On a normal day, running a business is intensely stressful and complicated. Going into a period of rapid expansion adds further complexity. The most difficult part about expanding a business, in my experience, is keeping the many plates balancing in the air and trying not to drop one and destroy it.
Over 18 months my business has grown from three team members (including two founders) and an ecommerce store to five physical retail stores in three cities with over 20 team members and an ecommerce site shipping across the world. This growth has been rapid and tough to manage.
Here are a few things I’ve learnt in the process.
When you prepare and plan for expansion there should be a single metric that you think about: How quickly can this expansion lead to profitability? Obviously you cannot let your business basics slip but that’s easier said than done.
If you set your sights on profit, then at least one metric can be used to gauge your progress. If you don’t have a single measurement then you might either feel like you’re succeeding when you are not, or you may feel as if nothing is working, when you’re hitting your single focus goals.
Make sure that you and your team maintain customer service, continue to produce the best product possible and stick with your daily tasks. Your time is about to be chewed up with new ‘to dos’, difficulties and challenges and not your existing concerns.
You’ll need to set a clearly defined list of priorities.
What are the things that can slip without sinking the ship? Which parts of the business will become unmanageable without focus from someone else? Choose carefully because pointing your focus in the wrong direction can lead to unnecessary pain.
2Let information flow freely
Don’t hide the progress you are making from anyone in your organisation. Tell investors what is going on, good or bad. Let your team know that you’re doing well or are falling behind your set targets for launch, expansion or progress. Be honest. Restricting the flow of information only damages your mental state and the trust between you and your team.
When you enter an expansion phase, you must keep your team in the know as often as possible. Emails don’t suffice when things are moving as quickly as you hope. A quick update, in person or by phone, can do wonders for productivity.
3Expand with the right people
If your team isn’t aligned with your visions, the expansion will struggle. If you follow the last suggestion of allowing information to flow freely, your team should be able to do their jobs as best as they can.
Expansion periods mean lots of distractions by default. You have to consider new models and problems while maintaining and fire-fighting old ones. This can tear a founder into pieces and leave your team despondent and even isolated from you and your vision.
Make sure your vision is clearly laid out and that your team understands that vision and is on board with it.
4Get rid of your ego
Expansion must be about business objectives, not personal triumphs. If you are growing your business for bragging rights then you’re probably not focused on the right goals to make the expansion last.
Ego is the wrong reason to go for that risky bet. Carefully calculated figures, projections and strategic plans are the way to go.
Yes, gut feeling is important but it needs to be partnered up with rationality, sensibility and a good set of financial projections from a third party — preferably a financial director who counter-balances your optimistic outlook on projections.
Trust in my ability to overcome difficulties is usually a good trait but in a rapid expansion, blind ego-driven positivity can lead to bad decisions that put your business at risk.
If you find yourself unsure of the next decision, listen to the advice of your inner circle. If they are asking you probing, carefully structured questions, it’s probably a good idea to consider them carefully when providing your answer. Remember: Experiment, but make sure that none are big enough to break you on their own.