Yep, file this one under “quality problems.”
It’s not that managing small business growth is easy. For entrepreneurs, it’s one of the most anxiety-ridden, teeth-clenching, daylight-burning times of their lives.
It’s just that managing small business growth can be a more positive experience than, say, filing for bankruptcy.
But only if you handle it the right way.
Sure, some of the challenges ahead seem insurmountable. You’re not sure how you can ever hire a quality staff capable of handling all of your new orders. You’re not sure how you’ll ever handle paying the taxes or even keeping the books straight. You’re not sure you want to give up some of your old “startup mode” duties like morning coffee and bagel runs.
But trust us: managing small business growth can be one of the best times in your life.
It’s in the coming months and years that you’ll nurture the habits and embrace the strategies that free you from your own gig. It might feel like an uphill road at times. But in the end it’s better than where that other road leads.
Frequent Issues of the Growing Small Business
Let’s not mince words: in the world of small business, growing pains are very, very real, and they need to be addressed. Just think of the challenges you might face:
Hiring the right people. Much easier said than done. As your business grows, you’ll find that good help really is hard to come by.
Implementing systems for accounting, payroll, project management, and more. You could get away with calculators before—now, you need legitimate systems in place.
Creating a “scalable” enterprise. If you were baking cakes out of your kitchen, what happens when you receive an order for 1,000 by next Tuesday? It’s time to think bigger.
Keeping your team on the same page. Vacation time, company goals, team morale—there are a lot of complications when you add people to your team.
Space and equipment. Sometimes, business growth is merely a matter of upgrading physically. What happens when you need new space, new machines, new phone systems, new everything?
Handling increased customer demands. The more customers you have, the more potential you’ll have for issues and complaints that need to be dealt with. When your small business was just you, you handled them yourself. Now you need a new approach.
Yes, running a business can be more complicated than you once imagined. Heck, as you grow, it will only become more complicated than you’ve already experienced.
Luckily, you’re not the first one to the dance. Many people have been in your shoes before, and that’s why there are already tools in place for dealing with the most common problems of the budding business leader.
Tools (That Double As Solutions) For Managing Growth
If you’re worried about your own growth, it’s because you’re thinking about problems more than solutions. Don’t fret! Here are some of the most common solutions available for small business owners today—and some of the best tools and guides for dealing with each problem in turn:
Scaling Your Business
SBA.gov: Financing Your Growth – Strategies for financing your expanding needs, from office space to better equipment.
UserTesting – Running an online shop? Then have users test your overall experience before you roll out your expansion. Great for eliminating “bugs” later on.
ZenDesk – An all-in-one customer service platform. This will help you detach yourself from the customer experience conundrum that arises as you acquire more customers. That’s an essential part of the growth process.
Finding The Right People
Intelius – Run background checks on prospective employees; a must-have for someone starting out hiring on their own.
Elance – Hire people for everything, from small projects to long-term hourly arrangements.
Managing Your Team
ActiveCollab – Manage your projects, large and small, and keep everything organized in one single place.
BaseCamp – Simply put, one of the best-known names in project management.
Accounting and Management
Freshbooks – All-in-one accounting. You can build entire companies on this infrastructure alone; and there are many people who have done exactly that.
Expensify – Have a big sales team that’s out on the road? If expense reports have ever been tedious in your business, you need to get Expensify, stat.
We know, we know—you’ve never considered yourself “organized.” Heck, there are few people who do. Even those who pride themselves on clean labels and color-coded binders can have their challenging days when managing a growing business.
But getting organized even when the emails stack up and the papers pile on your desk is possible—you just need the right solutions.
For email, there’s Highrise.
You know all those tens of thousands of notes and emails you have gathering cobwebs in your inbox? Well, it turns out there’s actually a way to organize them and make them manageable. Highrise enables you to store all of your previous correspondence with particular clients in one space, ensuring the sweet spot of an inbox that is both clean and has with no information slipping through the cracks.
For time management, there’s Google Calendar.
Google does a great job of allowing you to sync this calendar across a number of devices, ensuring that an appointment that you set on your tablet does not get lost when you’re using your laptop. What’s more, it’s easy to coordinate Google Calendar with clients and leaders from other businesses, ensuring maximum sociability. Have problems double-booking yourself? Try out TimeTrade for online appointment scheduling made easy.
Finally, you can share and backup files using Dropbox.
Dropbox allows you plenty of space for saving all sorts of files, ensuring that you never have to worry about a computer crashing. It also gives you links for sharing files with people who don’t even have Dropbox.
Building a Team that’s on the Same Page
One of the least-understood aspects about growing a business is the fact that with growth comes more employees, and with more employees come more personalities. That can be fun. It can also be a major headache. It’s the nature of the social world we live in: some people will simply not get along.
As the business owner, the cohesion of your team is ultimately your responsibility. You’re the coach, the quarterback, the point guard, and the buck stops with you.
Never been much of a motivator or coach? That’s okay. There are plenty of ways you can build a team that shares the same goals:
TeamPedia.net: A library of all things team-building, from party tactics to team-building exercises to useful hints and strategies. If you’re completely lost on how to motivate your people, this may be a good place to start.
GoVisually: Sometimes, it helps to break out of the usual “let’s email each other” routine and collaborate visually. That’s exactly what you’ll get here.
Yammer: A private social network that allows your employees to interact and share work.
Strategies for Managing Growth
We’ve given you a lot of tools for handling small business growth, from cleaning out your giant email inbox to handling the new demands of accounting and payroll. But what good are tools if you don’t know how to use them?
Since you already have the tactics, let’s zoom out and talk strategy.
Lead Your Culture
You get to decide who works with you and who doesn’t. You sign the checks. You run the show. Ultimately, if any “culture” is going to develop at your small business, it’s going to depend upon you.
So don’t be afraid to take the reins and assert your authority in your own individual style. Do accept feedback from employees, sure, but don’t let your new team determine where your business goes without you.
Separate Yourself From The Machine
You used to be involved in every aspect of your business, from building the widgets to customer service. As you grow, eventually you’ll have to separate yourself from the A-to-Z work. Delegation is key here, as is acquainting new employees with the way you used to run things.
There are many options for replacing yourself, from customer service software to hiring new help. But the most important thing to remember is that once your business is large enough, your presence can become a hindrance rather than a boost. Don’t be a bottleneck.
The idea of constant improvement is something you should internalize immediately. Schedule a monthly meeting where you ask for better ideas and tools for growing. Talk to your sales people and learn how you can make their jobs easier. Always look for an edge, because as your company grows, it’s only to get more complicated.
If you’re not improving, you’re stagnating. Keep simplifying and your business is bound to be more efficient, smooth, and manageable.
Keep Two Goals: Long and Short
Long-term and short-term goals. Yes, it’s good to have a goal for the sales figures this quarter. But never forget about the big picture, either. Think about where your business will be in one year, five years, even decades from now.
The more you keep your eyes on the prize, the easier your day-to-day decisions will become.