Online business scaling — strategy, consistency and courage!
A company’s development is a continuous, complex, often unpredictable and always very demanding process. There is no specific guideline as to how and when to start such an investment. It is always an individual business decision, supported by a set of assumptions and observations that appear successively and “foretell” the further fate of the organisation. This is the moment when the company matures enough that it begins to create its own identity and more and more processes are going according to plan, and it is not only driven by the so-called momentum. This maturation, despite the fact that it is hyper-optimistic, carries many risks. For almost five years I have been investing all my skills, experience and enthusiasm in the development of a worldwide interactive marketing agency, and I have seen a huge amount of young, fast growing companies going through similar stages.
Sounds like a lot of question marks? Yes. When scaling up any business, all those involved in such a venture are faced with a lot of new products and they’re constantly thrown into the sea of unforeseen situations in areas that are not their area of expertise.
How do you know where to go? How can you plan business activities aimed at company development, especially if they are happening in a modern and dynamic environment which is now mainly digital?
1. Your network of clients and business partners grows stronger, and the number of projects and orders exceeds your current processing capacity. You run projects efficiently and start to notice additional, complementary services towards which you can develop. You are polishing your level of expertise and every subsequent project you find yourself completing with increasing efficiency. You have a solid history of successfully completed projects. You get more orders through word of mouth. The first success stories are very motivating and encouraging for a new company. Remember, however, not to build a company’s development strategy on a too-small sample of successes. Do not get overly optimistic and ensure that you realistically assess the opportunities that arise.
2. You realise your business goals and 120% of the plan becomes the norm. In other words, you repeatedly exceed your short and long-term goals.
3. You have a solid cash flow and a large portion of repeatable sales. In addition, if necessary, you can generate a stock of funds. Optionally, you have access to external financing.
4. You have a structure prepared for scaling. You can predict which competencies you will need at every stage of development. You create and train a solid management team.
Important: The human factor will play a key role in the development process of your company. Build the structure from the top and start with the so-called “A-players”. The right people in the right positions will help you build an effective structure. Look at your recruitment process. Define the most necessary skills for your company and think about how you verify their level when recruiting new employees.
5. Define and implement the most important business processes in the company and use tools for tracking and analysis. On the basis of the plan on a larger structure you create, make and freeze the standards and procedures. You may need to use different tools depending on the types of projects you are performing, and not work to one rigid format all the time.
6. You, as a leader, are mentally ready for scaling. You have a vision of this enterprise, you feel your mission and you have the motivation to go into the unknown. You do not respond only to an unprecedented opportunity, but you consistently set and follow long-term goals consistent with the current, short-term assumptions of your business.
1. Define your approach. Are you conquering the whole world or are you starting in a specific region? Do you promote all your services or place your emphasis on a specific business line? How quickly, broadly or gradually you will grow should be clearly defined in your strategy.
Important: do not try to do everything at the same time. Positioning a company in a given service category is a very important issue. Training in a specific niche is usually a significant competitive advantage. What if you do not know which direction to develop best in? Complete small internal projects and monitor the results of these. Select what is best for you and the team, ensure it is consistent with the overall development strategy of your business and begin to build your business in this direction.
2. Talking about the strategy: prepare it as accurately as possible. A concrete action plan is an absolute basic requirement. Accidental steps can turn out to be very risky. The strategy should be simple but very concrete.
Important: save your short- and long-term goals and verify that none of them are mutually exclusive (e.g. I sell services at prices higher than the market average, but I want to reach the offer to small and medium-sized companies). At every stage of your development, stick with your prepared action plan. Estimate the time needed for the implementation of individual activities. Think about having a plan B where there are a lot of unknowns.
3. Surround yourself with and talk to experienced people who have undergone similar stages. Prepare for yourself a list of conferences and networking events that you want to join. Reach for literature! Confront your assumptions with experts and submit ideas for discussion. There is nothing more valuable than the factual assessment of your situation by an expert from outside. This will allow you to supplement your strategy with issues that you did not think about yourself. If necessary, you can make modifications to your assumptions early enough.
4. Plan your — very important — role in the entire development process. Get ready to work on the big picture. Start limiting your participation in the daily activities of your company. Scaling will require 100% of your involvement, while daily servicing of existing business will have to be delegated to the right people in your organisation. Your operational activities should gradually give way to strategic activities.
Important: I know very well that delegating is an extremely difficult task. The sooner you realise that micro-management is not conducive to the development of the company and the division of duties is needed to build a healthy structure, the greater your chance of success. Deploy and train key people in person — this way you know they are trained to the standard you want them to be, so you will feel more confident trusting them. Define reporting lines, identify critical points and regularly check key areas.
5. Avoid the “let’s do everything quickly” trap. The first successes are a huge motivation, but don’t risk the situation by being too optimistic based on these successes. Stick to the plan and act step by step. Follow the results of actions, stay flexible and adjust your strategy to the existing situation.
ADDITIONALLY: WHAT IS WORTH KNOWING AT THE START?
1. When planning the development of the company, do not confuse growth with increasing scale of activity. Growth is a general increase in the company’s revenues, which goes hand in hand with increasing costs. Scaling is increasing revenue at a faster pace than rising costs. Growth and scale require completely different strategies! More useful concepts and information can be found in the book “Scaling Up: How a Few Companies Make It … and Why the Rest Do not” by Verne Harnish.
2. The development of the company is a kind of experiment. The better the whole process is planned, the greater the chance of its success. Nevertheless, a lot of questions and final answers to important business questions will be experienced and explained on the go. Do not require comprehensive knowledge from the very start. Fill in the gaps and competencies by working with those more experienced than you.
3. Get ready for a lot of twists and turns.: There is a high probability that many of your assumptions will turn out to be wrong. This does not necessarily mean failure. Stay flexible and always think strategically. In most cases, there are probably alternative outputs.
4. Get ready for failure. Perhaps even a lot of failures (again, I recommend “Scaling Up: How a Few Companies Make It … and Why the Rest Do not”). As the organisation grows, the overall number of tasks and challenges that you will face will grow. And just like everywhere, not everything can be done one hundred percent. Probably the most valuable learning will come from failures, so instead of giving up at your first failure, observe what the situation is teaching you. Learning through experience is the best way to improve your qualifications!
My path and constant development of Performante is the most difficult and the most immersive task I have ever had to face. A large number of successes and failures shaped how the company functions today and what the further plans for its development and scaling are. It is still too early to advise me: “yes, move forward” or “no, it certainly will not work”, but after fascinating years of intensive work on the development of the company I can certainly say that the greatest satisfaction for me is getting richer experience that successively replaces ordinary intuition.
Are you planning to scale the company? I recommend the following items:
1) Blitzscaling: The Lightning-Fast Path to Building Massively Valuable Companies, Reid Hoffman
2) Wisdom at Work: The Making of a Modern Elder, Chip Conley
3) The Job: Work and Its Future in a Time of Radical Change, Ellen Ruppel Shell