You may be among the 70 percent of startups that find scalability to be a struggle, especially when considering how to prepare your team, infrastructure, and systems for future growth. Overhiring to accommodate theoretical future business isn't typically an option, and improper prep can leave your employees ill-equipped to handle an ever-increasing workload. Yet never setting a plan for future growth means that your business will likely never grow at all.
Hopeful business owners often imagine a period of rapid growth to be the point where they've "made it," but reality generally involves juggling even more tasks and putting out even more fires, faster. Startups and small businesses tend to have poorly defined business processes in place, so when they're pushed to the limit, orders get misplaced, customer service is overwhelmed, and the growth turns out to be a curse rather than a blessing.
The thing is, growing a business and scaling it are two different matters. Growth requires adding resources to process additional sources of revenue. For instance, if you manufacture computer processors, you need to buy more equipment and hire more employees to create more units. Scaling, on the other hand, means processing exponentially more revenue at an incrementally increased cost -- upgrading your existing machines so they can create processors faster and with the same labor requirement.
Scaling is important because it offers the capacity to quickly improve margins, but it's not always as easy as upgrading a machine's capability. If you're looking to scale -- and your business is ready -- the following tips can help:
1. Don't overspend on expertise.
One of the biggest areas where businesses must invest if they want to scale is in marketing. Unfortunately, finding a full-time CMO can cost a fortune. According to Payscale, Inc., the median pay range for hiring a full-time CMO is $164,000.
A robust marketing strategy is essential to scaling your business, but consider outsourcing to an agency that can accomplish the work of a CMO without the hefty salary. Companies such as Trailblaze Growth Advisors or Hawke Media can help you create effective, high-level marketing strategies without the exorbitant cost of filling a full-time C-suite position. A team is also likely to bring a breadth of expertise greater than hiring an individual could.
2. Invest in automation technology to keep your hiring needs to a minimum.
Infinite growth would require endlessly expanding your employee base to meet demands. Scaling is about finding ways to perform the same work more efficiently and at a lower cost. According to the automation platform vendor Resolve Systems, "Automating the validation, diagnostics, and resolution of events to minimize incident volume is critical when scaling a business because the more customers you have, the more issues you have across that growing network." Also, automation options can streamline employee workflow to accommodate rising client demands without needlessly inflating your team.
3. Consider an affiliate program for more organic lead generation.
A great way to augment the efforts of your sales team is by incentivizing affiliates to draw more traffic toward your products or services. Since affiliates are paid only a nominal fee for each click back to your offering, it's a much easier investment to justify than another full-time sales rep. Affiliate program management agencies like Acceleration Partners simplify the process for both the affiliates and the brand, providing a performance-based framework that truly incentivizes everyone to create the strongest possible relationship.
Acquiring new customers can be cost-prohibitive, especially for businesses that are trying to scale. Letting affiliates do some of the heavy lifting can free up capital for other critical areas of your business.
4. Look into investor partnerships or startup studios to acquire extra capital.
Even with a range of cost-cutting measures, scaling still requires additional capital, and bootstrapping your way through the process can delay growth for years. Instead, seek out an investor partnership with an organization that is encouraged by your plans but isn't looking to wrest control from you.
While you don't want investors who are trying to take the wheel, an experienced partner or a startup studio can help mentor a business as it scales. Look for someone with a proven track record in your field or industry, and you'll get more than just the extra capital.
Scaling a business requires a well-constructed plan designed to improve efficiency without emptying the coffers. There's nothing wrong with growth, but don't mistake it for scaling -- proper scaling is the key to turning a mildly profitable business into a runaway success.