While the global corporate community world aims for growth, scaling your business towards growth does not come easy. In fact, not everyone is suitable for growth.
The rapid scale-up is a dangerous choice affecting all internal processes, organizational hierarchies, and cross-department workflows. It presents challenges that will test the capabilities of a business and their adaptability to cope with significant changes.
What Goes Into Scaling a Business?
What do we mean when discussing business scale?
- Growing the operational capacity of the company
- Continuously handling more work without disrupting the ongoing processes
- Scaling while maintaining a positive ROI
These high-level business strategy targets would differ across organizations in different industries and varying sizes. Scaling from 5 to 10 people isn’t the same as 100 to 120 or even 150. And doubling headcount for a 2-person shop is frightening, but nowhere near a multiplication of 1,000 people in a large corporation.
Additionally, scale isn’t always tied to rapid growth through hiring. It’s possible to scale smart, keeping manpower well-organized and processes automated. Of course, this comes with its own limits. You can suppress, decrease or delay the hiring pace but not stop it.
Here’s what you need to consider before jumping on the “fast scale” boat.
1. Overcoming Risk Management Business Scale Challenges
Business growth sounds exciting. More manpower, higher revenue, additional resources, faster turnarounds, bigger offices, top brands. However, rapid growth does not shield you from the most common business challenges (neither is slowing down, of course).
One of the leading factors is dealing with the “not so obvious” challenges. So let’s start with this category first.
Challenge #1: Increasing Cost
Scaling the firm is accompanied by increasing cost and varying financial challenges. This challenge cuts across the very anatomy of the organization and traverses beyond every department—from sales to legal.
Among the most common increase in business process cost are found in the following areas:
- Office expenses
- Growing sales and marketing teams
- Hiring of one or two new tier managers
- Accounting, and
- Legal retainer fees
Challenge #2: Demand for Deeper Business Knowledge
Rapid growth makes the learning curve both urgent and steep, affecting performance across the board.
Onboarding and training procedures receive priority for the sake of institutional knowledge. It’s no longer sustainable to hire one or two folks in a department at once, you may reach to hundreds within a quarter while scaling.
Challenge #3: The Need for New Skills
Your senior management may no longer be suitable to take on their positions. Growing companies often need to invest more in networking, PR, sponsorships, organizing charity events, or other initiatives that weren’t even on the roadmap a year or two back.
Hiring for creativity or innovation isn’t sustainable. You can’t hire A-players at scale, it’s unrealistic and certainly can’t happen in a short period of time. Companies that prioritize their culture and solve a niche problem can thrive well even as they stay small. Growing requires a certain attitude that brings risks.
Collateral damage is nearly inevitable but often justified for those pursuing the goal of infinite growth.
Aside from the aforementioned risk management elements we had to go through, there’s a lot more to unpack.
2. Creating a Fantastic Culture for Growth
One of the best ways to prepare for the challenges of a growing company is to establish the right culture in the workplace.
It is imperative to have the right mindsets in establishing and shaping the right culture in the business workplace.
What You Must Know When Scaling Your Business
- It’s easier to build the culture first than reshape it later. A common misconception is altering the culture once the company reaches 50–100 team members, before raising another round or while forming a new board. Starting on the right foot will keep you aligned at all times.
- The leadership core must live and breathe your business objectives. When you run a small team, you can’t afford to rely solely on “workers”. Scaling is contingent on iterating quickly. Communication gaps or misalignments may break a company for good. This is embodied in the recruitment process.
- Your ego is irrelevant. CEOs may guide the way but they are obsolete without their team. Be humble and respect the experts who have made the deliberate choice to work with you, despite the hundreds of competitive offers. Make sure they realize that and feel comfortable with sharing any kind of feedback, good or bad.
- Understand what keeps the team around. Your company will keep evolving constantly: new team members, management tiers, departments, processes, products, operational activities. A major misalignment between the core objectives and what keeps your team driven may disrupt the founding team and cause irreversible friction. Make sure you’re in this together as best as possible, given the roadmap of the firm.
- Don’t neglect sales objectives. Fantastic work cultures are only possible in profitable businesses. You won’t find a thriving team in a company going bankrupt in 10 weeks from now. While you fully realize where salaries come from and what makes free lunches or team building events possible, your team should keep this in mind and make sure the revenue chart points up and to the right.
3. Hiring New People for Your Growing Business
Having the right team with the right skill sets is important to cope up with the challenges of a growing business. Hence, you may need to consider hiring new people to join your team and keep up with its growing demands.
You can find the right people by doing a strategic interview process.
Most interviews revolve around these three categories:
- Standard questions: “Where do you see yourself in 5 years”, “What made you apply for us”, etc.
- “Random question of the day”: “If you were an animal, which one would it be?”, “What’s your favorite US state?”
