The concept of scaling a business is often used interchangeably with growing a business, but these are two distinct concepts. Take successful startups or new small businesses: Without a clear definition of scaling a business, we mistakenly think of these companies as successful because they achieved massive growth in a short period of time. The reality is, when a company grows too fast, it makes itself vulnerable to a range of problems stemming from not having created a sure foundation to support rapid development. Learning how to scale a business mitigates these risks by ensuring that foundational operations are created that will support growth in the long term.
LEARNING HOW TO SCALE A BUSINESS
What is scaling in business? To create a working definition of scaling a business, first consider what it means to start and grow a business. You started your company to fill a need in your market, make a profit and likely fulfill a dream. You need to grow your business in order to keep it profitable and expand your market reach. Many people think of business expansion as “hockey stick growth,” where there is an initial period of linear growth, but once the business hits an inflection point, revenue shoots up sharply.
As alluring as rapid growth can be, entrepreneurs often place their focus on achieving it right away and lose focus on what matters. The problem with that sort of tunnel vision is that it diminishes the importance of the period of linear growth that comes before the rising handle of the hockey stick – that is, the blade. The blade typically lasts about three to four years, and it is where the most important work is being done.
Scaling a business means utilizing this “blade period” to put systems and procedures into place that will prepare you for lasting, profitable development. The blade period is where you establish your core values, your company culture and your brand identity. It’s also where you will develop the client experience you want to provide and create the initial business model when you take your product or service to market. In short, it’s the make-or-break period of any business.
Scaling a business is not easy to do, which is why it should be done as thoughtfully and meticulously as possible. Because in the long run, when you do hit that surging growth curve, you need as solid of a foundation as possible to hold you up. Here are the most important things to keep in mind when figuring out how to scale a business in a mindful manner.
TIPS FOR HOW TO SCALE A BUSINESS
When we talk about scaling a business, we’re referring to strategies for growth that align with your original business vision while managing the impact of growth on your company. Implementing the following tips for how to scale a business form a sustainable scaling strategy you can rely on.
1. KNOW YOUR PURPOSE
Scaling a business is reliant on creating customer loyalty. The best way to create customer loyalty? Focus on employee loyalty first so they can spread the word and pass their enthusiasm for your company on to those they serve. Employees are loyal to companies whose purpose and values align with their own so they can feel their careers have a higher purpose. Learning how to scale a business will ultimately fail if you don’t first start with your “why” of going into business in the first place. Knowing your purpose and successfully communicating that to your team is the way to make them raving fans of your company and drive growth in an organic manner.
2. DEVELOP A BUSINESS MAP
Most entrepreneurs have a business plan, but have you thought about developing a business map? Business maps are an effective, comprehensive way for scaling a business and meeting its goals. Creating a business map prompts you to ask foundational questions such as: What business are you really in? What was your reason for getting into this business in the first place?
Business maps encourage and challenge you to look at where you came from, define your purpose for starting this business and look ahead: What’s next for your business and where does your company ideally end up? Having this sort of documentation of your goals is a crucial part of learning how to scale a business and will be a helpful reference for when times get tough.
3. PERFECT YOUR PRODUCT OR SERVICE
With their focus on massive growth, many business owners forget to ensure that their product or service is solid. They often figure that they will just fix it after getting more users or more distribution. However, if you don’t work out the kinks and get rid of the bugs now, they will only get worse when you are scaling a business. This is why learning how to scale a business before pursuing growth will save you headaches and money in the long run. The early years of your business is a time to listen to feedback, find issues and improve your offerings until they meet your customers’ expectations. When you focus on creating a product or service that is of excellent quality, many of your growth issues will take care of themselves. Working on the issues in your first version also helps you assume more control when you scale your business because you will have a deeper understanding of what you and your customers want and need your product or service to be.
4. CREATE THOUGHTFUL PROCESSES AND OPERATIONS
How to scale a business doesn’t just involve growing upward and outward – it also means ensuring that your internal processes and operations are functioning seamlessly. The last thing you want is to start losing customers you’ve worked so hard to acquire because some part of your infrastructure is weak. While perfecting processes, keep in mind that some of the systems and processes that work when your company is in its early stages won’t work on a massive scale. This is where adaptability and flexibility come in, as you may need to tweak processes as you grow. Establishing a framework of what works and keeps your business running smoothly in the early years is key to scaling a business because it forms a solid core. While you can always improve on this core as growth occurs, it’s much more difficult to go back and create it once you’ve grown past a certain level.
