Growing your business
5 Ways to Prepare for Small Business Growth
Growth is often considered the most exciting aspect for a small business owner. Whether it’s new customers or employees, the thrill of watching your dream expand can be exhilarating.
According to research, 96% of UK small businesses are considered “micro-businesses", having less than 10 employees. For entrepreneurs eager to grow, getting into the remaining 4% of businesses that expand to 20, 50 or even thousands of employees is a tremendous uphill battle. The strategies and tools that you used as a sole trader may not work as well when the business has scaled to many more customers, partners and employees.
From communication to culture, there are many moving parts to a larger organisation that small business owners should be aware of. While there is no quick fix to successfully scale a small business into a thriving enterprise, consider these 5 guidelines as you are putting together your growth plans:
Set Measurable Goals
In the early days, you‘re likely to be figuring everything out manually. And at a small scale, that approach works well; however, if you intend to grow your business, you need to define what “success” looks like so you can ensure you are focusing on the right objectives. This means setting reasonable, measurable goals for each month, quarter and year.
To get started with goal setting, begin with the highest level goals. For example, “This year our goal is to add 50 new customers spending at least £2,000 annually.” This is a great goal because it is clear and easy to measure: you can simply count your customers and revenue to see if you succeeded.
From there, set smaller goals that help you achieve the bigger ones. For example, suppose that to acquire 50 new customers, you’ll need to hire one new Customer Success Manager for your team. A goal for a month could be to successfully recruit, hire and onboard that new employee.
Create Communication Process
When there are just a few people in the office, communication structure may not be a big deal. With a small group, you likely speak to everyone many times a day and have no need for any formal communication processes. But this is one of the first things that could break as your small business grows.
With communication as the backbone of any successful organization, failure to communicate effectively results in misalignment on goals and unclear expectations for what each employee is responsible for. Therefore, it’s critical that you get communication right as you scale. Consider implementing a few simple tactics weekly:
- All-Hands staff meetings where you review goals, wins and losses with the team
- Leadership team meetings where you make decisions with your managers
- Written status updates from each team member that are reviewed prior to meetings
You may additionally consider using a team communication tool like Slack that helps employees quickly chat with each other and stay on the same page.
Define roles and responsibilities
With a small team, there is often overlap between roles and responsibilities. The head of sales may also oversee marketing, and the CEO is probably doing a bit of everything. That is the best way to do it in a micro-business with a limited team. But as the business grows, overlapping roles can be a recipe for disaster. Without clearly defined responsibilities, employees will lack the structure to understand what they should be focusing on and how success in their role is measured. This ambiguity creates unneeded stress throughout the team.
To add some definition to your team, start by publishing an org-chart that shows clearly who each employee reports to. Nobody wants to have more than one boss! Additionally, consider creating a document for each employee that outlines:
- What are their top priorities?
- What are their individual goals?
- How will you measure if they are successful?
- Who does they report to?
- How can they advance to earn more responsibility?
Getting answers to these simple questions in writing goes a long way towards removing ambiguity and getting everyone comfortable in their role.
Get Your Systems Organised
When you only have a few customers, you may keep track of them on paper or in a spreadsheet. If your business grows to many customers, that simple system can become unwieldy. To prepare for growth, you need to have some basic systems in place to keep track of your customers, products and employee data. If this gets set up right the first time, it will save you hours upon hours later of having to implement something new.
The key system here is your CRM (customer relationship management). This software serves as your database for each of your customer accounts, contact people, and prospective customers. It’s imperative that your employees properly log data in the CRM so you have an accurate picture of who your customers are, what they have purchased, and how you can keep selling to them in the future.
Craft Your Culture
The decisions you make about your culture when your business is small make a significant impact when you grow. It will drive who you hire, who you promote, and who you ultimately decide is a good fit for your team. Culture will also help you identify which customers you most want to work with, and which business partners will help you be as successful as possible.
In the early stages, culture may be the unspoken ways people behave: what actions are praised vs what areas need improvement. When you grow, those values need to be written down and made explicit so each of your new hires can internalize them and ensure the company’s values align with their personal values. To get started, you can make a simple list of your values, known as a “culture code.” Here is an example of a great culture code from Hubspot, a business that started out small!
There is no doubt about it, growing a small business is hard work. With the right focus on these important considerations to help you prepare, you’ll be well on your way to breaking into that coveted top 4%!
About the Author
Greg Skloot is the Founder of Weekly Update, a tool for managers to improve team communication with quick weekly status updates. He has been a small business owner since age 14, and is eager to help everyone be a great manager.