When entrepreneurs talk about scaling, they're referring to the art of profitably growing a business. Coming up with a trailblazing idea for a product or service is only part of the battle; the other, more difficult part involves introducing that idea to others so successfully that they reward your efforts with their hard-earned cash.
Scaling a business is an arduous, complex, and exciting process, and there's no one-size-fits-all approach to progress. In my experience, however, there are certain fundamentals that will reliably amplify your efforts--with plenty of patience and practice:
1. Be wise with your money.
A friend of mine once opened a small business with his wife. They had created some products for a vendor at Comic-Con that sold really well, and they decided to strike out on their own and market the stuff themselves.
They were talented, smart, and disciplined. They built a cool website and networked like crazy with local artists and influencers. After borrowing $5K in seed money, they began setting up shop at popular festivals and building an impressive customer email list.
And then they blew it. When a t-shirt they designed sold out in a few hours, they decided that t-shirts were the way to go and invested the bulk of their seed money in a line of them. In my friend's words, "We soon learned that it's not wise to build your budget around one successful experience that may or may not have been a fluke."
In their case, it was. Their $20 t-shirts were admired and exclaimed over but largely remained unpurchased, while items like postcards and posters--which cost pennies to produce--flew off the shelves.
Startups--whether you're talking about VC-funded tech companies or mom and pop stores--have a worrying tendency to spend money as soon as they raise it. It's an exciting time, and it's easy to take risks when your bank account is full.
I speak from sad experience when I say that those funds will shrink faster than you can imagine if you're not careful. Be thrifty, realize that caution is as crucial as confidence, and invest in growth opportunities that you've vetted thoroughly.
2. Establish your voice.
You've worked hard to become an authority in your vertical, so why not share your wisdom with others? You'll raise your public profile as you do so, and impress and attract potential investors and clients to boot.
Blogging is a popular and inexpensive place to start. Don't worry about changing the world with your first few posts; make it a personal project, something you add to on a daily or weekly basis as inspiration strikes.
My company's blog gives me a chance to speak directly to small business owners about subjects that impact their welfare in a big way. Quora, LinkedIn, and Medium provide venues with built-in audiences and allow you to experiment with style and content without spending a lot of money.
3. Network, network, network.
Entrepreneurs can never have too many entrepreneurial friends. They'll help you out of tight spots, impart wisdom and advice, and point you toward much-needed business opportunities.
When I opened a sign repair company as a young man, I systematically reached out to everyone I could think of in my industry. I'm an introvert by nature and found the process exceedingly painful. But it saved my bacon more than once, and schmoozing with allies and competitors alike helped me develop and hone invaluable people skills--skills that I now use on a daily basis.
I felt some of the awesome power of networking early on when I put in a bid for a very lucrative contract with a car dealership consortium. I took the extra step of personally reaching out to a guy at the dealership, and a simple, friendly exchange was enough to secure his contact information along with an invitation to chat in the future.
I didn't win the bid, and I phoned my new contact to ask why. He looked at my file for me and told me that the guys who won the bid had pulled my business credit report and discovered some information that, while erroneous, made me look like a risky investment nevertheless.
I lost that particular battle, but I won the war in that I was able to 1) fix a problem with the credit bureaus that I would have otherwise remained ignorant of, and 2) wake up to the vital role that credit plays in growing a healthy business. None of it would have happened if I hadn't known who to call.