We regularly talk about kids having growth spurts – short periods of time in which immense physical change occurs right in front of our eyes. We don’t notice it until, seemingly overnight, their pants are a few inches too short, shirts are bursting at the seams, and a week’s worth of groceries disappears in 2 days.
The same thing happens in small businesses. You’ll be going about your day-to-day routine of running your business, wowing your customers, and leading your team – then all of sudden you start to notice small problems popping up where there used to be none:
- A scheduling snafu resulted in 3 major projects deadlines coming due in the same week, overwhelming team capacity and sending everyone into a panic.
- ·The growing backlog of unreturned voice messages and emails that compromises your core value of same-day response for all client and potential client communication.
- A miscommunication between team members resulted in duplicated effort, wasted time, and plenty of tension and conflict.
Your small business, which just months ago was a well-oiled success machine, now has grit in the gears and is slowing down. What happened?
These problems signal that your business has outgrown the old way of doing things; the habits you put in place months or years ago are no longer working. It’s not that they were bad practices, in fact they were instrumental in your success. But they were the perfect fit for the smaller, less mature version of your business, and now it’s time for version 2.0 (or 3.0, or 4.0…).
How to Avoid the Descent into Chaos
While growing pains are inevitable, there are ways to anticipate and prepare for some of bursting seams. Here are 3 of my favorite strategies for smooth and sustainable small business growth.
Define (or Refine) Roles and Responsibilities
The larger your team, the more important it is that everyone has a clear picture not only of their own roles and responsibilities, but of everyone else’s as well. It’s important that everyone understands how each role contributes to the success of your company. You’ll want to make sure that every essential business task and function has a clear “home” (lead person or persons responsible for getting it done), as well as at least one back-up home in case the lead is out sick, on vacation, or leaves the company. (Check out this article to learn more on why position descriptions are one of the most useful business tools.)
Pay Attention to Processes
Serving more customers at any given time means keeping track of more services delivered, deadlines, invoice dates, and so on, not to mention more complex workload tracking across team members. Establishing and documenting your processes will let you make sure that the work is performed exactly the way you want every time, regardless of who is doing the work or which client the work is for. Processes allow to you maintain control over the quality and timeliness of the work performed, and enable you to conserve your time and resources for more important work!
Build Up Your Leadership Team
One of the hardest, but most important lessons for all business owners to learn is there comes a time when you can’t manage everything yourself. The brutal truth is that more projects, more service streams, and more team members inevitably require more management, and you’ll need great people to help you manage it all. The earlier you can start sharing some of the oversight, decision making, and troubleshooting needed to run your business, the better your business (and sanity) will be in the long run.
Are you experiencing growing pains in your business? I’d love to hear about them and explore ways in which I can help.
About Alex and AIS Collaborations
Alex helps small business and small nonprofits develop the systems and strategies they need to grow and thrive. She’s an expert in organizing your business, it’s workflow, processes and helping you and your team start each project on the right footing!