Launching a business can be a terrifying thing. Most of the time the risks are huge, and but the only guarantee is a whole lot of hard work and time away from family.
But, you know what? A successful business that is rapidly growing is no walk in the park either. In fact, it can be just as scary as launching one. Suddenly, a growing number of people are depending on you, and just when everything might be taking off, you're faced with the very real question of, "Can I keep up?"
I lived through all of this a decade ago when building Infusionsoft. It taught me several lessons that can be applied to any entrepreneur whose business is exiting the startup phase and moving straight into high growth. Here are seven steps to growing your startup the right way.
1. Stay true to the core purpose
When scaling your business, never take your eye off of what got you there in the first place. Stay true to your vision, and make sure everyone else does too. The decisions you make during this time of rapid growth need to connect back to why you started your company in the first place.
2. Develop a new mission
Although you're sticking to a core purpose, you'll need to chart a very clear course for the future. Map out your goals and assign a timeline, so you know exactly what you need to achieve after one quarter, one year and so on. Every employee at Infusionsoft has a copy of what we call the "Everest Mission"--the mission that has guided us for nine years now. We will complete our Everest Mission in 2016 and will be introducing a new mission that will take us through the year 2030. By asking every team member to work toward very specific milestones, we are able to grow in an intentional way. When creating a mission for your company, make sure mission goals are measurable so you know which activities and initiatives will deliver the desired results.
3. Be very picky with new opportunities
As your company's stature grows, expect a slew of opportunities at your doorstep. Most of them won't be worth it.
This is the time to stay focused on your customers and wow them at every opportunity. It can be easy to get distracted from your customers with all these new opportunities coming your way, but remember, if you don't have customers, you don't have a business. Spending time and energy on opportunities that don't align with your customers' needs is just a distraction.
4. Focus on cash in the door
As your company grows quickly, invest in sales and marketing strategies that will continue to pay off over time. Seek out partnerships and systems that will produce for years to come, not just one-off deals for the sake of a quick buck.
5. Get your priorities straight
Here's where things get tricky: During a period of rapid growth, we know how important it is to stay true to the company's vision. But it's more complicated than that. Founders and CEOs need to have an ability to step back and get the overall lay of the land. Things can change rapidly, and it's very important to evaluate whether the way you spend your time is aligned with your ultimate purpose. Do the goals you originally outlined still serve your company, and are you and your team spending time and resources on the things that will enable you to achieve your goals?
6. Get everyone behind your vision
Reach out to your staff, partners and customers, and invite them to share in your vision. People love to play on the winning team, and if your company is taking off, use the positive momentum to your advantage. For example, each year Infusionsoft hosts a small business conference that brings together thousands of customers and partners to share small business success stories. It's an invigorating experience and so many people walk away with a desire to be part of your company's success.
7. Hire, train (and fire) to your vision
Every person you hire will either strengthen or weaken your culture. That's a tough lesson to learn, but deep down we all know it's true. Consider applicants in terms of their personality and fit, and train them through an onboarding experience that reflects your culture. Look for contributors who are motivated both by the company purpose and a genuine enjoyment of what they do. On the flip side, you can't be afraid to fire people based on patterns of violating your company's values or poor performance. As difficult as it may seem at the time, there's no doubt your company will be better for it in the long run.
Guiding a company through a period of rapid growth comes with a slew of challenges, but the lessons above will help you be prepared. In time, you won't be worried about growing a startup--you'll be running a large company.