5 Pitfalls to Avoid When Growing (or Scaling) a Business
Leaders who don't acknowledge or plan for the challenges that come with growth can succumb to certain pitfalls that can serve as bottlenecks and ultimately inhibit success.
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Growing a business is an exciting prospect for any entrepreneur. It's something you dream about and hope for because it means you've had a measure of success. It means the idea you've committed yourself to for years is meaningful and brings value to your customers.
With growth also comes challenges. While you've likely planned for this moment for a long time, there are always nuances in the current situation. You have to be willing to be flexible and embrace change. A leader must possess the ability to acknowledge and realize when things need to evolve, whether in their individual role or in key components of the culture that's been established.
Leaders who don't acknowledge this can be lured into certain pitfalls that can serve as bottlenecks that inhibit growth and, ultimately, success. With that in mind, here are five key pitfalls to avoid when growing your business.
1. Not knowing how and when to scale
Growing a business obviously takes a considerable amount of preparation before embarking on the journey. However, scaling the business, or increasing revenues faster than costs, is a completely different challenge.
Scaling is all about timing — notably, not starting too early — and making sure the processes put in place are airtight. As exciting as scaling up your business can be, it's most important to take the time to evaluate needs, refine processes and pain points, and not scale too soon. This will ultimately put the company in a better position for long-term growth.
Determining repeatable and reproducible processes, including viable resources and technology, helps to standardize elements of the business that make it more efficient while freeing up other resources to focus on innovation. The discipline of scaling, at the right time, will go a long way toward ensuring your company grows successfully.
2. Clinging to certain daily responsibilities
When my co-founder and I first started our company in 2010, we handled every aspect of the business, from the biggest idea to the smallest minutiae of running the day-to-day.
If you were to fast-forward five years — after experiencing considerable success and adding a few dozen team members — my daily responsibilities became vastly different. Fast forward to today, and my day-to-day tasks are again different.
One of the many benefits of growing the business is the ability to hire people with the expertise to bring the attention, focus and skill sets needed to grow. Hiring people with the right skill sets affords team members the opportunity to own critical aspects of the business and gives them autonomy to do what they are good at and rise to the level needed to drive company success.
With the right people in place to sustain and grow the current business, leadership can focus on the necessary planning, resourcing and relationship-building to facilitate future growth.
3. Requiring every task and project match your vision 100%
With all due respect to my actual children, my company is my baby. I have raised it from its infancy and still spend countless hours thinking about and researching different ways to optimize our approach and fulfill our mission. That's why I sympathize with startup leaders who are specific in how they want to see their vision enacted.
Regardless of the vision, the reality is that changes will occur from ideation to execution. Some will be sizable based on legal or regulatory requirements, while others may be nuanced based on other factors, like audience needs. Either way, be prepared to accept that tweaks to your vision are inevitable.
I've learned that if a project matches 80% to 90% of what I had envisioned, it's a success. Ultimately, I've set the path and I've hired the team to lead it.
4. Forgetting your team has valuable perspectives
This might be a more eloquent way of saying don't let your ego run rampant. One of the biggest mistakes I've seen leaders make is assuming that their years of experience, market knowledge and familiarity with the business they've built means they know best.
When you are so invested, you need to be reminded that there are people within your company who are hired for their expertise, experience and diversity of thought. Their perspective is invaluable in terms of objectively looking at the viability of certain trends and assessing needs, like whether your company truly has the internal resources it needs to build a new technology platform.
As leaders, it's important for us to remember that we hire highly qualified people not just to perform certain tasks, but to bring perspectives that complement and sometimes challenge our own. Learn to trust and empower the people you hire because you can't grow without them.
5. Assuming company culture will always stay the same as you grow
A culture that feels like a family is possible, and it can be extremely empowering and morale-boosting with a team of 10, 15 or 25 people. However, as the company grows into triple digits and the services and capabilities increase and change, the approach to culture inevitably evolves with it. As a leader, it can be hard to wrap your head around the change.
While change is hard, it's necessary. More importantly, it's possible to evolve while also staying true to your mission and purpose. It starts with hiring people at all levels who are a good fit for the organization. It's also pivotal to offer flexible work options and a range of benefits that suit your team members and keep you competitive in the market.
These pitfalls serve to remind leaders that change is inevitable and a natural part of growth. From the change in scope of your role to scaling the business and managing culture shifts, it's all part of the process. Being aware of the need to change and being flexible can help to avoid these pitfalls and lead to success.
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