Want to Grow Fast? Then Slow Down
Every entrepreneur wants their company to grow, and grow fast. But this is a classic case of "be careful what you wish for."
Admittedly, fast growth is a nice problem to have--Avondale is a twice-listed Inc. 500 company and the fastest-growing professional services firm in the U.S. We've gone from a five-person start-up to a 30-person, international organization. But we've had our bumps along the way. We've found that we actually grow faster when we refocus on a few key priorities. We've learned that sometimes you need to slow down to grow fast.
One of the keys to our current growth trajectory has been "strategic retrenching." By pushing too hard to grow too fast in too many directions, we have ended up inhibiting our growth. One benefit of running a smaller company is the ability to take advantage of your nimbleness to venture in new directions. But if you choose too many paths or stretch into ventures that are far from your core business, it opens you up to failing at all of your endeavors.
Last year was a case in point. We started the year firing on all cylinders. We had long-term partnerships with a series of companies that were right in our sweet spot: helping companies grow a small business into a big business. Responding to this growth, we went on a hiring spree and attracted some great talent (another nice problem to have). But as we brought on the new people, rather than have them focus on serving our existing business (ostensibly why we hired them), we branched into new efforts that leveraged our new hires' varying backgrounds. We rapidly kicked off a series of brand-new ventures that were related to but not focused on our current client base and required investments of time and money.
The result was less success, rather than more. The team was working harder, not smarter, and the more time and resources we invested in the new initiatives, the further away the return moved. Additionally, our core business was beginning to plateau--we were still moving in the right direction, but at a slower rate.
After a tough look in the mirror, we realized that we were spread too thin and rather than doing a few things well, we were doing a lot of things just okay. We changed course and refocused the full team on a few things that we had the bandwidth to accomplish quickly.
Within a quarter, this refocused strategy produced huge results. We retained and reinvested in our existing book of business, landed two new partnerships in our core business and closed a partnership deal in our principal investing business. All it took was slowing down and concentrating our top-notch team on achieving a few key priorities.
Being nimble is a huge advantage of small, growing companies, but there's an art to choosing which new opportunities to chase, how and when. When we move into our next growth initiative, we'll make sure we take it slowly.
Send us your questions on managing your growth trajectory. We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
KARL STARK AND BILL STEWART | Columnist | Co-founders, Avondale
Karl Stark and Bill Stewart are managing directors and co-founders of Avondale, a strategic advisory firm focused on growing companies. Avondale, based in Chicago, is a high-growth company itself and is a two-time Inc. 500 honoree.