Scaling a startup is an art. Many entrepreneurs believe that they cannot go into business without loans or seed funding from an entity that may want equity in their company. There are ways to nurture a startup company that do not require taking debt or giving equity away.
Businesses that do not handle scaling up properly often fail. Sean Glasser of BLUETRACK, Inc. gives helpful hints on how to grow your fledgling business without being beholden to anyone, and how to keep it thriving under difficult conditions.
- Listen & Improve
One of the cheapest and most effective things any business can do to grow is to talk (and LISTEN!) to their customers and improve from the feedback. This is as much true for a one-person operation as it is for a global brand that went off track.
Rather than putting any remaining cash into a splashy ad campaign, entrepreneurs are better off hunkering down, talking to past (and potential) customers and getting feedback on what they like and dislike about their products. Pressing for full honesty is also key. If a business is to grow, sugarcoated feedback is of no value. Really listening to what’s important to customers and then working to improve the product or service as a result is a high impact, low cost move. Many times, a plateau or bad business run is really an opportunity to improve and grow into a better version of itself.
- Take It Step by Step
One of the things that we misunderstood in the beginning and I see a lot of small businesspeople also fumble with is the idea that you need to do everything at once. Here’s the thing to remember: If you think buying a Super Bowl ad is going to grow your small business you are in for big failure. All parts of your business have to be grown step by step. Do you have enough people to answer the phone? Can your website host handle the visitors? Do you have enough inventory or the funds to buy the inventory? Do you have the ability to service all the complaints that may pop up from the orders?
Scaling a startup is about improving each area piece by piece so you can steadily and safely grow. You want to continually expand your marketing, sales, financing, and customer support step by step, not try to pour a ton of energy into one area only to see the others fail under the load.
- Invest in You
When growing a small venture, you need to save costs. Founders are often the cheapest asset a company has. While there is a fine line between doing everything yourself and allocating lower level tasks, it is never a bad idea to build up your skills over time. It will give you a source of free talent as well as make you a more effective leader as you grow.
“As we were growing, I taught myself graphic design, some programming, marketing and sales techniques, accounting and many other skills. There is a wealth of free info on Google and YouTube where you can learn just about anything if you apply yourself. In the earlier days it helped propel us forward for pennies on the dollar and now that we are larger these skills make me a more effective communicator to the individuals in our company fulfilling those roles.”
- Eliminate, Automate, Standardize
Many of a small business’ troubles scaling result from being overburdened and not being able to afford competent help. One way to ease these issues is to review how things are done in your business and eliminate any tasks that you can. Are some things not really needed? Can you do them once a week instead of daily? Can you change a process to avoid double entry?
Automation is the next important piece of scaling a startup. And I’m not talking about advanced robots that handle all your chores. While that would be awesome, that’s also science fiction for a strapped entrepreneur. “Automation” for a small company usually equates to asking if someone else can do a task. Are there tasks you do now that a vendor will do? Can you change your forms, website or process so your customer or client does the task for you? This is the automation that matters to you. Think it through and apply as much of it as you can.
When you run a small business you often cannot afford top talent, but you need top quality work done. The easiest way to deal with this is to standardize things in your company. Sure, it takes time (lots of it) but it’s also well worth the effort. With the right brainstorming, planning and work you can standardize things so cheaper employees can do things a certain way and have the impact a more expensive pro would. This makes scaling a startup venture much more doable.
- Make Expenses Scalable
Most businesses have fixed expenses but fluctuating income. This is what makes entrepreneurship a risky endeavor. The flip side of this equation is what every business wants (scalable expenses and fixed income) but it takes a lot of time and energy to get there.
This is the area where most, if not all, growing startups fail. Storms come to all industries and an entrepreneur needs to be able to weather difficult times without going under. That’s why it’s extremely important to avoid committing yourself to expenses or vendor contracts that cannot be scaled down if business scales down. Huge rent, expensive employees that cannot be swapped, or other “locked in” contracts can and will kill your startup when income slows. Avoid them like the plague.
- Don’t Quit
Every entrepreneur will second guess themselves at times and want to quit. Problems are inevitable. If you make quitting non-negotiable you will succeed. There was a general who used to sink the boats behind him so his soldiers couldn’t retreat. That’s the mentality you need to have in order to succeed in the early stages of business. It may be painful and require work to grow your business, but you can do it if you never quit. The rewards will be worth it.
Helping Your Company Grow
Sean Glasser recommends that new startups be careful about how they scale up. Applying the right techniques can propel you a few years ahead on your journey and make your enterprise a lot more successful. Scaling a startup is not impossible if you do the right things.