of catering to new customers, while leaving your old ones to become dissatisfied.
As your business grows, it is imperative that you scale your customer service to keep up with the increased demand. Add to your team as necessary. Create social media feedback loops. Make sure that you are responding to all comments, both negative and positive.
Yes it is time-consuming, yes it will use resources, but keeping your customers happy is the key to ensuring that your business can survive the rapid growth stage.
Your employees as people
Hire the right people for your needs and your culture.
When a company is small, there is usually a tight group of people who understand and help manage every aspect of the business. Typically these people also have some personal interest in seeing the business succeed (beyond a paycheque), which keeps them focussed and working hard. And it keeps personalities in check.
When your business expands rapidly, you will, at times, be forced to hire new team members quickly. You will need people with specific skills and knowledge, and you will probably need them now. But at the same time, the ‘fit’ of the people you hire remains essential. You’ve built your company with culture, and it’s important that you maintain it.
To find great additional talent in a short timeframe, tap into your current employee base. Great people usually know great people. Get your employees involved by having them participate in the hiring process. Get their feedback, and use it. And as much as you can, don’t rush hiring decisions. Take your time to find someone with the key skills and characteristics that embody your business needs and your company culture.
Training also becomes increasingly important with rapid growth. When processes and technology change, your team needs the training necessary to work with those new systems. Expecting staff to ‘figure it out’ may have worked when you were a team of three, but it certainly won’t as more people come onboard.
Choose your team wisely and give them the tools they need to be successful and your company will benefit as well.
Your management team as people
Surround yourself with smart, forward-thinking people
Henry Ford famously told a group of lawyers, ‘Why should I clutter up my mind with general knowledge, for the purpose of being able to answer questions, when I have men around me who can supply any knowledge I require?’
As an entrepreneur, it is tempting to be all things, all the time. Yes, the ultimate decisions about running the business fall to you. But that doesn’t mean that you can (or should) have all the answers yourself.
Great leaders know the value of surrounding themselves with people who are experts and thought leaders. This frees you up to focus on guiding your business as a whole, rather than being bogged down by the day-to-day minutia – especially important when you are facing risks associated with rapid growth.
Look for an experienced data analyst who can take the increasing amount of data being generated and give you deeper insights into what it means for your company. This kind of analysis can help you highlight buying patterns, bottlenecks in processes or kinks in your supply systems, for example.
Get a great accountant and consult them regularly, not just at tax times. Accountants have data not just about your business, but businesses like yours, and can help you recognise your financial strengths and weaknesses and provide advice on how to use those to your advantage.
Onboard a tech whiz who can put the right technology in place. You may need solutions to rapid-growth problems that you haven’t even considered – things like internet storage solutions, cloud-based applications and customer service chatbots. You need to have a clear vision of what your business needs while scaling to meet growth.
Find a seasoned administrator and a human resources expert. Getting bigger means you need to get more organised and fast. These areas will explode in line with rapid growth, and you can’t (and shouldn’t) manage everything.
Finally, enlist the help of an experienced mentor. Yes, you are smart and talented, and your business is a huge success. Put aside your ego and get help to keep it that way. Rapid growth in a company can be extremely volatile. Having a mentor who can help you recognise the signs of potential problems cannot be underestimated.
From management to employees, to customers, people are the heart and soul of your business. Making sure you keep your focus on your people will help you manage the pitfalls of rapid growth, ensuring you can continue to deliver the exemplary products or services your company is known for.