Every small business owner dreams of growth. Overnight success is often on the mind of numerous entrepreneurs who spend their evenings sketching out tentative ideas on a pad.
The reality of rapid small business growth is, however, very different from what you may have dreamed up. Unfortunately, it’s a stressful time. A sudden influx of clients will instantly mean you need to get more work done in the same amount of time, which certainly won’t be a fun experience.
Here’s what you can do to handle unexpected small business growth.
Understand Where the Growth Is Coming From
A lot of small businesses fail to turn unexpected growth into long-term success, expecting the boom to continue no matter what they do.
But when you inadvertently do something to cause a rapid influx of new work and fail to pinpoint what that was, you’ll never replicate it. The trickle of new work will inevitably slow down. And since you have probably needed to increase your spend to keep up with the demand, you will find yourself unable to earn enough to stay afloat.
When unplanned small business growth starts to unfold, your first goal should be to understand its cause. Analyze your acquisition channels, from your website to your brick-and-mortar stores. Conduct customer interviews to determine what it is that has inspired people to choose you.
Another crucial step is to examine and research not only industry trends but also the trends surrounding the platforms your business is tied to. This will help you determine (and possibly even predict) their effect on your growth. For example, if you’re running an Amazon FBA business, first look for factors within the Amazon platform that might have directly impacted your growth.
Once you understand what your newfound appeal really is, you will be able to replicate it in the future.
Go Back to Your Original Business Plan
Having a business plan increases your chance of growth by 30%. Hopefully, you had taken the time to create one before you launched your business.
When your venture starts to grow unexpectedly, you need to go back to that original idea and re-examine what it is you wanted to achieve. You may discover that you can pivot, as opportunities you haven’t considered before are not making themselves known.
The key danger of rapid small business growth is that you are liable to lose your head. You may forget all about the goals you’ve set for your business and start going after the money. While there is nothing wrong with this move, it may significantly derail you and even be the cause of your downfall a couple of years down the line.
Remember that there is nothing wrong with turning clients away if what they need doesn’t align with the direction you want to take your business in. If you are an SEO agency and people suddenly start coming to you with design requirements, you don’t need to open up a new department just to cater to them. That’s unless you’ve always wanted to expand into design, in which case you are free to jump at the chance.
Consider Making Some Cuts
You may also want to consider cutting some of the services you are currently offering if you are unable to handle the increase in workload.
Any task that takes up a lot of your time but provides a low return on investment may be up for the chopping block. Getting rid of a service especially makes sense when your new growth can make up for the consequential decrease in earnings.
Never cut a service you’ve built your name on or one you want to be known for in the future. Unless you are ready to completely change the direction your business is going in, keeping your core services will let you build on them in the future.
This decision will ultimately be nothing more than a judgment call that you, as a business owner, need to make. Don’t make it lightly, and don’t base the decision entirely on the money that is coming in at the moment. Put your visionary hat on, and think long-term thoughts.
Understand the Finances
In order to make competent decisions about your business’s future, you also need to take the time to fully grasp your finances. Your accountant will still be handling the accounting, but you, as the decision-maker, should understand your earnings and expenses.
Once you are completely clear on the profits you will be making over the short-term, you can decide where you want to invest. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is free cash and spending it all on your private needs and wants.
This is your time to either hire new people, improve your infrastructure, or expand your knowledge. You may have a very urgent need to hire new staff and put out the fire that has been caused by the influx of clients. By having clear figures in mind, you will be able to bring the right people on board. These are the people who will help you ride the growth wave.
Another benefit to figuring out your finances early is that it will give you the ability to more easily sell the business down the road. While selling isn’t something that usually comes to the top of mind during the early days of growing a business, it should be an important consideration for the long-term. There are many factors that go into valuing a business and having your finances in order will give you a clear idea of its market potential.
Automate What You Can
42% of business leaders feel that process automation speeds up the completion of repetitive tasks. Half of them also agree that automation is able to reduce the risk of human error.
When your business is growing faster than expected, you can leverage automation to save yourself and your staff valuable time. Plus, automation will help you reduce the risk of employee errors that can lead to a negative customer experience.
Knowing which processes to automate will be the tricky part, as automating the wrong thing can be just as disastrous.
Automation works well for repetitive or mundane processes. Things like email marketing and data entry are great tasks to find an automated solution for. On the other hand, something like social media marketing can only be automated to an extent and will still require human involvement.
Consider automating your invoice extraction as well as any other accounting process that you can. This will help you speed up payments, increasing the amount of readily available funds you have at your disposal.
Outsource What You Can
Now might be the best time to start outsourcing a lot of the daily tasks that come with running a small business. Of course, it’s always difficult to give some of the reins to someone you don’t know. While this will naturally be a very scary step, it is also a necessary one.
What you will be outsourcing depends on the amount and type of work you and your staff are currently handling. Start by considering your own workload. What are you not as good at, and what do you absolutely dislike doing?
Look for someone on your current team to take over first and outsource some of their work to someone new. This domino effect is a great way to ensure everyone does what they like and what they are best at.
Marketing, for example, is usually a safe one to outsource, as you can find hundreds of freelancers online who will do an excellent job at prices you will be able to afford. You can even use resume-matching software to help you find the best candidates for the job and automate part of the hiring process.
Do More with Your Day
No matter how much you automate and outsource, you’ll still need to figure out a way to become more productive. Hiring the right person and adopting a new process will take some time, and your new clients won’t all be too happy to wait until you manage to figure that out.
Start by taking some time out of your day to determine what you can do to increase your output and efficiency from tomorrow onwards. Delegate, start time-blocking, or use the Pomodoro technique: whatever works for you and your style of operation.
Make sure to also invest in a productivity app that will align with the way your mind works. You may find that constant reminders to get up and do something get on your nerves, but that you love apps that give you a color-coded overview of your day.
Ask your staff to do the same, and give them the tools they will need themselves. Don’t insist on everybody doing the same thing, though. We are all productive in very different ways. For example, if someone needs to have an hour’s coffee break to recharge, let them.
Find a Way to Decompress
Finally, there is one more important thing you need to do when faced with unexpected small business growth: take care of your mental health.
No matter how lucky you feel and how thrilling the growth of your venture is, you’ll still be under heavy stress. To stay sane and be able to deal with the growth, you’ll need to find a way to decompress.
What you do will be entirely up to personal preference. You can play a sport or a video game, read a book or watch movies with your friends, for example. Find whatever activity helps you stop thinking about work completely, at least for an hour at a time.
Furthermore, make sure to establish healthy boundaries around work by making a point of not working on holidays. Even if you operate in an insanely busy industry and often work on weekends, you can take time off during public holidays.
Last but certainly not least, do your best to take care of your physical health during this period of growth. Eat well, sleep as much as you can, and get some exercise every day. Even if it’s just a walk, and even if you are jotting down ideas in your mind during it, move your body to keep your mind sharp.
Unexpected small business growth can be a blessing and a curse at the same time. How you handle it can often determine the fate of your small business. So, consider adopting our advice, and don’t forget to take a deep breath and enjoy your new success.