They don't call it "launching" a business for nothing: the early days of a company really are like a rocket launch, with roughly 80 percent of the fuel burned simply to get the rocket into orbit. After that, it will create its own trajectory and travel…who knows how far?
To get from launch to limitless trajectory, entrepreneurs need to make the right moves to ensure that the business can scale at a sustainable pace, says Jim Canfield, CEO of Renaissance Executive Forums, a La Jolla, California-based membership organization for small to mid-sized businesses, focused on helping them grow. “That early stage is like the lift-off of the rocket. It’s going to be violent. It’s going to be loud. It’s going to be intense. The key is to get through it and create a successful orbit,” he says.
But when you’re a time-strapped business owner who is racing to keep pace with fast growth, it can be difficult to know the right actions to take to ensure your business can adapt to the new demands placed on it. By taking six important actions, you can identify areas that need attention and ensure that your business is ready to grow.
Look for bottlenecks
As your business grows, look for areas where things aren’t running smoothly or are delayed. Bottlenecks are often a clue that something needs to be addressed, says Atlanta business consultant Tiffany C. Wright, founder of The Resourceful CEO™ and author of The Funding Is Out There! Access the Cash You Need to Impact Your Business. You may need more employees, better systems, outsourcing partners, automation or other solutions to support growth and keep operations running well, she says.
Hire for the company you want to have
All too often, startups tap friends and family members to fill key positions in the company, Canfield says. However, as your company grows, you’re going to need people who have specific expertise in management, operations, human resources, sales and other areas. As you being to add people, hire them based on what they can contribute to the company’s long-term growth. After all, you don’t want to outgrow the skill set of your new hire in a year or two and have to look for someone else to fill the job.
Ask for feedback
Collect as much input as you can from customers to gain insights into their changing needs, so you can anticipate how your business will need to change next, she says. Similarly, you may need to move your operations to a space where your company can grow or redistribute responsibilities across personnel. If you’re staying informed and looking at the immediate and long-term needs of your business, you will be able to anticipate important changes and prepare to make them, Wright says.
Embrace necessary change
Growing well requires change. Although it sounds counterintuitive, the very business model, products and services that led to your company’s fast growth may need to change as the organization grows, Wright says. You may need to reduce the number of products you offer to focus on those that sell best. Alternatively, you may need to look at line extensions that break into markets your company hasn’t served before or providing new services to keep up with market demands. Being resistant to change could make you miss important opportunities, she says.
Eventually, that Excel spreadsheet you use to track customers is going to be unwieldy, and manually creating financial reports isn’t going to cut it. Systems like customer relationship management, order management, time tracking, and financial reporting systems and protocols, Wright says. Using platforms to automate routine tasks, capture information, and prevent duplication of effort increase efficiency and ensure that everyone has access to the best information.
Build it as if you’re going to sell it
While business owners often don’t like to think about their exits, succession planning is a great way to check scalability, Canfield says. When you examine the strengths and weaknesses of your business as if you’re going to sell it, growth issues soon become clear. If the business can’t function without you at the helm, it’s time to groom more candidates for management roles. If there are problems in the company’s financials or operations, looking at the company as if you’re preparing for exit will shine a spotlight on what needs to be improved. That’s important if you want to attract investors, allow employee buy-in, or simply want to have more free time eventually.
“Most of the business owners we hear from want more of their time back, and this is a way to get that,” he says.
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