Growth / Planning & Strategy

How to scale up your small business — in a nutshell

Chester Avey

Updated: Dec 07, 2023 · 4 min read

Toolkit for download in this article

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You know when the time is right to grow your business, and it’s an exciting feeling to be scaling up. But whether you’re ready to expand your service offering or widen your client base, getting bigger offices or add an ecommerce website, you need to take the right steps to prepare your business for a substantial upturn in activity. That way, you’ll be perfectly placed to take advantage of the commercial opportunities, and your business will sustain long-term growth.

As one small business coach puts it: "You probably want to increase revenues and profits. You may need to find a unique market position so it's easier to find and engage with your ideal clients. You need to create a culture that attracts and retains top talent. And to achieve these goals you need a solid plan."

1. Put effective systems and processes in place

The path from being self-employed to owning a "growth business" can't be achieved without the use of systemizing your internal processes and back-office functions. With no automatised processes in place, you effectively become the system. And while this is necessary to set up the enterprise at the start, if your business literally can't function without you, it’s not scalable.

One of the more challenging aspects of running any company is to keep on top of routine financial processes such as invoicing, credit control, payroll, bookkeeping, accounts and tax returns. If you’re still doing these things manually, you’re behind the curve. These days, with cloud computing at your fingertips and a huge range of accounting software that’s been designed specifically for small businesses, it’s easy to manage your business accounts, track your cashflow, monitor your profit and loss and much more.

By incorporating automated systems into your daily workflow, you can leverage the power of technology to help reduce the time and energy you have to spend on mundane, repetitive tasks. This frees you to focus your attention and skill where it matters most—on running and growing your business.

2. Build a great team and create the right culture

It should go without saying that scaling a business is a team effort. Teamwork makes the dream work, as they say. This is why it's so important that you choose the right people to come on this exciting journey with you. When your business grows rapidly, it can be a challenging time for existing team members and not all of them are cut out to be part of the process.

You should be looking for motivated, hardworking problem solvers to whom you can delegate the right tasks. Whether you promote people within your organization or recruit from outside, look for skill and experience, and a passion to do the job. Square pegs in round holes will cost you dearly in the long run.

Crucially, choose people with the right attitude that’s a perfect fit for your company culture. As American businessman Bruce Nordstrom is known to have said, "we can hire nice people and teach them to sell, but we can’t hire salespeople and teach them to be nice."

3. Get accurate and timely management information

In business, metrics are everything. As management guru Peter Drucker pointed out many years ago, what can’t be measured can’t be improved. The simple truth is that if you don’t know how your business is performing, you’re in the dark. How can you devise a realistic plan for the future and scale your operations if you have no data to guide you?

Key performance indicators (KPIs) to be monitored include obvious financial metrics like cashflow, gross and operating margins, cost of goods sold and retained earnings, but there are valuable KPIs in sales and marketing, employee performance and other departments too.

In addition to standard measurements, use industry-specific metrics or create some for your business model. Whatever you do, don’t be afraid of numbers—the more metrics you can track, the better the quality of your management information, and the better you’re able to plan for growth.

4. Lean principles and agile development

Lean operating is one of the better ways to achieve scalability for your business. Throwing money at a problem is not always the answer. In fact, if you drain yourself each month with too many outgoings on cost lines that don’t provide much value or benefit, you will dilute your profits. Instead, look to minimize the amount of time, money and energy spent on these things, and devote those resources on profit generating activities.

When you’re scaling your business, a deep understanding of your client base will help you figure out which way to proceed. One of the key ‘lean’ principles is to build a measure-learn-feedback loop to validate your product at every juncture.

Starting with a minimum viable product (MVP), continual measuring and refining according to client feedback ensures optimum alignment between your product and what the market requires. Small enterprises that remain agile, innovative and attuned to their clients’ feedback stand the best chance to achieve sustained success.

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