Any business, small, medium, or large has growing pains. They are just different pains at different times and different challenges to overcome.
While some business stressors seem small and insignificant initially, they may even be tolerable at times, they can quickly and quietly hold back any business growth by draining your critical resources such as time, money and of course, energy.
A common challenge for smaller business is having enough time to do all the necessary tasks that need to be accomplished (whether client or customer based, or internal administration or management); this leads to staff burnout – physically, mentally and emotionally. This in turn leads to staff absence or a high turnover, something a smaller business would do well to avoid.
Many businesses will deal with short term crises again and again through ad-hoc planning rather than deal with them proactively using strategic planning to allow for tactical advantages when it comes to “fighting fires”.
Being proactive and considering what could be your bottle necks or potential issues is sensible for business planning.
Pricing is always a bugbear that any business faces, and getting the right balance between meeting your costs, making a profit, and not pushing your client or customer base away to your competitors is a never-ending struggle. However, many smaller businesses will err on the side of caution and under-price their products or services, telling themselves it’s to “attract” new clients and customers and once they are on board, you can increase the prices "later" – later rarely happens as quick as it ought to and can leave the business struggling in the meantime.
This goes hand in hand with under-pricing. If you under-price your products and services, the business is unable to pay wages commensurate with competitors elsewhere. Again, this can lead to dissatisfaction among your staff, and the owners themselves.
Very few businesses get their internal systems right first time around. This is due to various reasons, but mainly due to not designing them for a growing business. These need to be continually developed to allow for growth and not just created or reviewed when needed. Internal systems have to be able to adapt and expand with the business, if they are too restrictive, they will hinder any growth potential the business has.
In the early days of a new business, any staff roles are not defined. Everyone has to put their hand to everything to ensure survival. This in itself works for a time, until roles start to overlap, items get missed because of miscommunication - “I thought so-and-so was in charge of that”, and a general lack of focus on the tasks that need completing.
Defined roles are what makes a business run efficiently and ensures that the internal systems are followed, and most importantly developed alongside business changes and not just as an afterthought.
However, this is where the balancing act begins. In some businesses (especially in larger enterprises) staff roles become “boxed in”. The staff member loses the mentality of working for the business as a whole because their role is just that, a role to complete a set tasks without the full understanding of the wider picture, or how those tasks really relate to the business.
Unfortunately, this can lead to the wrong mindset developing either at staff, team or even department level, leaving efficiency taking a down turn, systems becoming disjointed and outdated, and staff turnover rates increasing – as well as the phase “I don’t do that task” and “you need to speak to X, I don’t deal with queries about that” or simply "that’s not my job" becoming a common occurrence rather than an open, helpful business culture developing where all staff take pride in the business and their contribution to it.
Again, a pain that effects every business, big or small. Funding. Having enough to pay costs, staff, AND fund growth.
This can often create rifts at a higher level with differing opinions on how to best utilise the available funds or seek funding or investment from elsewhere.
It may seem a simple one, but many businesses lack focus or direction. All your energy goes into keeping the business going that you do not have the time to keep it facing in the right direction to meet your goals. Alongside this is the fact your staff also may not know where the business is heading and so cannot act accordingly to support the business' vision and help it get there.
A good manager is essential for a successful business, no matter how small or large. Unfortunately, it is often the case that those with "manager" in their job title are not always good managers. No matter how good you think your managers are, training is always a must to keep them keyed up and on top of their roles. Similarly, keeping bad managers for all the wrong reasons will not be beneficial to anyone, so sometimes making a hard decision now, will have a big payoff later.
How many meetings have you gone to and wondered what was the point? How many have you sat through endless speeches and presentations and not one decision was agreed at the end?
Ensuring that effective agendas are prepared and issued in advance so all who attend are able to prepare themselves, review any documents they need to, so they are able to constructively contribute to the discussions. Also, having set questions or decisions to be decided upon gives everyone direction and focus throughout the meeting to keep it on track and the purpose at the front of everyone’s minds.
This is quite simply what happens when all the above challenges get in the way and take your attention away from what could be knocking on your door.
There are no fixed or guaranteed solutions, but there are coping methods and adaptable approaches to take to avoid getting caught up “in the business” and forgetting to think about how to work “on the business”.
For a smaller business, the pressure to expand can be overwhelming and expected. You have come up with your business idea, you have launched it, now you want to grow it as quickly as possible - that’s how people measure success...right?
Running a successful business is not about growth, it is about development. Getting your business into the best possible circumstance to grow is paramount rather than galloping off at full pace before the right systems and staff are in place to sustain such growth.
Determine when is the right time to push forward rather than just assume it is - just because you have a successful small business does not mean you will be successful running a big one.
Very often the first staff taken on in a small business are either well known personally or have a direct connection with you. It is an ideal steppingstone, easy, fast, and cheap. But there comes a time when that convenience is no longer the preferred option and quality becomes the priority.
As a nation, we do not like saying No. We like it even less in business, but sometimes, saying yes is not always the best policy as it can compromise the business without you always realising it until it is too late.
