As any entrepreneur will attest, starting a business is just the beginning. The process of long-term development and growth requires vigilant planning, goal setting, and introspection. Marketing mogul HubSpot differentiates scaling a business from growing a business, writing, “Scaling your business means you’re able to handle an increase in sales, work, or output in a cost-effective, reasonable manner.” While growing requires investments and perhaps temporary losses, scaling means long-term, exponential growth. For small businesses, scaling can be fairly daunting. What is the right time to scale, and how can smaller businesses handle it?
Set Goalposts and Milestones
You may have heard the saying, “It’s about the journey, not the destination.” For businesses hoping to scale, this certainly rings true. HubSpot cites business scaling extraordinaire David Skok’s advice on identifying milestones, suggesting a strategy of finding the date your company would reach zero cash and working backward to set appropriate budgetary milestones. However, Skok advises, valuation can move upwards or downwards: “Focus less on your valuation and more on how risk changes your valuation over time.” Remember that goalposts can be moved and adjusted based on how you proceed, but should never be eliminated outright. Push towards the future and work to move goalposts should you encounter challenges or successes along the way.
Carefully Consider Marketing Investments
Standing out from the crowd is one of the best ways to gather a loyal following of eager consumers. However, marketing strategies are various and sundry, and it can be overwhelming to decide where to put your money. Proper research into marketing avenues and untapped target audiences could be highly beneficial, especially if your main competitors are stuck in their ways or finding it difficult to scale themselves. While the research could reveal new methods of marketing, don’t jump head-first into writing any checks or flashing your company card. Instead, look at long-term impacts as well as short-term ones for these investments. Will this marketing be fruitful? Will it help you further down the road as you continue to scale, or is it only a temporary fix for a current profit shortfall?
Invest in Yourself and Your Employees
The customer may always be right, but companies need to practice self-care if they’re going to survive in the dog-eat-dog world of business. According to Wagepoint CEO Shrad Rao, successful entrepreneurs understand the importance of letting employees “drive the vision.” In order to encourage that, though, an entrepreneur must first invest in those employees, whether that be in the form of financial perks, social events, or some blend of the two. As Shrad Rao writes, investing in employees helps businesses grow because “when employees feel valued, they’ll passionately share your vision and dig deep to help your business thrive.” Granted, it can be difficult for small businesses to offer Google- or Zappos-level perks, as they lack the tremendous financial and physical resources to supply cafeterias and unlimited sick days. However, building a culture that encourages and rewards hard work is the first step. From there, you can scale not only your business, but its culture as well!