The change from startup to scaleup is subtle at first, but once you get the engine built and you begin pouring in the fuel, your company will be on track for growth — and, more importantly than that, scalable growth.
There are tons of articles, guides, books, and shifty time-share offerings out there promising to double your revenue or add x amount of business overnight. We all know those are garbage.
The bigger surprise is how many people fall for those things without having anything in place to actually support the idea.
Imagine the inner workings of your own business. The length of your sales cycle. What it takes to close a deal. The time to process a quote, installation, invoice, and develop a strong relationship with your company and your team.
If you really were able to double the amount of business you get overnight, could your team handle it?
Logistically, realistically, no. Your team would crumble, your business would suffer, and your existing customers would be neglected while you try to handle the flow.
This is why your company has to grow through substantial change to shift from a startup mentality to a growth mentality — you have to be ready and have a plan in place to actually handle scaling up your business.
Concrete goals, realistic plans and timetables, clear project management and accountability — these are what will fuel your growth, not some vagueries offered by a consultant making impossible promises.
Starting your business took hard work: Growing it to the next level will, too.
One of our founding fathers has one of the best approaches to this, and what was true in his time is still true today:
“I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”
— Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States, the nickel guy
It doesn’t matter if your business isn’t perfect
Don’t focus on perfection. Don’t spend hours worrying away the fact that your company has problems and your business isn’t perfect. This doesn’t matter. And there’s always room to grow, always room to test new things, always room to incorporate new strategies. And no business is perfect.
In fact, it’s probably better if your business isn’t perfect. Why?
Think about it, if your business is perfect, you are running on all cylinders, everything is streamlined and optimized and your team is rocking it across the board — if all of this is true for your business and you still are not growing, you have major fundamental problems that may not be surmountable without a massive overhaul of your entire operation.
However, if you know there are places in your business that you could improve, if there are key areas where you are absolutely struggling, and even if there are entire departments that have been lagging for years — that’s ultimately a good sign. That means there is room for you to improve. You have potential for fixing these problems, streamlining efficiencies, and putting key business strategies to work that will help to propel your business forward.
International business writer Adi Gaskell has written extensively on the subject. Specializing in technology businesses and helping to identify ways they can improve, Gaskell writes that the perfect business, the coveted “unicorn startup”, is as rare as an actual unicorn.
“Despite the support offered by these clusters, and the numerous accelerators, incubators and other support frameworks, the fabled unicorn is no more common now than when the moniker was coined in the first place.”
— Adi Gaskell, Forbes.com
You’re not perfect. No worries. Don’t stress about it and move on.
The important thing is that you are willing to make changes to help grow your business, your team, and your bottomline.
Just the fact that you are taking the time to research ways to grow your business and you are reading a guide like this shows that you recognize there is more you could be doing to improve operational excellence.
You know there are things you could do to improve, and you’re ready to tackle them. Awesome! Let’s get rolling.
Stagnant growth is not the enemy
It can be easy to fall in the trap of looking at no growth as a sign that you can’t grow. This is dangerous thinking and will definitely impact your ability to grow.
It’s common for businesses to plateau at some point in their growth curve. Maybe you see it coming in your own organization, maybe you’ve been on the plateau for a while, maybe you’ve been there for years and you worry that your business has truly flatlined.
This simply means your company is stable. As mentioned above, no organization is perfect, and if you have seen little-to-no growth for years, don’t let that diminish your plans.
You aren’t a startup anymore, and as you shift your thinking and your strategies you will begin to optimize your business for growth — and you have a firm foundation on your plateau to build that next chapter of growth for your small business.
How do you know if you are ready to scale up your business?
As with any key business decision, you need to commit if you want something to succeed. At one point your business didn’t exist and you had to ask the question whether you were going to embrace your entrepreneurial spirit and create a startup.
Now your company has grown and you need to leverage just as much — if not more — energy and effort to move your company out of a startup mindset and into a growth mindset.
This is where many companies struggle.
It can be exceedingly hard to change what has made you successful in the past.
Signs you are ready to scale up or there is potential to scale up
- Your business has neither shrunk or grown for years.
- You have experienced rapid periods of growth in the past, but you don’t seem to be moving the needle anymore.
- Other companies in your region, industry are experiencing growth.
- You can identify multiple, key issues or departments that need fixing or help.
- You recognize there is potential to grow your business, but you’re not sure where or how to go about it.
- You know you need to change the way you do things, and you’re actively looking for insights on how to grow your business.
- You are ready to let go of some things so you can focus on the big things.
Which brings us to one of the hardest things a small business leader has to do in order to facilitate a scale up period for their organization.
The art of moving forward by letting go
It can be even more difficult for the successful small business owner to delegate key decisions to their team. Whereas in the past a leader may be involved in every decision for a startup company, this simply doesn’t work when you are shifting your company to a growth mindset.
Why not? It doesn’t scale.
By its very definition it won’t work. If you want to scale up your company, you need to outsource your decision making to your team. You need to hire smart people that you trust, put key metrics in place, and then actually trust them to do the jobs you hired them for.
This means that you will, of necessity, begin to take a back seat on some key decisions that your major stakeholders are leading.
This is one of the hardest parts for small business owners to overcome. It can be terrifying, horrifying, worrisome, and all the other “Tales from the Crypt” and “Twilight Zone” descriptive terms you can think of.
But one person does not an empire make.
You need to find your trusted people and then empower them to move forward.
Brian Halligan, co-founder of marketing automation platform HubSpot, and one of GlassDoor’s top-rated CEOs, is extremely passionate about helping companies shift from startup to scaleup mindsets — his business is in the business of helping other businesses grow.
Halligan has written at length about the challenges his own company faced when they were trying to get out of a startup mindset and truly embracing scaling the company up. His essay on Medium entitled “Scale-up leadership lessons I’ve learned over 9 years as HubSpot’s CEO” should be required reading for any business leader who wants to make the jump from startup to scaleup. If you want to grow your small business and tap into key small business growth strategies, you’d be hard pressed to do better than starting with this excellent essay by Halligan.
Halligan writes that as HubSpot finally began to experience true growth, his role needed to shift. No longer was he in every meeting and involved in every decision. Instead of being a generalist at everything, he became what he likes to call “Chief Pothole Prevention Officer. His job became one to identify and remove any potential roadblocks before they slowed down his team.
“The thing I’ve noticed about potholes in a scale-up is that they are often systemic and cut across the organization,” Halligan said. And he goes on to explain, “In addition to finding potholes, you need to put a system in place to make sure you don’t fall into the same pothole twice.”
In order to truly grow your business, you will eventually need to make similar changes. Maybe that one is a little ways out for you, but the point is things must change.
Doing things the exact same way you have always done them may have made your business successful, but it may not be what you need to get to the next level.
You will need to develop new processes, hire new talent, train existing talent, find new tools, and create new methods that allow your business to grow.