- Situational questions: “How would you conduct a customer survey”, “What steps do you take before you commit a code change?”
Enter Behavioral Interviews
I prefer behavioral interview questions. Behavioral questions revolve around real scenarios. My favorite aspect of behavioral questions is looking for traits that are not obvious.
“How did you handle the most annoying customer ever? Tell me about them.”
On the surface, the question asks about the right process you employ during customer service. Behind the scenes, the interviewer gauges the most intense situations you’ve dealt with at work and compares them with the day-to-day on the job.
4. Hiring a Consultant to Scale Your Growth
Make sure to find the “right fit” consultants and make sure that your business is ready for it.
I do some business development for a coaching business charging a monthly service fee. It’s a boutique social management done-for-you program for branding, thought leadership, networking.
Many years ago, someone recommended me to a prospect. Picking up the phone, the client said, “We want to rank on page 1 in Google”. Having heard these dozens of times, I asked some follow-up questions to find out what’s going on.
They don’t even have a website.
More importantly, they didn’t want one. “It is a bloody scam,” they said.
So it’s a Catch-22.
- Consultants are always, always pitching their services as it’s a matter of survival (and protecting their name).
- Businesses can’t realistically assess where they stand.
- Some consultants are fake and give consulting a bad name.
As a result, estimating ROI early on is nearly impossible. It’s a leap of faith, a risk assessment, and buying into the projections of each and every marketer. Additionally, different skills (and levels of expertise) are applicable to different stages of the process. SMB consultants can’t help enterprises. And some of the marketing leaders I’ve been following (and am lucky to interact with occasionally) primarily work with 8 or 9-figure businesses.
The right consultant at the right moment can help the business tremendously. But nailing the match is a combination of risk and luck.
5. Expanding Your Business Network
No viable platforms for “business networking” exist.
If you want to network with business professionals, try LinkedIn. This is the largest business network worldwide. AngelList may be a close second, but that covers the online spectrum.
Effective business networking happens through:
- Offline events (conferences, meetups, other gatherings)
- Industry-specific groups (closed Facebook groups or other community for micro niches)
- Mastermind groups by top industry influencers
- Vendors and their own communities (gathering other folks in your niche)
- Strategic partnerships
- Press and media exposure bringing awareness to you
- Thought leadership or public speaking (and other forms of branding)
6. Promoting Constant Innovation
Innovation is not the be-all and end-all solution to all problems. As others have pointed out, you have to execute successfully, care about customer satisfaction, start with effective funnels and expand after.
However, you may have lost half the battle during the recruitment phase.
Hiring non-creative team members will be a critical roadblock to success.
I’ve seen this mistake done over and over and over again. The recruitment process is structured around checklists, skills, experience — instead of a healthy mix of case studies and the right personality.
Ignoring Culture Is Like Gambling
Culture is paramount for every organization.
If your business doesn’t emit “innovation” when a recruit heads into your office, they won’t get the right first impression of the team. Unless you vet them against behavioral questions seeking creativity and logical thinking, your process is flawed again.
Now, there’s a good chance that some of your employees are hungry for innovation. But there are several things you need to do now and plan in the long run:
- Find the most creative hustlers. Assign them exciting and challenging tasks within their corresponding fields.
- Design a process for rewarding innovation. Could be bonuses, an “Employee of the month” award or another gamified experience for thrill-seekers.
- Organize ongoing innovation challenges. One experiment per month per employee is a good starting point. Start with a kick-off, gather ideas, and assign a side activity suggested by each of your members.
- Consider leadership roles for your top talent. Breeding inspiration starts from the top, and rewarding top performers (as long as they have the right leadership skills) will help you scale.
- Make sure your recruitment process looks for innovators, not implementers.
- Think carefully about the team members that don’t innovate. This doesn’t necessarily make them bad. Some may complement the creative ideas suggested by others, and make sure they happen. Others may need to be transitioned to a different department or a new one for repetitive ongoing work.
- Ensure that successful innovations are credited. Write case studies, praise your performers in social media, organize interviews within the company. It’s their ideas first and then yours.
- Lather, rinse, repeat.
Think Twice Before Scaling a Business
Companies that care about their culture and solving a niche problem can definitely thrive while staying small — especially in less competitive markets. Growing requires a certain attitude that brings risks.
Once you take the high road of scaling fast, it’s hard to stop. This could send the wrong message to the media, your existing customers, and your staff internally.
Sure, if you pivot and the experiment fails, it’s MUCH better to pull back and try to recover. Burning your staff out is trivial if you need to double the workload until you hire new staff and onboard them properly.
Scaling itself is not the sole killing factor for a business. Make sure you read on the most comprehensive list of business challenges before you pull the trigger.