As a small business owner, you're used to clearing hurdles.
But what happens when things are going well and the challenges keep on coming?
You’ve already put in a lot of hard work, and your efforts are paying off-- these days you have tons of customers, too much work, and a shrinking amount of time.
“Growing pains” don't just happen during your awkward teenage years. There are growing pains associated with your business becoming more successful, too.
Here are five of the most common challenges you might run into while growing your small business – and solutions to help get you from “small” biz to “however-big-you-want-to-be” biz.
1. Finding More of (the right) Clients
You’ve got a solid list of clients you work with on a regular basis, and they’re great – but you need to find more clients like them if you want to grow your business. If you sell a product, it’s the same situation: to grow, you need more customers.
To get through it, try…
Switching up your marketing techniques
If you usually rely on paid advertising, try a word of mouth strategy, or vice versa. If your business has grown through word of mouth referrals, look into what paid ads might work for you.
Being a tough cookie
If you're a kind and generous business owner, you might be taking on clients who aren't right for you. It's up to you to say no-- you're the one in control. If you require your customers to use Basecamp for projects, include it in your contract, and be ready to say 'too bad' if they're unwilling.
Clarifying who “the right” customers are
Make sure you know who your customers are, and why they think your services or products are so valuable. That will give you a good idea of the type of marketing that might help get more of them in the door. Try thinking about – and talking to – existing customers to build an outline of your “ideal client” and why they love working with you.
Analyzing your current marketing
Take a look at your marketing right now. What are you doing that falls under the “attracting new customers” category, and how’s it working for you? Every few months, you should step back and evaluate your efforts. If a specific promotion isn’t bringing in new customers, it might be time to switch it up.
2. Seasonal Fluctuations
There are a ton of small businesses that experience seasonal fluctuations in revenue, so you’re in good company! Maybe your products make great gifts and business is fantastic before the holidays, or maybe people only need snow removal services for half of the year (hopefully, anyways.)
To grow your business, you need to get a handle on those fluctuations to make sure you’re good to grow, all year round.
To even out fluctuations, try:
Working out a “monthly income” and sticking to it
During the busy season, times are good and money is coming in quickly. That’s great, but you should still pay yourself about the same thing. Take a look at how much you make during those busy months, and then average it out with what you make in the slow months. That average is about what you should pay yourself each month to even out your monthly income, even in the off-season.
Working with a professional accountant
It can be easy to feel stressed during those slow times, since no money is coming through the door. Working with a professional accountant who specializes in small businesses can help you get a full look at your annual income, and help you plan for the cash flow slow-downs during your off-season.
3. Burnout and Over-working
It’s tempting to try to do everything yourself – really tempting. It’s the ooey-gooey chocolate cake of small business habits, especially since you know exactly how things should be done. But as your business grows, doing everything yourself can lead to stress, burnout and over-working yourself.
To make sure you stay healthy and happy as the business grows, try…
There are some things you absolutely have to do yourself, like signing payroll checks or meeting with your most important clients. Those things are priorities. Make a list of the things you absolutely have to do, and order them in terms of importance, to get a sense of what your daily, weekly and monthly priorities are.
Hiring support and delegating
Just because something isn’t at the top of your priorities list doesn’t mean it’s not crucial for the health of your business. At a certain point, you should be hiring help to take on some of those tasks, especially when you’re not the expert. Maybe someone else can run your deliveries, or maintain your website, which frees you up to focus on your priorities.
4. Finding the Right People
It’s all well and good to think about delegating if you have great people to delegate to. Finding them, however, is another challenge. When your business is growing, you’ll run in to times when you need to hire for skills you don’t have – or maybe don’t even know about.
To find the great people you need, try…
Finding freelancers online
There are sites like ODesk, Elance or networks like Crew to help you find the right person to take on just about any task. There’s also a wealth of advice out there about how to find great freelance designers, writers, developers and more – you just need to know where to look.
Local networking events are a great way to find people who live in your area. Even if you don’t meet the right person, you never know who has a fantastic friend / cousin / past coworker who just recently started looking for a new opportunity or freelance gig.
Referrals from other small biz owners
Other small business owners have faced the same challenges you have, so they’re a great place to look for referrals. Did they have a great experience with a video production company or copywriter? They can pass on that person’s information, and you know they come highly recommended.
5. Lack of Structure
As your business grows, so does your team, and so do your responsibilities. Things can get chaotic quickly without structure. Don’t worry though, because there’s a whole lot of wiggle room between “no structure” and “the bureaucracy I started the business to get away from in the first place.”
To find the right amount of structure to support your growing biz, try…
Having effective (not boring) meetings
Meetings can be boring, but they can also be really effective at keeping everyone connected and on the same page if they’re done well. You can try keeping meetings to a strict time limit, standing (or walking) during meetings or other techniques to make meetings more effective.
Checking in regularly with employees, freelancers, and contractors
To make sure everyone is on track, schedule time in your day to check in on the projects you have on the go. If you have a good understanding of how everything is going with each project, you’ll know pretty quickly if a deadline looks like it might be missed, or if a project needs your attention.
Grow Without The Pain
Those are some of the most common challenges facing small business owners like you as your awesome business gets bigger and bigger, but there are definitely others than might come up as your business keeps growing.
The most important thing to remember? As tough as they can be, these challenges are a good thing. They’re a sign that the business you worked so hard to start is taking off – and that’s pretty great.
Your turn: What's your biggest growing pain? Have you been through any of these challenges? What worked for you?