When you start your own small businesses, you immediately start thinking about growth. Maybe you just dream of eventually opening a second store, or you might envision becoming a huge conglomerate or one day franchising the business.
Growth isn’t just admirable – it’s expected. But often, small business owners don’t consider that growing a business too quickly can eventually cause the company’s demise. You can easily find yourself lacking working capital, which is one of the biggest contributing factors to the failure of one in six new small businesses.
You and your business can avoid the dangers of overgrowth. By managing your business correctly and scaling up at a good pace, you’ll guide your company on the path to success. Whether you’re running a home office or a company with many employees, the key is planning.
Make sure you know the five biggest risks associated with sudden, unexpected growth.
1. An Overbearing Debt Loan
If you don’t plan properly for an increase in business, you can wind up taking on far too much debt. Growth takes money, and especially during the early stages of growth, working capital will be low. Many business owners take on massive debt to feed the growth machine, and a vicious circle begins. Increased orders require you to take on more debt, and so on. Too often, the cycle breaks only because the debt becomes so high that it topples the business. Even though more money is coming in, you owe even more and can’t cover debts.
For example, if you owned a housecleaning business and suddenly began to get more customers, you’d need to purchase more supplies and probably hire some more help. These positive developments would involve a lot of cash flow, and they can quickly turn negative by eating up all of your reserves. The new business is good, so you give incentives to your existing customers to send you referrals, leading to even more customers. Again, you need more staff and supplies. Perhaps you go as far as adding a company car with your logo to spread the word and support the increased workload.
Your working capital completely depleted, you take the next logical step: getting a loan. At first, it looks like the increased profits will more than cover the credit payments. But while the client list is growing, the debt is piling on more quickly, and keeping up with payments becomes a struggle. The growth was good, but it came too quickly and caught you unprepared as a business owner. Better fiscal management would have allowed for controlled growth based on revenue and profits.
2. Being Unable to Satisfy Your Customers
As a small business owner, you’ll be thrilled to be in high demand. But you need to be sure that you can supply the level of service your customers expect. Personal attention is a key selling point that attracts customers to a small business, especially when you’re involved in an active local community. In the face of unexpected growth, you’ll face the challenge of maintaining quality with the increase in quantity.
Consider the case of the home cleaning service. With a manageable number of clients, you can easily give each one the personal attention that makes your company special. In fact, that personal touch is what got everyone talking about you, spurring the recommendations and the increase in business. While it’s inevitable that the bigger a business grows the less interaction the owner will have with the clientele, unless you manage expectations, some clients may end up feeling put out – and they’ll stop coming to you.
The answer to this problem is – again – managed growth. Calculate how many new customers you can take on without turning your back on the clients who got you started. As you grow, bring on a customer support staff to promptly attend to all of your clients’ needs.
3. Forgetting Your Original Goal
In an effort to expand your business, you’ll be tempted to move into somewhat related – but unexplored – territory. The housecleaning business, for example, could be growing at a comfortable pace when a satisfied residential customer encourages you to bid on the contract to clean a commercial building. It’s tough to resist the prospect of big contracts and new opportunities, but straying from your original business model too quickly can create a volatile situation. While you’re striving to succeed in an untested aspect of your business, you’ll be forced to turn your back on the duties and client base that got you started in the first place.
Entrepreneurs naturally want to try new things, and success often requires taking a risk on new ideas in unproven areas. But you have to carefully consider how much time you can devote to a new plan, and budget accordingly. More importantly, make sure you maintain the safety net of your current customers and business model. If your expansion effort doesn’t pan out, you need to be able to rely on the original concept.
4. Losing Employees
Any small business owner will tell you that your best employees are the lifeline of the business. But when a business experiences quick growth, lines of communication can break down. If you’re surprised by your business’s growth, you’ll get preoccupied with keeping up, and if your employees aren’t ready for it, you’re in trouble. You need to let your employees grow with the business, but training them for management and leadership positions takes preparation. If you catch your staff members by surprise, and you’ll likely lose them. For a small business, losing employees – especially longstanding ones – means losing institutional memory, customers, and money.
In the case of our cleaning business, getting wrapped up in all the new business could easily alienate an unprepared employee in charge of the residential aspect of the business. Without guidance and support, that staff member is left in the field guessing at what decisions are best for the company. Since this employee isn’t trained for management and doesn’t have your insight into the business model, you’re probably going to be unhappy with those decisions, and your customers will be dissatisfied too.
5. Focusing on the Short Term
It’s amazing to watch a company in the middle of a growth spurt. Cash rolls in and business owners think that they’re on the way to the top. Profit and loss sheets look good, and it starts to look like worrying about bills and cutting business operating costs and expenses will be a thing of the past.
But a dangerous trap lurks in these bright days. In the search for good news, you can make the easy mistake of looking only at short-term profits. Instead, consider the plans that you’ll have to implement to sustain long-term growth and success. Don’t lose control just because you see a few good weeks and months in store. Making rash decisions to boost one day’s profits can cost you something – your cash reserves. And if you’re unprepared, those good days will suddenly end.
Remember that company car with the cleaning service logo? It may have been a little premature to have taken on the expense of a brand new car and decal work. Celebrate your success, but don’t overindulge.
For your small business to succeed, the name of the game is growth. But growth is very complex. It’s hard enough to grow in the first place, so make sure that you handle it properly when that success comes. Keep your eye on three areas of the business: your systems, your staff, and your cash reserves. Successful growth requires taking the time to plan and prepare to sustain all three as your business increases.
I love to hear success stories about how small business owners have achieved their dreams. If you have a great story about growing your small business safely, share it in comments so fellow business owners can learn from your success.