The 3 critical growth stages every SME should understand

In life, change is constant. In business, planning for it will be critical to your success. And while change can be challenging (and painful!), if it’s anticipated and well-managed, it can be a rewarding and transformative process and result in innovations, improvements, and growth.

To help you avoid some often-hazardous business growth pitfalls, I’ve channelled my twenty years’ experience in executive sales and strategic marketing roles into the following important milestones.

Getting Started

Make sure you have a market! Sounds obvious, right? Test your market with a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), i.e. the quickest and least expensive thing you can do to see whether people will pay money for what you are offering.

Give yourself sufficient runway to be successful. Don’t start a business when you can’t invest the necessary time or money to get it off the ground. Entrepreneurialism should be celebrated, but sheer enthusiasm is not going to guarantee success.

Too many start-ups believe that their idea is so great that the business will take off as soon as it is launched. Your product or service won’t sell itself. You should be prepared to get out there and sell your business.

Preparing To Scale

As the founder, initially you will do all the work including; sales, marketing, product development, finance, and legal, etc. But as your business grows, you will discover your limitations. It’s important to recognise these; for example, you might be very good at coding, but may find you are lousy at finance.

You will then need to hire staff or engage contractors, a process which brings with it its own set of challenges. Get this step right and you can set up your business on a growth trajectory. Get it wrong and your business may suffer, along with your reputation.

Before employing any new staff, you should be very clear about what type of help (and how much of it) you need. Understand exactly how you can support their success, because their success is your success, and pay careful attention to your business culture. It will follow you around.

‘Letting Go’ To Empower Business Growth

Every growing business will need to reinvent itself at some stage. It’s generally agreed that for a business employing up to a maximum of around one hundred staff, its owner can continue to run it like a family concern.

Indeed this is one of the many unique qualities that makes running a small business so rewarding: an owner who knows every employee’s personal and family circumstances, even birthdays and anniversaries, and bases his or her management style on personal familiarity.

Go beyond 100 staff, though, and it becomes impossible for one person to remember the personal circumstances of each employee. It’s at this stage that the business will require more specific organisational structures, management and business processes, delegations of authority, and KPIs, all of which necessitate the moving of the founder or owner away from the ‘front line’.

This is a critical point: the business owner needs to accept and embrace this change to enable the business to thrive. He or she may not like no longer being involved in every aspect of the business. The temptation may be to ‘check in’ with people, inadvertently micro-managing one minute before disappearing to ‘check in’ on another part of the business. Interventions like this can confuse staff and undermine managers’ authority.

At this stage, as a business owner you need to relinquish control to the people you have appointed as your managers. Don’t be tempted to ‘help out’. If you must, make sure you’re not undermining someone else’s authority by checking with them first. Lastly, keep your emotions in check! Accept – indeed relish – that the business is no longer your baby; it is all grown up and you are no longer a small business owner. You are a CEO.

Reaping The Rewards

Running a business is not easy. It can be immensely satisfying but will also be hard work. The better prepared you are for the inevitable ups and downs, the better outcomes you can expect for your business. Never be too proud to ask for advice. Seek it early and often from people you trust and admire,  and listen to it.

 

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Peter Strohkorb is the founder and CEO of Peter Strohkorb Consulting www.peterstrohkorbconsulting.com

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