I have worked with businesses and their leaders who have experienced rapid growth but then find cracks in the foundations. These challenges can often be alleviated with improved infrastructure, knowledge or training but typically the most challenging area is how to scale up as a leader.
There is a lot of information out there supporting start-ups, new business ventures and entrepreneurs. This is great, but how about those businesses that are a few years in and are looking to scale up? Each business is different and they all have a variety of processes and systems but they all have people in common. That’s where I focus with business leaders. The question of how to scale up as a leader is important so you can guide your business through growth.
A lot of businesses out there are ready to grow. This can mean hiring your first staff, or putting in a management layer. You might be changing premises, looking for external investment or branching out to new markets. These growth plans come with trepidation as founders and leaders haven’t got the experience to manage them fully. And that’s totally understandable!
When the time comes to grow, it can be an overwhelming thought, especially when you have others’ livelihoods at stake. I work with a lot of business owners to do this and act impartially and objectively to provide the space to see their business clearly. Understanding mindset, key leadership qualities and how to scale up as a leader is crucial to support growth.
Challenges with creativity
Often I see businesses which have been started by brilliant creatives or digital visionaries which is fantastic. But creativity and skills in a certain area don’t necessarily support the multi-hatted needs of a business owner. It’s great if you have a niche skill but this can often be dampened down by day-to-day business tasks. It’s a steep learning curve to wear the many hats of a business owner and experience success and rapid growth.
Getting clear on your objectives
Sounds obvious but a lot of businesses don’t take the time to really set this out. By scaling up, is it just commercial objectives you want to meet or are there more humanistic ones at play? Why are you wanting to grow – is it because of demand or internal drivers? Reflect on how you’ve got here too, has growth been organic, opportunistic or well planned? Take some time to really ask yourself and get to know your why and this will help dictate and plan everything going forwards. If you haven’t read Simon Sinek’s “Start with WHY” I’d recommend his book. During growth, often business owners run at full pace and don’t have time to reflect on why they started out in the first place. Spending time on your values, your culture and expected behaviours is also time well spent.
Know your cashflow and predicted overheads
The idea of scaling up and growing is great but what does that really look like financially? How much will it realistically cost – and get geeky here, do down to the last penny. What is it you want? New premises? More staff? How much will these cost you vs what you are making / predicted to make? Is it even viable?
Consider the investment you’ll have to make in yourself and your staff too. Often business owners look at ‘bricks and mortar’ business costs but not the investment needed in people. Don’t forget, people are often your most expensive and valuable asset so invest well here.
Discuss with your network and peers
Take time to look at other businesses that are a further ahead in terms of growth and see how they did it. Are there any best practices you can adopt for your business? How did they scale up and what learnings can you take? Often, the mistakes have already happened and a learning of what not to do so take the time to see how others have steered the ship.
I’ve found the openness around business challenges which are discussed in peer-led events to be really honest and frank. You might be surprised – it’s less about competition here but having a space to discuss industry challenges as a leader.
Communicate changes to your team
Again, sounds obvious, but it hugely pays to take your team, your collaborators and your supporters on the growth journey with you. This gives people visibility and gets them invested in your plans and they can support you on the way. It’s when the going is tough and hard decisions need to be made that you need everyone on board.