Getting a new business off the ground is one thing, but growing it into something significant is another thing entirely. It certainly isn’t as simple as doing exactly the same thing over and over again, or even scaling up in a linear way. Every fresh demand adds complexity to the operation. If you don’t carefully plan to make your business not only larger but also smarter, you’ll inevitably struggle to endure the pace.
But how do you make a suitable scaling plan? Before you can begin, you need to know what can go wrong — by identifying the most common challenges, you can determine the most efficient ways to overcome them (or avoid them altogether). To help you out, here are 5 challenges that almost every growing business will face sooner or later:
1: Handling customer support
When you’re running a very small business, you can find the time to provide in-depth customer support, chiefly because you’re not dealing with many clients (but also because you have more free time to commit to such things). This is great for your company’s image. You can establish your brand as being caring and dedicated — eager to help customers (or clients) achieve their goals as smoothly and quickly as possible.
As you scale, maintaining this level of quality becomes brutal. If customer support is being handled by high-level staff, that will largely need to stop, and a dedicated support team will need to be put into place. Initially, at least, this will negatively affect how your brand is perceived: instead of getting to talk to you, your customers will have to deal with one of a large group of assistants (whether in-house or virtual using a service like Zendesk’s Virtual Call Center).
There’s no perfect way of handling this. In the end, you just need to get a good (and sustainable) support system in place, and show over time that you’re still committed to achieving excellent standards.
2: Keeping cash flow under control
There are two financial milestones that every startup will work to achieve: securing initial financing, and reaching the point of profitability. The huge problem with them is that there are far more financial concerns than this, and neither of those two milestones can prevent a business from collapsing and failing.
An initial investor can withdraw their investment if they decide they no longer like how the business is going, and a profitable business can fail if it runs out of money and can’t meet its regular bills. Cash flow is the lifeblood of a company: if you don’t keep money coming in, you’ll run into difficulties.
Track your cash flow using whatever online tools best suit you: do it manually in a spreadsheet, or use one of the numerous available pieces of accounting software. Whatever you do, don’t let customers or clients start to push payment deadlines: use something like Wave’s invoice generator to push invoices out on time, and don’t take “no” for an answer.
3: Meeting demand
Whether you’re providing products, services, or both, there’s a limit to what you can achieve in a given amount of time. For instance, if you make and sell chocolate bars, you may be able to produce 500 in a week. Unfortunately, scaling is unpredictable — you might anticipate hitting 400 orders per week, but actually hit 600, suddenly exceeding your fulfilment capabilities.
For another example, an online-only company might not have the kind of hosting needed to handle a massive influx of new visitors — and if a scaling business runs into extended website downtime, it’s likely to prove highly damaging to long-term prospects.
Very simply, before you start scaling, you need to be aware of the type of demand you might face. Be ready to meet demand significantly greater than what you expect. You might lose some money on excess supply, but it’s preferable to the alternative.
3: Attracting great talent
Unless you plan on somehow developing the superhuman ability to single-handedly run a growing business, you’ll need to hire a team sooner or later (there’s only so much that automation can do, even today). This is hard, though. It may seem obvious to you that your business is the perfect place to work, but that’s due to your personal bias.
If you don’t come up with a compelling offer, complete with competitive pay and decent perks, you’ll struggle to get the best — and you want the best, because your employees are investments. Choose them well, and they’ll return huge amounts of value in the long run, far outstripping whatever you need to pay them.
To achieve this, think carefully about your business from an outsider’s perspective. How does it look? Does it seem like a great place to work? What are comparable businesses offering? Consider the answers carefully, and put together a package that top talent can’t refuse.
5: Codifying procedures
When you’re just starting out, you can get away with a fairly informal approach to business, because you have the time and the freedom to work unconventionally. As you scale, this freedom goes away — when you have a huge order to meet, you need your operation to be working smoothly and efficiently.
This is hard enough before you factor in the new employees you’ll need, because they’ll all need training, and it’s hard to get training done when you don’t have any suitable training materials. Inconsistency is something you can’t afford to allow, though, so it has to be figured out.
As early as you can (ideally before you start attempting to grow your business in any meaningful way), you should start noting down your operational procedures, and collating them into training documents (a service like StepShot is great for this). Develop a long-term plan for employee onboarding. That way, when you start to hire a team, you’ll have a much easier time putting people to work.