Scaling a business is a delicate art. As entrepreneurs, most all of us want our businesses to grow, but when it comes to balancing quantity and quality in the process—whether we’re taking out a loan, partnering with an investor or merging with or acquiring another company—we should always hold tight to what truly makes us special.
“Companies that scale well have sacred constraints, things they can never screw up,” says Robert Sutton, a management professor at Stanford and co-author of the book Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less. For example, Sutton says that for a company like Starbucks, it’s the whole coffee-drinking experience—the smell and the sound of beans grinding—that’s been sacred to maintain through their rapid growth.
According to SCORE, the non-profit education and mentorship organization for small businesses, scalability is also about capacity and capability. Does your business have the capacity to grow? Will your systems, infrastructure and team be able to accommodate growth? It means setting the stage to enable and support growth. It means having the ability to grow without being hampered. And that requires planning, some funding and the right systems, staff, processes, technology and partners.
Here are a few questions to ask as you look to maintain what makes your business special as it grows:
- “Am I ready to grow?” Take stock of where your business stands right now. Then, strategize what you need to do to increase sales. Assume your efforts are successful and you double your business overnight. Do you have the people and systems to handle that business without seriously struggling or failing?
- “Where will the money come from?” Scaling a business costs money. You may eventually have to hire employees, invest in new technology and add equipment or facilities. Consider how much capital you need and then take a lesson from the pandemic: Start building a relationship with a banking partner now who can help expedite the process when you’re ready.
- “Can I sell more?” The answer to this isn’t just about having a great product or service, but also about having the sales structure to support it. Look at your current structure for a sufficient lead flow; systems to track and manage leads; people to manage orders/projects; and a billing/receivable system to make sure you’re paid on time.
- “How can technology help?” The great thing about technology is that it makes it easier and less expensive to scale—and it can reach around the globe. Consider things like how automation can help you run your business more efficiently by minimizing manual work, and how today’s latest marketing technologies can help you reach new markets.
- “Are my people ready?” Remember, an organization is only as good as its people, and while technology can help speed up the process, you’ll need good people to carry out the work as you scale. Assess everything from management to manufacturing to customer service. Also, plan for how to find qualified people quickly when needed.
At NAWBO, we’re always here to support your growth too. Look around your chapter and the nation. There’s always another woman business owner who is in the same place or has scaled before you who can provide insight and inspiration. And tap into all the education and resources we offer—they’re designed to support all aspects of your business success no matter where you are in your journey!