Incorporate these sustainable growth best practices into your operations playbook, for scalable business success now and into the future.
While industry trends will come and go over the course of your career, if you’re a small business owner, you’re likely to experience some of the same growing pains as others, as you work at building sustainable growth for your organization over the long haul.
Aside from the many complexities of the typical workday—where a mix of client, employee, and financial management responsibilities probably has you juggling many different priorities—you may also be feeling the effects of outdated processes that allowed you to “get by” when your company was starting up but simply won’t cut it as you grow.
Do any or all of these 4 descriptions sound like your current state of affairs? Then your business may not be growing as sustainably as it could be:
- Your financials have become overly complex.
- You’ve got so many new customers that you’re under-delivering on service.
- You’re feeling the pressure to buy equipment and hire employees to fill performance gaps.
- You find yourself making business-critical decisions on the fly.
The good news: With a little bit of effort, you can shift gears and focus on what’s important—building a healthy business that operates like a well-oiled machine. Here are 5 steps that’ll get you back on track to sustainable business success.
1. Get Financially Fit
In the business world, we can’t all be financial wizards—nor are you expected to be! That’s what the experts are for, after all. But beyond hiring a trained accountant, it’s crucial that you maintain at least a basic understanding of your financials. That way, you’ll be better able to make informed decisions and can plan ahead as your business grows over time.
Trying to figure out how to stay in-the-know on financials without getting bogged down by the minutiae? This is where your relationship with your accountant comes in. They should be able to manage your financials, organize your tax filings and keep up with ever-changing accounting rules, while keeping you abreast of mission-critical fiscal details that could make or break your business.
While you’re at it, save yourself and your accountant a bunch of time and energy by enlisting a cloud-based platform to track your key financial details (bonus points if it’s integrated with your other business tools, including scheduling, expense tracking and other systems). This way, your reporting and data will be stored in one place, just one or two clicks away, and it’ll always be up to date.
2. Outsource or Automate Work That Doesn’t Contribute to Business Growth
You’ll find ‘failure to delegate’ on the list of top bad habits of small business owners. If you’re one of those people whose putting in 80-hour work weeks and still not keeping up, you may have already fallen victim to this bad habit yourself.
Remember: You’re not expected to be an expert on every aspect of running a business. In fact, the most effective businesspeople know when they’re in over their heads and need to call in reinforcements. This could be someone in-house or a third-party with the bookkeeping, payroll, marketing or other random administrative skills that can do the job quickly and efficiently on your behalf.
Likewise, you may come to realize that you don’t need to expend your valuable energy on every last project or communication. This is where automation proves handy. Whether a task is overly time-consuming, repetitive or high-touch (or even if it’s just tedious!), leaving the work to automated processes will free you up to focus on more important priorities.
3. Hit “Pause” on Your Daily Grind to Plan for Growth
It’s not possible for small business owners to plan for sustainable growth if they don’t pause from their daily grind, to focus attention on the big-picture vision for their company of the future.
In addition to recharging your batteries, hitting “pause” even amidst your many competing responsibilities will give you the brain-space to evaluate the path you’ve set out for yourself and your company. This skill is vital in building a business that’s capable of scaling to meet longer-term industry needs. It’s why the world’s leading entrepreneurs build time for rest, play, learning and planning into their daily schedules.
Note, though, that if you’re going to commit to hitting “pause”—and especially if you’re already feeling overwhelmed by your day-to-day work—you’ll want to make it as productive as possible. Challenge yourself to think big about your long-term growth potential, focusing on both qualitative and quantitative measures of business success. Ask yourself:
- What’s my growth plan? Where do I see myself and my business in 3 years? 5 years?
- To get to that end-state, will my current client base be sufficient? Or will I need to explore a broader audience or perhaps, different segments altogether?
- How many staff do I need to support our workload today? What about next year? And how many will I need to support our growth over the next 3-5 years?
- Would outsourcing various parts of our company’s workload help to improve efficiency and/or cut overhead costs?
4. Find Your Community … of Mentors
Small business ownership can be a lonely endeavor; you sink so much time into growing a sustainable organization that work-life balance often goes out the window, and with it, your objectivity.
One way to win back objectivity is to cultivate a relationship with a mentor, who can guide you to take your business to the next level while still maintaining some semblance of a life outside of your 9-to-5 and beyond.
Or, take it a step further and follow the Harvard Business Review’s advice: Recruit your own “board of directors for your career, a group of people you consult regularly to get advice and feedback.”
The key to this idea: Everyone on your “board” should know more than you about something, be better than you at something, or offer different points of view. Aim for a mix of entrepreneurs and corporate players, both in your field as well as in complementary sectors.
And remember that their time and expertise is valuable, too: Give back by paying them a stipend or consider contributing to a charity that’s close to their hearts, for a truly meaningful commemoration of their value to you and your business.
5. Learn When to Cut Ties with Bad Customers
We’ve all got them: Those clients who believed in your vision early-on and as a thank you, you’ve never increased their rates; the scope-creeper who derails every project with ever-changing requirements; the client who loves your work but who always takes at least three times as long to pay…
Regardless of who they are or how they got onto your client roster in the first place, “bad” customers can have a seriously limiting effect on your business growth. Why? Because they have a tendency to make you “play small,” to deal with issues in the here and now instead of planning for growth over the long haul.
While we’re not suggesting you burn any bridges—because you never know where a former client may end up—know that it’s perfectly acceptable, and even desirable, to clean up your client list from time to time. The natural progression of account-oriented businesses dictates that clients will come and go. Accepting this, then, means that you have the power to make choices about who you want to work with.
And in so doing, you’ll be better positioned to focus on the clients who can help your company grow into the firm you’ve always envisioned.
Although fast growth can be thrilling, the fact is that while you’re striving to keep up, you’re actually hurting your chances for scalability, because you’re left with little time and brain-space to strategize on what you want your company to look like in the future and how you plan to get there.
If you’ve been neglecting your long-term plans, these 5 sustainable growth strategies can help you to reflect, review and reposition yourself and your company on the path to small-business success.
Check out how Cathy was able to grow her business sustainably by using FreshBooks Select.