Planning for sustainable growth is a balancing act, whether you are in your early years or expanding the business. Your growth may not always follow a certain pattern, which means you may have periodic years of growth. It also means you may have years of stagnancy if you do not systematically prepare for the twists and turns that affect sustainable growth.
Dealing With Growing Pains
Growing pains can come in the form of pressure to replicate the success you had in prior years. It may be a lack of administrative support to deal with client service issues, inefficient technology to manage your business, or the need to invest in marketing and client cultivation to maintain retention.
These are just a few of the challenges, not to mention the need for proper regulatory procedures, human resource management, workflows, and time management to balance all of your commitments. And of course, you need to sharpen your skills and develop professionally.
To help manage these growing pains, you need to stay cognizant of growing your business vs. running the business. You need to think through and document several components, including:
- Your business vision
- Competitive analysis
- Profitability, ROI, and budget planning
- Client demographics and revenue-by-client
- Well-researched, viable niche markets
- Clarification of your real value to clients
- Service model assessments
- Branding and marketing strategies
- Staffing and compensation plans
- Defined roles, responsibilities, and accountability metrics for your team
- Professional development plans for your team
- Technology and practice management systems
- Compliance and regulatory management procedures
- Client onboarding and cultivation strategies
- Business continuation plans for emergencies (I.e., cyber threats, medical emergencies, family leave, natural disasters, dissolution plans, succession strategies)
- Physical plant considerations
All of these components need to work in tandem with documented procedures and workflows to sustain a compliant, thriving business.
Rapid Growth Can Lead to Decline
Having a dramatic period of growth can be a doubled-edged sword. Your expectations become high. If you are not prepared to sustain the growth of your business, you could be faced with compressed client service, inconsistent prospecting, administrative overload, and perhaps a loss of purpose from feeling overwhelmed or anxious.
For the highly-motivated, driver personality, getting bogged down in tasks can be especially frustrating. It can lead to stagnancy which ultimately leads to decline if not kept in check. Opportunities and resources to grow are available, but you have to determine which aspects of your business need the most urgent attention. Then you have to commit to making the necessary improvements and changes. Comfort with change and spending decisions sometimes are the real hurdle.
Dramatic growth can also lead to complacency if you get too comfortable. Complacency takes your eye off the ball which affects your ability to stay competitive.
Stepping Back to Assess
It is vital for business owners to take a step back from the day-to-day tasks of the business to ensure the fundamentals are in order. This may require help from an outside coach. You need to gain clarity to help you process change and determine the right investments in the business. Each investment you make, whether staff, new resources or technology, requires you to learn and manage the inevitable system improvements required.
Client Interviews and Input
If your team is continuously interviewing clients on ways to enhance the overall experience, your clients’ input will help make business decisions more clear. If you are listening to prospective clients and staying abreast of trends in your niche market, this will help dictate your direction. Conduct regular interviews with your clients on what they value and additional things they would like to experience. Ask them what would make them more comfortable in your work together.
You need to define a level of growth that can be supported from a financial perspective, operational perspective, as well as a time commitment. This will require determining which resources are most vital and committing to adaptation so you and your team can move forward.
Managing sustainable growth is also contingent on having the right client management and marketing systems in place. This requires you to measure where your business is coming from and the type of clientele most appropriate for your practice. Knowing your most appropriate and profitable clients will help you determine niche markets, service models, and marketing systems that can grow your business.
Operational Workflows and Procedures
Every time you add a new resource to your business, you need to have a documented workflow and standard operating procedure. This is especially important to lead your staff and in hiring new personnel. You need to have standard operating procedures for every part of your business to foster quality control, cross-training, and consistent execution. The absence of documented workflows creates confusion, mistakes, and loss of accountability.
Additional insights can be uncovered by keeping a time log of your tasks for a period of two weeks. This exercise should be done by everyone on your team. This will uncover if you are spending too much time on manual tasks, getting distracted by emails and social media, or spending too much time on services that should be reserved for top clients, not smaller clients.
Analyzing your time may help you uncover glaring inefficiencies. It may help bring to light areas you need to improve on but have been procrastinating on executing. You may have to invest time or money to improve your operational systems or bring on junior staff. The real benefit in doing so could be increased productivity and efficiency that sustains your business.
Knowing When to Act
Knowing exactly when to make changes in your business is vital. Delaying decisions and investments may create a period of decline for years to come. Until you analyze your business and personal habits, any decisions you make would be based on speculation.
For most business owners, the time to make a change is before you no longer have the capacity to manage existing clients or are swallowed in administrative tasks. You cannot wait until you have the next big client to finance the operational needs of your business.
It is about taking care of the lowest hanging improvements that can add blocks of time and efficiency back in your business. You can then steadily ramp up to invest in other areas.
If you are not in a financial position to hire full-time staff, perhaps you can share an assistant with another professional to gain a few hours of time back into your practice each week. Alternatively, you may be able to invest in technology that will help make client management more automated.
The Bottom Line
Planning for sustainable growth means being willing to make calculated changes. Changes that you know are the right moves for your business based on metrics, client feedback, and competitive analysis. You don’t want to lose your ability to stay nimble or your sense of purpose. The real question to ask yourself is if not now, then when?
For many business owners, servicing and taking care of clients is their number one passion. Let planning for sustainable growth be equally important so you are able to enhance your client experience, capture opportunities, and gain ongoing profitability.