Photo: Flickr/Satish Somasundaram
Congratulations. If you’ve clicked this link, you’re probably running a fast-growing company—a fortuitous position for any business owner. However, if your company grows too fast and without the correct infrastructure to let it grow, it can quickly spiral out of control.Consider this story about Chocomize, a New Jersey-based custom chocolate company. In its early days, the company had a pretty steady growth rate—that is, until Oprah called. The day after their product was featured in Oprah’s magazine, everything changed for the small company. Before the article came out, the company was getting about 15 calls per day—a manageable sum for the three founders. But after the article, they were getting more than five times that number.
“It was like, ‘Oh my God, we’re not really sure about what we’re going to do,’ ” Nick LaCava, one of the co-founders, told USA Today.
Don’t let this happen to your company. By planning out your company’s growth—and anticipating any PR blitzes—you’ll be poised to create a sustainable future growth model. And, we hope, it will save some stress along the way.
Find a Mentor
A mentor can be a huge help to any first-time entrepreneur. The mentor can function in a variety of both personal and professional capacities, whether they provide pointers on business strategy, bolster networking efforts or act as confidantes when the work-life balance gets thrown too heavily in one direction.
But why stop at one mentor? Lois Zachary, the president of Leadership Development Services, a Phoenix-based business coaching firm, and author of The Mentee’s Guide: Making Mentoring Work for You, says two or even three mentors can help a struggling entrepreneur.
“The advantages of having multiple mentors is that you can get a lot of different points of view,” notes Zachary, “and when you have a lot of mentors at one time, if they’re sitting around a table, the synergy between the mentors really helps move your thinking along.”
Drop Dead Customer Weight
If your company is growing, it provides your businesss with a unique advantage: you can finally say goodbye to your worst customers. Every business has them; they’re the ones who needle and cajole you into a cheaper product or getting more for their money. More often than not, these are the types of customers you can afford to lose, especially if your company is growing.
Janine Popick, founder and CEO of Vertical-Response, a San Francisco company that provides e-mail marketing services, did just that. In Vertical-Response’s early days, Popick rarely turned down a customer’s request. After devoting nearly all of her company’s manpower to one client, Popick had enough, and cut the customer loose to let the business move on. “It was a tough pill to swallow, because they were one of our top five customers,” she says. “But I approached them and said, ‘Look, guys, we can’t keep maintaining this and ignoring our other customers.'”
Learn How to Delegate
If your company is growing, you’re likely going to have to cede some power to new employees—or, put another way, relative strangers. This can be a difficult, and even emotional process for many entrepreneurs. However, to ensure the company can maintain its solid growth, an entrepreneur must learn the subtle art of delegating.
CEOs of small businesses are “so busy just doing the day-to-day stuff, they don’t step back and think, ‘You know what, I could make this a lot easier for myself and get better results for my business if I only delegate it,” says Barbara Pratt the author of Own the Forest, Delegate the Trees and CEO of Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida-based Project Leadership Gold, a project management consulting firm.
Trust is integral to delegating tasks. Andrew Crapuchettes, CEO of Economic modelling Specialists, a Moscow, Idaho-based company that collects employment data and provides economic analyses for colleges and universities, says trust may come in many forms, so it’s important to distinguish between personal trust and business trust.
“Trust obviously comes in a lot of different ways,” says Crapuchettes. “The person that babysits my kids, I trust them, but they don’t necessarily share my business vision.”
Hire Virtual Workers
If your company is growing, you’re probably entertraining the idea of hiring virtual workers. After all, your cramped offices might just not be the best place to house new people. Hiring virtual workers also gives your business the ability to expand its footprint (and the option to tell clients you have employees all across the country).
“As organisations become more geographically distributed, they’re going to try to access the best talent wherever they may be,” says Richard Lepsinger, president of OnPoint Consulting, a virtual consulting company based in New York, and co-author of Virtual Team Success: A Practical Guide for Working and Leading from a Distance. “They’re also trying to get closer to the customer. Now, you have technology that you didn’t have five years ago, and this whole notion of virtual teaming has become more prevalent.”
Poach From Your Competitors
Let’s face it, you want people in your business who understand your business. Hiring employees from a competitor may seem low—maybe even unethical—but it’s a reality in business. In any fast-growing company, you’ll want the best people for the job, and that often means finding them at competitor firms. Look no further than the talent wars at Facebook and Google to see how gritty it can truly get.
Brenda Snyder, chief operations officer at The Human Resource Group, a boutique search firm in Denver, says it’s also important to keep in mind the relationships that poaching can sour. “In the small business world, you don’t want to blow out your personal relationships,” Snyder says. “If you know that there’s a person you want at another firm, and if you don’t have a relationship with that firm, you can go for it. But if it’s a small industry, a small market, with small niche players, be very conscious of the consequences of that action. Think it through, like any good business leader would.”
Know What You’re Getting Into
Though it may seem counterintuitive, not every business owner wants a fast growing company. Companies that grow too fast are stressful to manage and for some, just not worth the effort. So before you launch the next service or open a new location, be patient, says Tony Gemignani, a restaurateur and owner of Tony’s Coal-Fired Pizza and Slice House and Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco. “Looking for the right location and being able to wait for the right location is really important…You need to research it and understand the demographics, what people want, what they might have in the area and how you’re going to execute your plan.”
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