Trevor McClintock: Growing your company from start up to scale-up
Imagine your business in 2018, now take the lid off it and look inside. What does it look like?
Knowing where you want to be and in within what timescale is the key to understanding how you're going to get there. But taking that picture from your imagination and making it a reality is a long and winding road – and you can definitely expect a few bumps along the way.
Not everyone wants to be the next Richard Branson or Alan Sugar and that's OK. When it comes to choosing your path to growth, it's crucial to find a solution that's in-line with your ambitions.
Now's the time you want to ask yourself whether you're looking to create an attractive company that you can sell on, through merger or acquisition, relatively quickly to create a comfortable pot for your retirement income, or if you're in it for the long-haul.
Bigger doesn't necessarily mean better, however, and it's entirely possible for your company to remain relatively small and agile, while turning a decent profit over the long-term. In fact my advice would always be to make all your business decisions like a small business would – no matter how large you grow.
Similarly it’s never too early to put solid systems into place. Many businesses fail because they run before they can walk meaning processes haven’t yet been cemented. As the operation scales up the cracks in the foundations become extremely obvious.
When it comes to companies at the smaller end of the scale, founders tend to be highly enthusiastic about the product or service they're looking to provide, but may not have much in the way of business acumen.
No man (or woman) is an island and it's vital to know your strengths and weaknesses from the outset. And if you're an expert in your field, rather than that of business development, acknowledge this and look to bring in, or outsource, the necessary expertise.
As a business owner you must become an expert talent spotter. Investing in the right people is vital in securing the future growth of any organisation and make sure you act early to secure a solid team of talented individuals who each bring something different to the business.
Similarly in my experience it is far better to build the team you need around key job roles, rather than trying to shoehorn existing staff into positions they're unsuited for. Two key areas to consider in this regard are sales and marketing.
While your current team may be passionate and invested in your products and services, that doesn't necessarily translate to knowing how to best articulate the benefits and demonstrate their value to potential customers.
Work on the business, not in it
A small company can afford unparalleled control to its owners, but you'll have to abandon micro-management and much of your involvement in day-to-day affairs as things progress.
The keys to unlocking your businesses potential lie in finding the right people to spur on your growth and having the faith in them to delegate. Hire slowly and fire fast.
While you might struggle to cope with the burgeoning workload – putting the wrong person in place is akin to sticking a plaster over a gaping wound.
Having the right people in place frees up your time to focus on broader concerns and keep working on evolving the company into the state you want it to be in.
This definitely doesn't mean you'll be living a life of leisure, however, and you should be prepared to put in a lot of legwork – particularly in the earliest stages and then not be afraid of letting go of the reigns when the right people have been appointed.
Sea change, see change
Businesses that aren't prepared to change should be prepared to stagnate and those looking to grow need to come to terms with the fact that they can't keep doing things the same way they've always done.
Branching out in to new and untested areas can be risky and the majority of smaller businesses can typically make the best gains by focusing on selling more to their existing customers, as well as targeting others like them.
Growth is an uphill battle, so be prepared to try and be prepared to fail. Don't hold on to offerings, strategies, processes or even staff that haven't worked out due to sentiment or comfort and steel yourself for some tough choices along the way.
Some industries better lend themselves towards growth than others, so also be sure to factor in market trends and historic precedents when planning for the future.
Growth demands resources, the biggest of which is cash. As such, it's of paramount importance to ensure a robust cash flow, as well as a surplus for the inevitable set-backs.
Put in place a rigorous forecast for your finances and monitor it consistently. Building your business will necessitate a strain on funds, so it's crucial to pay constant and close attention to the fiscal health of your company.
Be cautious, but don't be entirely risk averse. One major danger when trying to kick start your company's growth is not being able to cope with the increasing demand.
There's no such thing as a silver bullet when it comes to dealing with these growing pains, but by referring to your plan, keeping your eye on the big picture and doing your due diligence, you can minimise the potential for problems and have solutions in place to deal with them when they inevitably crop up.