Don’t get us wrong… growth is definitely a good thing.
At the beginning stages, growth is exciting. It’s a genuine validation of all your hard work, time, dedication, sweat, blood, and tears. And, of course, growth is great for the ol’ wallet.
But growth is kind of like owning a pet: One bird is cute. A thousand birds is a Hitchcockian nightmare.
Too much growth too quickly can actually be somewhat damaging to your business if you’re not ready for it. What starts as simple “challenges” you and your team have to face can quickly turn into larger hazards.
Here’s what you really need to know about growth…
The e-commerce business is booming, and according to recent research, it’s significantly outpacing brick-and-mortar retail. In fact, if projections are correct, worldwide e-commerce will grow at a rate between 13-15% by 2018.
But rapid growth can bring about some unwanted perils, including (but certainly not limited to):
Cash flow crunches. More growth means expansion. You’ll need to hire more people to manage sales, production, customer service, and more. You’d be surprised how quickly the ebb and flow of cash is suddenly out of control. You maybe, possibly, definitely will experience times of famine.
Spending temptations. Of course, there will be times of feasting, too. Have you ever been so successful that your eyes practically turned into dollar signs? Well no, because you’re not a cartoon. But having a sudden influx of cash makes you feel as if you can buy just about anything (and you might try). Just remember that part of your budget has to go to things like adding team members and bolstering your infrastructure. You’ll have to save your checks to Acme Inc. for another day.
Operational clumsiness. In the old days, a setback in the production schedule or a temporary error on your site probably didn’t cause you to break out into hives, but suddenly it becomes very, very important for all the cogs to operate as functionally as possible.
Customer service failures. On the one hand, being popular is swell. You’ve got customers clambering for your product left and right! They might as well put your name in lights, because you’re headed for the big time! That is, until you realize that more business means more complaints and that you’ll need to beef up customer service if you don’t want bad reviews.
Human resource risks. Hiring new people always comes at a price. If they work out, you’ve gained a valuable resource. If they don’t work out… well, turnover isn’t great on the pocketbook (or the general morale of your business). You will have to learn how to hire smarter.
Decision making changes. Along those same lines, you will have to learn how to make better decisions in general. Roles will shift and responsibilities will be added. You will have to step back from the day-to-day productions that gave you so many thrills in the beginning in order to transition to a leadership role. That disconnect may affect the daily processes of your business if your infrastructure is still weak.
Leadership shortfalls. Finally, you may run into the realization that you just might not be totally ready for the leadership role that has been thrust upon you. It happens. We’re not saying it will happen to you, but we’re saying that growth does funny things to people.
Thankfully, all of these risks don’t have to spell doom if you can recognize them before they happen and learn habits that prevent overload.
Here’s what you need to know to keep your company running smoothing during any kind of growth (hint: the earlier you can implement these in your company, the better):
Be a soft wineskin. Fun fact: Back in the olden days of winemaking, they would pour grape juice into a leather wineskin where it would then be left to ferment (don’t worry, this is going somewhere). The fermentation process would cause the wineskin to bloat, so it was important that they only put new wine into freshly made wineskins. Pour the new wine into old wineskins and it would burst after a few days.
In the same way, it’s vitally important that you foster a company culture that allows for changes before growth happens. Having a rigid set of rules that can never be broken means that when you do need to make changes, people will freak out. Maybe they won’t burst physically, but definitely emotionally. If, however, you’re a company that encourages new ideas and you don’t shy away from risk, you’ll expand as growth happens. Make sure all of your employees, even at the lowest level, understand this concept, too.
Optimize. Scaling can be great when you know you can handle everything that is thrown your way, but without proper optimization, fast growth can result in slowdowns with your site, orders, and even customers. Make sure your team, equipment, and operations are all running efficiently.
Drop any dead weight. In the same veins of optimization, over the course of growth you will inevitably find customers (and employees alike) that are simply no good for you. The initial tendency is to hang on to these people, either because they’ve been loyal or you’re going through a dry spell and you could use the cash. But clingy or needy customers (or employees) can steal valuable resources away from people who are adding value. If you see vultures flying around someone at your company, don’t be afraid to say, “No thanks” and move on.
Learn how to delegate. This one is fairly straightforward. Don’t do everything yourself. That’s a one-way ticket to burnout. Remember, you can pay people to do almost anything.
Use virtual workers. Speaking of which, having contractors is a beautiful thing. The more you can move your workload to the digital space, the more effort you will save yourself in the long run. Likewise, working with another company that already handles some of the work for you will not only reduce stress, but could provide longterm support for your whole process (that’s why we exist, by the way, so feel free to contact us). Plus, the digital workspace will never be overrun by thousands of birds, so keep that in mind.
Stay hyper-focused on staff. If you love your team and they are doing a great job, make sure it stays that way. It can be easy to focus on the money, or seeing the numbers tick upward on your stat chart, but the people you work with (and for) are the reason you’re in business. Without them, you’d be nothing.
Remember, growth is a great thing, if you’re prepared to deal with it when it comes.
Watch out for hazards of growing too quickly, including too many slow-downs in your production, rollercoaster accounting books, and people drama.
The best ways to prevent being overloaded during periods of intense growth include staying flexible, getting rid of any distractions, delegating when necessary, and, of course, being really, really nice to your staff.