During COVID, I did something a little crazy.
As the pandemic was in full swing and my business started disappearing, I had to reassess what I wanted our company to look like in the future. I took a long, hard look at everything we had accomplished up to that point and decided that I wanted to work with customers who valued what I was doing, customers that poured as much value back into us as we poured into them.
With that in mind, I decided to terminate our biggest client.
That’s right, our biggest client. It was a massive shock to the remaining staff, but as I explained to them and continued to remind myself, they were by far our most challenging client to work with. I had decided that I no longer wanted to stake my entire business on the quantity of our customers, but on the quality. Once the relationship ended, I felt like the universe opened up for me and I started receiving new clients that were easier to work with.
Quality vs. Quantity in the Art of Scaling
Scaling a business is a delicate art. As entrepreneurs, we want our businesses to grow, but when it comes to balancing quantity and quality in the process—whether we’re taking out a loan or taking on an investor, merging or acquiring—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, 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 and 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 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. When I needed a line of credit during the more challenging months of the pandemic, this pre-existing relationship was vital for me.
- “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. As we began to ramp up towards lockdown in late 2019 and into 2020, our business invested in the appropriate technology to help us scale effectively and reduce redundancy. We were already working from home two days a week before COVID lockdowns began so that when we entered the shutdown, our transition was extremely smooth.
- “Are my people ready?” Remember, an organization is only as good as its people; 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!