o What the market will buy
o What price to charge for your products and services
o How to deal with government regulation
o How to manage your cash
o How to start selling to larger companies
But most of all you probably don’t have a clear roadmap of the way forward. What changes you have to make as you develop from tiny acorn to mighty oak. What are the key crisis points that nearly everyone goes through. How you get formality into the business to deal with Government and large customers without losing the agility and freedom of action that attracted you into business in the first place.
These barriers are well defined – there’s plenty of research on it. Most advice you will get will be specialist. Your job as a business owner your main job is to pull it together – to integrate vision with delivery, customers with products, and values with people and process.
So here are the barriers to growth that have to be overcome
1) The company’s vision is out of sync with the market
2) When the product range needs re-inventing
3) When the business processes and systems need upgrading – this will happen at least twice
4) When the founder can no longer sell enough himself and needs to take on a salesman
5) When more people need to be taken on
6) Changing premises – (remote /flexible working can postpone this)
7) When the business needs to start trading with larger partners.
1) The company’s vision is out of sync with the market.
Building a successful company is about convincing the customers that you are the right person for them to work with. This means building an emotional rapport with them – and constructing a story to connect you to them – and a set of products and services that fit into that story. If you don’t get this right the business will never buzz.
2) When the product range needs re-inventing
Successful companies develop ways to systematically extend their product range. It’s much easier to find new products to sell to your existing customers who know you and feel good about you than it is to try and take what you have to new customers. Best approach is to pick 5 new customers, 5 loyal customers and 5 unusual customers and go and talk to them about what they need. Then figure out how to do it without going bust.
3) When the business processes and systems need upgrading.
This happens several times – companies don’t grow in a straight line – they grow in jumps. A difficult transition is the dawn of formality. Once you have half a dozen people you need to start having HR and IT systems to back up what you do – to make sure that things happen reliably and that your customers get the feeling that they’ve chosen the right company to deal with. Your reputation and brand depend absolutely on how good your delivery is so it’s worth spending the time to get that right.
Once you’ve dominated your niche in the UK, you need to start playing on a world stage. You need an entry level enterprise IT system at that point – research shows that there’s a peak in IT spend in companies with about 40-50 employees. So be aware that this is somewhere in your future – should you wish to really go for world domination you will need to plan for it.
4) When the founder can no longer sell it all himself and needs a salesman
This can be a killer – because as an owner you get used to relying on your own integrity, knowledge, enthusiasm and attention to detail to carry the day. You can’t get this from a salesman – you need a system to hold him accountable. The only way you’ll get this is to follow one yourself for 6 months. I can give you the system but you need an office dragon to hold YOU to account. Once you know your own ratios and patterns you can hold the sales guy to account.
If you don’t you’ll end up employing a string of affable blokes in suits and ties who’ll just cost you money and may cost you the business. How do I know this? How do you think?
5) When you need to take on staff.
They need to be managed properly. I’ve just finished a project on developing the workforce in the Horticultural industry and the bottom line is about putting in place good basic HR systems. You don’t have to get bureaucratic – you just have to do it. And if you want to grow you have to have a management team in place.
If it’s just you you’ll start to run into the sand at about the 8-9 employee level. The number of companies in the UK that go from employing less than 10 to more than 10 in a year is only about 1600 – that’s not very many is it?. The reason is that if you do it on your own each new person adds another layer of relationships – by the time you’re up to about 12 or 13 it takes all your time to keep the friction down – and you lose that all important strategic thinking time.
I’ve observed that companies that grow quickly normally start with a management team of 3 or 4 which will allow them to punch through these early transitions quickly.
6) Changing Premises
This can be a nightmare because all your systems have to be disassembled and reassembled – and there are often bits missing or left over. We moved our business 4 years ago and it meant new IT, new couriers, and 15 rounds with BT out of business Broadband etc.
The important point is it forces you to really hone your systems and to get rid of excess baggage. Many companies struggle and if they lose their data most never recover. It’s a good indicator of a company that’s going somewhere that it’s successfully carried out a move.
7) Trading with larger companies
Your company comes of age when it starts to gain contracts with larger organisations that can provide the baseload of business that your organisation needs. To secure these in both government and corporate sectors you must demonstrate evidence of doing things properly. These are KPIs that cover financial stability, health and safety, quality and sustainability considerations.
So it’s a good idea to choose a suitable accreditation – either a general one like ISO 14001, a company accreditation like Rolls Royce or and industry one like the Soil Association.
This is a big step to take, but it will force you to have the systems in place that will let you grow.
I’ve talked a lot about systems here – because systems thinking is critical to being able to operate in today’s knowledge economy at any scale. It’s true that as a specialist that stays small you can get a long way with ad hoc collaboration using the tools of the Cloud. However at a certain point you have to raise your game and that’s what we’ve been talking about here.
The skills of systems thinking are set out in Peter Senge’s book the Fifth Discipline. They are
· Personal Mastery – having a passion for getting it right yourself
· Mental Models – knowing how to construct them
· Shared Vision – making sure that the whole team buy into them
· Team Learning – that people are going on a journey to the future together
You need these in place to unleash the creativity in your colleagues that will take you through these barriers. It all depends on having the right narrative in place to motivate customers and staff alike. So we’ve completed the circle and have returned to the beginning. “Getting the narrative in Sync.”
Our company specialises in helping companies get beyond the barriers that hold them back as they grow.
In our experience these barriers can be overcome by combining good people management with advanced technology to develop, promote and deliver goods and services that people actually want to buy. A compelling company story is a good starting point.