Companies change, morph, and, if you’re lucky, grow. Millions of businesses have been launched from a single idea and heaps of hope to make it big someday. But as we all know, in between the idea and the payout, there’s a whole lot of work to be done. Growing a business takes effort.
Following a year of pandemic mayhem, my company shifted resources to meet the demands of an evolving market. We created a cybersecurity division that saw rapid growth and expanded our staff by more than 40 percent. Along the way, lessons were learned.
As we enter into an uncertain economic year, with increasingly competitive and dynamic aspects at play, you might have growth plans in mind. Consider my lessons learned from rapid growth as advice that every small business can use right now.
Be realistic about setting growth goals
I firmly believe in looking back to project forward. I call it the review mirror method. You must know where you’ve been to understand where you can go. Before setting any growth goals, it’s a good idea to take stock of your organization in terms of talent and customers, what’s generating revenue, what’s profitable, and the level of sophistication for processes like logistics, finance, and security.
Looking at the data around these factors will give you an idea of what’s possible moving forward so you can develop realistic goals, instead of resource-taxing stretch goals.
Lesson learned: I didn’t have all the data necessary to make a business decision, however, I convinced myself that all was well. I made up facts to support my position and glossed over missing information. Looking at all the data showed that my goals were unrealistic, and I had to pivot.
When setting growth goals, it can be helpful to have an outside perspective. The daily management of a business keeps you focused on what makes customers and employees happy.
Thinking about new opportunities and generating new leads takes a different mindset. Perspective can be an outside advisor, or it can be taking a step back from operations for a strategic offsite.
Be strategic about navigating a highly competitive market
Looking at a highly competitive market space? Do your due diligence and look at the market cap. What will the market bear? Is there an opportunity for new businesses? Is that space right for you? If you’re looking to compete in a commoditized market, can you offer something new, or will you only be an us-too, driving prices down?
Looking at cybersecurity, we realized two things: 1. It’s a complex, technical market, and 2. It’s competitive. To make space for ourselves, we recognized that there was an opportunity to simplify the process, making it easily understandable and digestible by the customer. That insight provided a go-to-market strategy.
Lessons learned: Lean into competitive research to find your niche. We were looking at services that many others offer, however, our research revealed how technical most offerings were for the customer. That complexity became our ally. If we could make the process efficient and easy, there would be less of a lift or disruption for clients.
Manage existing operations while launching new growth
Growth is invigorating. For entrepreneurs, there’s nothing better than starting something new. However, you can’t dive into growth unless your foundation is strong. Good business leaders recognize that healthy growth shouldn’t detract from the core.
If you have goals based on what you know now, your foundation should be solid. Good metrics, processes, and monitoring, as well as the right people at the right level doing the right things will provide that foundation.
This mindset extends to finances, too. It should go without saying that if you don’t have the money to grow, don’t do it. Sure, you can borrow money, but as a small business owner, you are personally invested. Borrowing means putting your own assets on the line—risking your house, car, retirement, and the livelihood of all your employees. The sound strategy is to use profits to reinvest in the business.
Lesson learned: Small business owners are used to doing all the things. As you grow, it’s OK to let go of tasks. It was hard for me to admit that I needed to give up handling the bookkeeping and doing staff onboarding training. Looking at the cost of outsourcing those tasks finally convinced me that my time was better spent on growth-minded tasks while someone else handled routine things.
Additionally, the best-laid plans, and frankly all plans, require real-life adjustments. So, plan to make tweaks. Build in metrics to guide you. Actively look for gaps or weaknesses. Work in short sprints and assessments.
Growth, even in competitive and tight economic times, is within your grasp. If your small business has two or more employees, you’re already bigger than more than 27.1 million companies in the U.S. that are run by a sole proprietor. You might never hit it big or sell for a billion dollars, however, you can create a small business that supports the families of your employees, that has a name in the market space, or that makes an impact in your community—and all of that has value. Take the lessons from my experience and grow your small business.