By: Warsha Joshi and Evan Le Clus, Dare To Scale
Having survived the start-up phase of their business, the entrepreneur now faces the decision about how to get out of the foothills and gain some altitude and growth in their company. The simple truth is growing a business requires a well-structured plan and (usually) a fair amount of cash, thus the founder needs to be aware of these challenges and get their house in good order before seriously considering scaling their firm.
So, what should you address to get your business ready for scaling? Five key steps would be to
- Refresh your strategy
- Get some support
- Engage your team
- Optimise your processes and business model
- Get your cash and systems in order
Refresh your strategy
As a founder, your two jobs are keep your eye on your company’s strategy and look after your people. “Strategy” is not just your tangible business model, but your bigger, bolder and somewhat intangible high-level strategy. Starting from your compelling “why” that gets you out of bed in the morning through to your fundamentals of who you serve, what pain you solve, how and where you do it and the “how much” of your offering and brand promise. Under the hood it includes the values and ethics that dovetail into your vision, the culture you set from the top and what you will say “yes” to. It is also about what you want to get out of it all … how do you want to enjoy the financial rewards of running your business.
While most entrepreneurs may have a good business idea and even a great product, at some point they must learn the art and practice of running a business. Pivotal to running and growing a business is your strategy which needs to be strong and big enough to see you through all the ups and downs and help you build a legacy bigger than you.
To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time.
— Leonard Bernstein
Dust off your business plan and its inherent strategy – if you have a business mentor lined up run through it with them! – and reconnect with your “why”. Review your who (core customer), what (product or service), where you operate and how you deliver and fine tune your overall strategy. This is critical to help keep you on track as you move forward and helps you say “no” to distractions and “yes” to more of the right things.
Get some support
One thing that has probably become apparent to the founder is they can be very isolated in their leadership position and be experiencing the phenomenon of ‘lonely at the top’. They may not yet appreciate the power of a properly formed support system around them to help navigate the scaling journey. The other challenge which they may not yet be aware of is they need to learn to run a business, not just be a talented technician. They need to work ON their business and not IN it. In other words it could be they need to stop being a bottleneck in their own business.
One of the best avenues to get help for you and your business is to work with a business mentor, someone with a proven track record and who will stand firm as a friend of your business. Your mentor will help probe into your decisions and operations and offer fresh perspectives and clarity to your challenges.
The other highly recommended support platform is to join a structured business mastermind group. Other like-minded entrepreneurs will help you with insights and encouragement and most importantly will hold you accountable for your stated action steps.
Engage your team
Your other job as founder is to look after your team. Engage them, help them buy into your strategy.
Share your bigger vision for where the company is headed, and at the same time be open about the challenges the company is facing. It should not come a surprise that some of the best ideas to resolving company challenges come from people in the team because they sometime see details you cannot see. The more you share, the more you engage your people, the more engagement the better their contribution, sense of ownership and belonging with the company. Remember, your people are your biggest asset, not your product, your IT backbone or other smarts around the place, but your people. Look after your team and you will never have to worry about looking after another client.
Also make sure there are regular touch points that happen between you and your teams. When we say regular, we mean daily and weekly. A daily ‘stand up’ huddle call at an unmoveable time (i.e. highest priority) so team members feel included and engaged, and furthermore know what needs to happen on a day to day basis. It’s a time to share a win, report back on yesterday’s one thing to do, share your new one thing to do today and to ask for help. In these days of virtual connection, why not have a weekly open virtual lunch break. Share a meal and shoot the breeze so as to keep some normalcy and engagement in your company culture. Bonus: have an open chat platform group for team members to talk and connect or ask advice – kind of like a virtual water cooler conversation.
Optimise your processes and business model
Hone your process driven client delivery and finesse your accountability driven culture. Help your people to do their jobs by instilling a culture of continuous process improvement but remember processes need people. Strengthen your team’s ownership and accountability to get the right things done so you can begin scaling on a very strong sustainable foundation.
Take the time to train, coach and mentor your people to see patterns in your operations and encourage them to begin writing the steps down. Begin removing all the exceptions and steps that no longer serve you so you minimise margins for error. Help your people help you by making it fun in order to achieve your clearly communicated milestones.
Get your cash and systems in order
Scaling your business requires fuel and fuel equals cash. To start with, make sure you know exactly how much cash is in your bank account every single day. Every day.
You also need to be keenly aware of how cash flows through your business and how to get it unstuck. Unstuck? Review your cash conversion cycle – the cycle of outflows to sales, production and delivery to inflows when your invoices are paid and cash returns to you – and identify where cash is getting stuck. It could be stuck in inventory, it could be invoices are not generated quickly enough, it could even be a simple as adding a credit card payment gateway to shorten time for payments to come in.
The other key lever is to get your books in order. This will help you with timely financial information to make better decisions but will also help you track your progress through measuring key performance indicators (KPIs). Work with your mentor to look at your cost trends and identify where you may have cash leakage through “dripping taps” and address them. Set and share forward looking KPIs that can form part of your daily huddles to keep you and your team looking forward and on track.
Scaling up is not for the faint hearted – it will take focus and drive – and yet so rewarding when you reach your goals. You will need help to get there and remember that running a business is like a sport which requires teamwork and practice. Oh, and a sense of urgency!
Nothing of significance was ever achieved by an individual acting alone. Look below the surface and you will find that all seemingly solo acts are really team efforts.
— John C. Maxwell