Ahh, spring. The world has burst into bloom and basking in the sunshine feels good. This is my first spring, and I’m loving it! I can’t seem to stop rolling in the grass, sniffing out the new crop of bunnies, and taking in all the fresh scents. Spring is also a time for growth, and as you can see, I’m growing rapidly. When I arrived at the office, I weighed a mere 22 pounds, but I now tip the scales at 77 – and I’m only five months old with 100 pounds to go!
One day I’ll be a very big dog, but growing physically without developing in other ways is not good. For instance, no one wants a huge canine knocking them over in excitement or stealing food off the counter, so it’s important to learn right from wrong, and expand my brain along with my body. This is true for businesses, as well.
Sure, companies want to grow sales and profits, expand their workforce and, perhaps, build new facilities or invest in the latest technology. Most people equate growth with success, but if a business isn’t equipped to handle growth, there could be problems. In fact, expansion without a plan and continuous learning is a recipe for disaster – like a Great Dane with no manners!
If you grow too fast, you might not have enough product to meet demand or enough employees to service customers properly. (In my case, I got too big to fit on my humans’ laps, which is problematic because I still want to cuddle!) On the other hand, stagnation can kill a business. While there is no one-size-fits all growth plan, there are some general tips for small businesses who may be experiencing growing pains:
- Develop an overall strategy – Where do you want to be a year from now? What about 3-5 years? Personally, my short-term goals include finding out what steak tastes like (it smells incredible); and long-term, I’d like to win a trophy at the Westminster Dog Show (hey, it’s good to dream big). Having goals is great, but how will you get there? This involves a detailed marketing strategy that begins with management and is communicated clearly to employees.
- Establish a value proposition – As you create your strategy it’s important to identify what sets you apart from the competition. For example, are you the low-cost competitor, the premium product, or the king of customer service? Understanding what differentiates your company and why customers choose you, will help you develop your brand message and focus your content. My value proposition (i.e, why choose a Great Dane over a Shiatzu), besides my obvious good looks, is a sweet, mellow disposition. In fact, Danes are known as “gentle giants” and are great with kids!
- Define your buyer persona – How can you create personalized, relevant content and attract more buyers unless you know who your customers/prospects are? Define your ideal customer and target your marketing efforts to him or her. My ideal human obviously loves big dogs, but is also someone who wants to spend a lot of time with me and has room for me to stretch out.
- Have checkpoint meetings – Set aside monthly or quarterly meetings to discuss “The State of the Company.” Are you meeting your goals? If not, where are you falling short and why? Where are your successes coming from? Keep in mind, you may have to adapt your overall plan to fix problems or take advantage of new opportunities. To do this effectively, you’ll need clearly defined measurements or KPIs (key performance indicators).
- Don’t forget organizational systems and procedures – This is an area that many small businesses overlook. They eschew formal procedures in favor of approving things on the fly. Not getting bogged down in bureaucracy is one thing, but every business needs procedures for managing staff, and providing products and services to customers. Companies that have systems and procedures in place manage growth better than those that scramble to keep up.
- Concentrate on your strengths – Hey, I’ll never be a lap dog (although I’d like to be) and no one will ever carry me in a purse (thank goodness), but I’m smart and gentle (and as I mentioned, quite handsome). Companies often spend too much time trying to be something they’re not, instead of focusing on what they do well. Just because an idea sounds cool, doesn’t mean you’re capable of doing it successfully. Build on your strengths and profitable revenue streams.
- Learn from your competition – Chances are, similar businesses in your industry are doing something better than you, and vice versa. Don’t assume you have all the answers. Make professional contacts, ask advice and don’t be afraid to “borrow” some great ideas. Hey, I learned how to fetch by watching my pal, Rollo. He’s a master.
- Treat your employees well – Now, this is definitely one of my strengths! I make everyone feel special with my daily rounds. If you want people to be motivated and treat customers well (not to mention stick around), you need to invest in them. This involves everything from creating a great work environment and providing direction plus autonomy, to paying employees what they’re worth. (The occasional treat is also appreciated.) In addition, it’s important to make sure employees are in the “right” seats. Are you taking advantage of their strengths? Don’t be afraid to move people into positions that suit them better.
Growth can be awkward – like trying to use paws that are still too big for your body! However, by tailoring a growth strategy to your business and ideal customers, you can create and sustain manageable growth. And then one day, you’ll not only be a big dog, but a smart one, like me.