5. ESTABLISH YOUR TEAM
It may seem obvious that establishing a strong team is a prerequisite for scaling a business – you can’t handle everything on your own. Developing a management team that is flexible and can grow with the company is an important component when it comes to learning how to scale a business.
Your team is not just about your employees, though. To master how to scale a business sustainably, you must work on developing external relationships with suppliers, partners and other outside organizations who will be part of your overall growth.
One of the best things about operating a small business is the ability to establish intimate relationships with your customers. You get to give them the experience that you want from beginning to end. And the goal should always be to create a raving fan – someone who will be a staunch advocate for your brand and help you scale your business by spreading the word.
Remember, the community that you create around your business can bolster your foundation so that you have even more strength and leverage as you grow. Having a solid network is so important it’s part of the definition of scaling a business. So take the time to really build the “team” that will propel you into the future.
6. LEARN WHEN TO DELEGATE
If you’ve built a strong team, you should have enough trust in them to delegate many important tasks so you can work “on” the business instead of “in” it. However, as a business owner, you want to feel like you’re involved in every aspect of your company and will sometimes have a hard time letting go in certain areas. To really learn how to scale a business, you must delegate tasks to those on your team. What are you doing that someone else could handle?
Don’t trade your time for dollars. Your business has to be able to run itself and thrive even when you’re not there. Do this by addressing limiting beliefs such as “If I want something done right, I have to do it myself” and by establishing delegation habits that allow you to own your time.
7. BUILD YOUR BRAND
Scaling a business requires learning who you are as a company and what you offer your customers. How do you compare to the competition? What do you have that no one else does? What are your biggest weaknesses? What makes you so powerful? What is your message? How do you disrupt your industry?
It could take years to answer these questions, but you can at least start with a basic framework and build from there. Smaller businesses have the benefit of being able to shift gears more readily than larger corporations. So if there is a need for a new approach, use that as an opportunity to innovate and adapt.
Remember, your brand will also set the tone for your company’s culture as you scale your business. It will set the standard for how you make your hires and will help you establish the kind of client experience you want. It will impact marketing, sales and design efforts, and it will influence the kind of company you ultimately become.
8. CONNECT WITH YOUR CUSTOMER
What is scaling in business able to accomplish if it doesn’t also produce loyal customers? Not much. Creating raving fans of your product is critical for your business to thrive amid the ebb and flow of ever-changing consumer preferences. When you’re scaling a business, you’re in an incubation period where there’s room to test approaches to building and maintaining client relationships. This is the time to build client-centered practices into every facet of your business. You want every member of your team to demonstrate empathy, respect and open-mindedness internally so that a collaborative culture of innovation emerges. From there, everyone on staff is able to build rapport with your client, creating connections that will help your product sell itself.
9. WORK ON YOUR NETWORKING SKILLS
“No man is an island,” and this is even more true in the case of entrepreneurs who are scaling a business. You must develop and cultivate a vast network of colleagues, business coaches, resources and mentors who can connect you to the right people and ensure you continue to grow. Attend regular business networking functions in your city or join an industry-related group that offers continuing education and connections to other professionals. Get involved in personal or business coaching and reach out to those who have been in business longer than you to see if they are willing to connect and possibly become your mentor. Scaling a business is not a solitary task. The more people you have on your side, the more successful you will be.
10. PRIORITIZE SUSTAINABILITY
As important as creativity is for any company, running a business is not the place for knee-jerk decisions. Rather than thinking of creativity as a free-for-all tool for solving problems, think of it as a tool for scaling a business. When you prioritize mindful, sustainable growth, you learn to approach challenges thoughtfully so that the solutions you find support your company’s long-term well-being.
11. CONTINUE ADAPTING AND INNOVATING
Scaling a business may seem impossible if you’ve hit a plateau. The truth is, learning how to scale a business is never impossible, but you may need to change what you’re doing if you want to scale successfully. When was the last time your business focused on innovation? When did you last assess what’s holding your company back and tackle those barriers head-on? In business – and in life – if you’re not growing, you’re dying. Don’t change your company just for the sake of change – when you strategically align your choices with your ultimate purpose, scaling your business will come easily. Take the time and do it right. Adopt a winning mindset, but be mindful as you do so. Remember that massive growth is one thing, but it’s sustainable growth that makes for a lasting company.