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The challenges of growth

Growth adjustment can be a most difficult challenge. It is likely to add a layer of complexity to the organisation. Growing too quickly can bring a business down, so be very sure you plan ahead and be ready for any potential upsurge. An increase in production generally moves you another step away from the general day to day running of a business. Management staff are usually employed to cover you while you report to financial investors, increase general staff and design new internal processes and procedures. Be prepared to let go and have the utmost confidence in your management team. Your role is likely to become more strategic; to maintain the same company culture. Processes will evolve to accommodate the new demands on the business and its people.

Keeping control
One thing is obvious It is impossible to run an enlarged company in the same way the business started out. Trying to do everything will quickly result in loss of control. Keeping control will almost always mean letting some of the control go. Build a strong organisational structure, and a dedicated, committed management team you trust. Delegate jobs and decision-making, and if you hand over a department, do not micro-manage by second-guessing or constantly questioning the appointed manager. Try not to cultivate a 'yes' mentality; ideally key staff will challenge each other, as well as discuss ideas and opportunities in an objective manner. Go by the maxim 'when two people in business agree with each other, one of them is unnecessary.'

Find a business mentor, even if you have to pay them. The unbiased independent view of an outsider is probably the most beneficial input a business can have. A professional, qualified person willing to act as a non-executive director for a small salary is one option, or you may find a semi-retired local businessperson who would relish the opportunity to impart knowledge and experience.

Don't delegate to just one key right-hand-person, if possible, it may leave a big gap if ever they decide to leave you for a competitor or to set up business on their own.

Changing the way you do business
Growth may or may not bring with it the need to incorporate (i.e. become a limited company). Regardless, the bigger the business becomes, the more discipline and professionalism everyday dealings will require. Having well presented stationery, terms of business, employee contracts and so on from the start will save time and money later. Stricter internal guidelines such as the use of petty cash, employee expenses, annual leave entitlement, ensuring all customer and supplier contracts are prepared and signed, ensuring new customers are all credit checked, will probably come as a result of growth. Address health and safety issues, understand employment law, and establish systems and human resources departments, all of which are essential but take focus away from the exciting side of actually doing business. Don't make too many restrictive internal rules and processes though; if they're there just for the sake of it, better off to do without them.

Process, process
Increases like packing and posting 50 orders a day to packing and posting 500 orders per day, will call for the order processing and invoicing system needs to be looked at. All internal processes need to be sized and scaleable to the level of business now and the level of business planned in the future. Internal efficiency maximises profits, keeps staff financially satisfied as well as occupied, and improves customer service levels.

Reports, reports
Recognise and accept that skills needed to start and grow a business are not necessarily the same as those needed for day-to-day operation. Growth will almost inevitably bring outside stakeholders with a financial, time or skills investment in your business. Performance levels will be expected to be maintained. Costs and sales budgets and forecasts will need to be set, and met (or exceeded). Regular reports and updates on business successes are necessary, as well as issues and risks management.

Have a strategic plan
Companies naturally tend to have a growth spurt, consolidate, and then repeat the process. But loss of control may mean a year or more before it turns around again, if it is even possible. Managing the business growth takes a plan of the desired end result, and the strategy and tactics needed to be employed to achieve it. Always look at the big picture and project where you'd like to be, that way all growth is less opportunistic.

Your growth plan could include
  • Where the growth will come from e.g. merger, acquisition, exporting, new product development, selling in to new markets or via new sale channels?
  • When is the growth projected to start?
  • How much finance is required, where it will come from?
  • Will additional financial backing be needed and if so, when?
  • The impact on cash flow, revenues and profitability
  • The organisational structure required to support the business
  • Strategies on delegation
  • Recognising key employees, and retention strategies
  • Identification of skills gaps. When and how to fill them.
  • Remuneration policy and incentives
  • The financial support structure required for the size of the business
  • Develop suitable IT systems to store intellectual property at the place of business, and not just in someone's head or on their personal computer.
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