Saying No to work which will put an unnecessary strain on the business (whether financially or operationally) cannot be of benefit, especially if the funds are not there to back the business in the form of additional staff or other resources.
Diversifying can be an excellent way to expand your business, but your focus can immediately become too divided which can be to the detriment of the business as a whole or a particular area which takes a backseat. Sometimes, quite simply less is more.
For instance, rather than having 5 different services offerings, pick the most profitable or successful 3 and focus on them instead of splitting and dividing, not only your attention, but your resources across all of them.
In business as in your personal life, some relationships seem to just drain our energy with negativity and become a burden. In business, some clients or customers have this effect and you end up going above and beyond for them and giving them more than you ever get out. It is time to draw a line under these and say no to further work where possible!
An all too familiar challenge, consistently working long long hours. A necessary evil you may argue, but is it really? Working yourself so hard that you burnout?
Many leaders and owners like to be in control, and this is especially the case early on in a business' life cycle. It can be a difficult lesson to learn, but one that is absolutely paramount the success of a business - learning when and what to delegate is a lesson in itself.
Trust is a massive part of this, if you don't trust your staff that you need to delegate to, you might as well do the work yourself which is completely negating the point - freeing up your time and focus for the business.
Start off small and build up the important tasks and responsibilities to be delegated as soon as you can. Carefully consider those tasks you do regularly that do not need to be controlled by you and pass them down to someone who can put all their attention into them and probably become far more efficient in the process.
As you expand, trimming costs and making efficiencies becomes a necessary evil, where once your costs were high, they may now need to be curtailed to make way for other resources, or re-invested elsewhere in the business.
Taking business expenses and your profit margin far more seriously, consider where your budget needs to be focused and put it under continual review to ensure you are not paying for costs you no longer need.
As with other business systems, you may need to change things that may be working for you now in order to progress - taking a step back to be able to go forward.
Initially you may have had a vision for your business, even had goals and targets to achieve, however, as you grow these will need to be streamlined and refined to ensure they remain achievable and distinct. You may find where you are one of two or more owners that each of your visions for the business' future are veering off in differing or even opposite directions, with one owner prioritising something completely different.
It can be very difficult to get everyone on the same page, but it is something that requires clarification and the understanding of all owners to get to where you want to be.
It maybe you agree to focus on different aims, or to achieve one target at a time, but agreement is needed to encourage unity in the business.
Everyone with a business starts with an idea. That idea is not always successful, so it is important to admit when your great and brilliant concept isn't working and be prepared to pivot the direction of the business to adapt to what works rather than forcing something that is constrained.
Try not to look at this a failure though, it is not. By adapting to the market and the business' successes, you are re-educating yourself, learning from your experiences, and taking a calculated shift to benefit the business.
It is however important to not develop your business concept with a plan B in mind to switch to as it will take away your focus from your initial plan A.
Anyone who works in a business has to attempt this seemingly mythical balance between their home life and work life - this could not be truer as a business owner.
Remember the reason you started your own venture? So, you could work for yourself and have the time you wanted for family, friends, and hobbies, maybe you aimed to retire early and enjoy the freedom it would bring. Do not forget this dream quite yet.
Set your priorities, stay organised, delegate, and seek support (internal or external) to keep this challenge a top priority.
Defining roles and responsibilities in a business is a must to ensure there are no duplication of duties, no overlaps and no missing tasks, but equally as you expand, it’s important to review them regularly for all staff and don't be afraid to make the important decisions as required.
Do you have staff who could be re-deployed, who are better at certain tasks than others? What are their strengths and weaknesses that should be considered in the grand scheme of the business?
Many businesses collect data on their most profitable areas, clients, locations etc. and analysis of this data is vital to enable the business to focus where it needs to be. There is no point collecting the data if you are not going to make the most of it.
If your business is doing particularly well on the other side of the country but not where you are based, is it time for a relocation or an additional office for instance? Maybe one of your products does better in a particular industry or being sold to a certain age group? You can utilise this information to your benefit and direct your marketing and energy in that direction.
Staying in the forefront of your client or customers minds can lead to a pipeline of untapped work that goes beyond them. Initially, you may provide a single service, which then gives you an opportunity to sell and promote further services and products as you get to know their business model.
By getting close to them, you have the prospect of really understanding what they need and how you can support them beyond their initial requirements. By staying close, you are there when circumstances arise, whether it is in their own business or somebody they know, you are the first one that comes to mind.
What would get your staff working as one with a common goal in mind? That is what you need to promote in your business to keep that unity and mindset alive. With all staff working with the same vision, the business can thrive.
While the above seems like an awful lot to think about, if you consider these solutions from day one, keeping those aches and pains in mind, they become part of your mindset and something that you'll take with you as grow and come up against the next lot of growing pains.
Growing pains can either overwhelm a business causing you to give up on it or it can teach you new lessons to learn from and give you a better understanding of your business potential and the industry it’s in.
Don't fight it, work with it, and grow when the time is right!