Every Scalable Business Has These 9 Things in Common: Lessons from the Circular Summit

Every Scalable Business Has These 9 Things in Common: Lessons from the Circular Summit
Image credit: Circular Board

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Former West Coast Editor
8 min read

“Your business is scaling your business.”

It’s a simple observation, but an important one, shared by Dermalogica CEO and founder Jane Wurwand last week at the inaugural Circular Summit in Houston. She was one of many accomplished female founders who’d converged to talk about what’s needed to grow women-led businesses.

Of course, there’s no one route to growth. However, businesses that do scale tend to have certain traits in common. To find those traits, we polled a sampling of successful female founders at the event, from Wurwand to an 11-year-old lemonade entrepreneur who snagged a sweet offer on Shark Tank and an El Salvadoran-immigrant-turned-millionaire-waste management mogul who “turns trash into treasure.”

Here are 9 lessons on what’s needed to scale from the Circular Summit’s fearless female founders.

1. Their founders make people believe.
Kelli Thomas-Drake, founder and CEO of MyPurpleFolder

“Scaling comes down to showing people your heart. From there, from a genuine place, show them your value proposition, your revenue model, your financial projections and your potential. Show people the unique, problem-solving magic of your business, what it will empower them to do. Once they understand your mission and what it can do for them, others will get on board. Recruit believers in your product or service and partnership that can fuel your growth and it will follow.”   

Related: Fearlessness, Courage and Capital: What's Needed to Fuel the Next Stage of Growth for Women Entrepreneurs

2. They start small.
Mikaila Ulmer, founder and CEO of BeeSweet Lemonade

“Grow your business locally first. That’s what we did, selling lemonade at my own stand at first, then in local stores. Then I held workshops teaching families about bees. Whole Foods asked me to do a workshop there and, five or so workshops later, they finally asked to carry my product, and it was pretty cool.

Scaling starts with growing a company that you’re passionate about. If you’re not passionate about it, it’s going to be pretty hard to get other people passionate about it. Also know that you can still be sweet and be profitable, so you can be what’s called a social entrepreneur, an entrepreneur who uses their company to help solve problems in the world in ways that have measurable impact. More people will be interested in buying or carry your product, or using your service, if they are part of helping the world be a better place.”


3. Their founders think big.
Felena Hanson, founder and CEO of Hera Hub

“You have to have the guts to scale. Women tend to be a bit more risk-averse than men. What we need to do is challenge ourselves to go bigger. Embrace a growth mindset. Network aggressively and take part in pitch events so you can get out there in front of investors. Then find mentors who can feed it, people who have been there and done that. Bottom line: Don’t be afraid to go for it and ask for what you need.”

Related: 4 Calls to Action for Entrepreneurs to Unite

4. Their founders think one-step ahead.
Melanie Spring, founder and chief inspiration officer of Sisarina

“Hire people before you have the money to do it. Getting an assistant is the first step in scaling because it frees you up to focus on growth, to go out there and get the big fish. Be able to get business done without imposter syndrome and without worrying about it. Show up and say, ‘I can do this,’ and then figure it out, even if you sometimes doubt yourself while you’re doing it. Have confidence, courage and some serious fortitude -- that’s how you scale fast.”


5. They’re strategic.
Maria Rios, founder and CEO of Nation Waste, Inc.

“Taking your business to a bigger level requires careful, deeply strategic planning well in advance. One smart first step you can take is to get certifications that hold weight in your industry. Many of my certifications led to being able to bid on and win state and federal projects that bring in millions of dollars for my business. Take it from me -- industry certifications unlock big doors to growth. Go after them.”

As you grow, you’ll also want to resist the temptation to take every opportunity that comes your way. My mentor Warren Buffett reminds me that not every opportunity is a great opportunity, so pick and choose wisely. It has to be the right idea, the right fit, otherwise it could end up slowing your growth, not scaling it.”  

Related: Moms, It's Time to Quit Feeling Guilty

6. Their founders listen carefully.

Ali Brown, founder and CEO of We Lead and host of Glambition Radio podcast

“Make connections. The more connections you have, the more access to the right information, the right advice and the right resources you’ll gather. The lesson there is to listen to your gut when scaling. Surround yourself with people who are very honest with you and get you to think very clearly for yourself and what you want.”


7. They’re efficient.
Grace Rodriguez, co-founder and culture conductor for Station Houston

“Automate. The more tasks you can automate, the less time you’ll have to focus on day-to-day operations. Delegate the ones you can. Then, build an army. Create a small army of supporters, an A-team of advisors who understand your target market, your vendors, your network. These are the people who will propel your growth. Lastly, amplify your efforts. This means targeting and growing advocates and influencers online, the amplifiers of your message. Empower and welcome people to become a part of your brand and what it empowers them to do.

Related: 11 Grants for Women-Owned Businesses You Need to Know About

8. They’re scrappy.
Jane Wurwand, founder and CEO of Dermalogica

“Be resourceful. Write compelling content about your business and send it to the press. You can just call up the beauty editor at Harper’s Bazaar. I did and it worked. No one does that anymore, but they should. If you can’t afford a PR agency, and I couldn’t when I started, go for it and reach out to the media yourself. Go old-school direct and tell them that you’ve started a company, and you just want 10 minutes to come and tell them about it. You’d be surprised the opportunities it opens you up to. Another key step is to hire dreamers, people who are hitching a wagon to your dream. We hired anyone we thought was crazy enough to join us and had huge amounts of energy. It was an affordable, manageable growth route that got us where we are today.”


Related: The Entrepreneurial Chicken-or-Egg Dilemma

9. They build the right team.
Kimberly Johnston, founder and CEO of Good Works Houston

“To grow, build a team that believes in you, that believes in what you’re doing. Connect and create deep, meaningful relationships with people who are committed, confident and passionate about your vision. In the end, it’s not financial capital that drives scalability, it’s human capital. It’s taking the time to meet people one on one and understanding how this can be a joint, mutually beneficial relationship. If on your growth path you connect with people who aren’t a match for what you’re trying to accomplish, stay focused and move on. Success is just up ahead.”


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