As an entrepreneur, you dream of the day when you’ve got a steady stream of clients eager to work with you. But what happens when the workload becomes more than you can handle? As far as problems go, this one might sound like a great one, but rapid growth can actually be as disastrous as a business that never really takes off. In fact, the result is often the same: failure.
We’ve compiled some tell-tale signs that a business isn’t growing sustainably—and some solutions that’ll help you pump the brakes and prepare for a well-managed growth rate.
You’re Too Busy to Give Customer Service You’re Proud of
Your services are considered so special that customers are crawling out of the woodwork to work with you. But what happens when you can’t answer your clients’ calls and emails in a timely manner or meet the deadlines as punctually as you would both like?
When your popularity is out of proportion with your capacity, you’re in a dangerous position of alienating great clients by providing poor customer service. (And let’s not forget the very real possibility of professional burn-out.) Making your customers feel valued should be paramount for any business and if you can’t do that because you’re too busy, you’ve got some tough decisions to make.
Sustainable Solution: It might seem counterintuitive, but one way to improve customer service is to cut loose your lowest paying/highest aggravation customers. (Nicely, of course.) We all have those clients that we were thrilled to land in the early days. They might be demanding and maybe they don’t pay your full rate, but the promise of steady work made it seem worthwhile when you started working with them. But once these clients start cutting into your time with more lucrative opportunities that are exciting to you, it’s time to refer them to someone else. You’ll be able to devote more of your attention to the clients you really want to work with. You may also consider looking into ways to improve your time management and the possibility of outsourcing some of your work.
You Need to Buy Equipment and Hire Employees—Quick
Your business is growing so fast that you feel like you have to make quick, (sometimes uninformed) decisions about purchasing equipment or hiring employees. Anytime you have to make speedy, business-related decisions, ensure you do it with caution. Remember, there’s always the possibility that your recent boost in sales could later lead to a financial slump, leaving you with more expenses than you can handle.Without proper time to consider your long-term needs, it’s easy to make rash purchases and ill-advised hires.
Sustainable Solution: Negotiate a reprieve on the onslaught of work with some of your clients to give yourself the space to do some much-needed post-business planning. You’ll need to ask yourself some tough questions, including:
- How many people do you need? And how robust does the equipment need to be in order to complete the current workload?
- Can you outsource some of the work temporarily?
- What’s the growth pattern? Will these clients need more or less of you in the future?
- Long term, would you like to share the workload in order to take on more of a leadership role—or do you enjoy being the doer?
Once you’ve answered these questions and put more thought into the vision of your business, you’ll have a clearer picture of your priorities. From there, you’ll be able to make smart decisions that will keep you from an uncomfortable growth spurt.
You’re Making Operational Decisions on the Fly
Do you find yourself spending significant portions of your time troubleshooting situations? The firefighting approach to getting work done is dangerous. This could include IT solutions, customer management systems and upgrades to existing equipment. They require sober thought, research and execution because they have a lasting impact on your bottom line and the way your business operates.
Sustainable Solution: Taking the time to think long-term about the decisions you’re making is a critical way to get back on track to a well-managed growth plan. Instead of shuffling people around and upgrading systems for temporary fixes, explore ways to optimize your processes to make them run smoother—both now and in the future. Remember, you’re not an expert on everything about your business—don’t be afraid to talk to professionals to further learn about the systems that are most suitable for your business.
Your Financials Are Both Exhilarating and Terrifying
Your accounts receivables are growing and you’ve got lots of work on the horizon. Your business may even be bringing in bigger and better profits than you ever imagined. How is this a problem, you ask? It becomes treacherous if not managed properly. More money brings complexity; the higher your financials are, the harder it is to keep track of sales and expenses. Plus, you want to make sure you’re making your profit work for you, now and in the future.
Sustainable Solution: If you’re raking in lots of cash at a rapid rate, it might be a great idea to consult with an accountant to ensure you’re in compliance with tax and employment laws. A great accountant can often see problem areas you might not know exists, so you can nip it in the bud and continue on with your business. Once you have the lay of the land, financially-speaking, you can make critical decisions to capitalize on acquiring better office space, equipment and training for employees. And during the slower times, you can pack it in and save your money.
You’re Really Uncertain of Your Next Steps
You’ve exceeded your original business goals and you feel like you’re on top of your business. What’s next for you? When you’ve climbed rapidly, it’s hard to stay steady without falling, particularly if you’re running your business alone. Is it time to expand the business? Get into a new line? Start something new? It’s difficult to be at the top and not know which way to turn.
Sustainable Solution: If you’ve never had a mentor, this instance merits one. Reach out to other entrepreneurs in your industry to learn if they’ve endured similar experiences. They can offer advice on things like business strategy, work-life balance and fostering growth that’s sustainable. You might even consider establishing an advisory board for your business. Gather a number of professionals in your field, pay them a stipend, and hold regular board meetings where they can weigh in on what they think is best for the business.
You’re Branching Out into Foreign Territory
All entrepreneurs are tempted to stray outside of the scope of their original business model. A small construction business focusing on residential work may be invited to bid on a commercial project that goes beyond what they’re set up to do. It’s an exciting opportunity but rife with potential problems. Can you accommodate your original customer base while growing into a new market? Are you ready for the decisions and actions associated with growing up, fast?
Sustainable Solution: If you’re faced with a decision to expand quickly, it’s helpful to refer to your original business plan to see if it aligns. Are you ready to build on your original vision—or do you want to give yourself more time to build your expertise and capacity? It may be in your best interest to maintain your current client base and, until you’re ready to expand, acquire new contracts that are aligned with your business plan. Perhaps this might be the right time to find a partner who specializes in that area of work, so you’re not charting new territory alone.
About the Author: Heather Hudson is an accomplished freelance writer and journalist based in Toronto. She writes for a number of publishing, corporate and agency clients who depend on her to deliver high-quality, on-brand content and journalism with a fresh perspective. Learn more about her work at heatherhudson.ca.