Running an online business is so free of restrictions (relative to the classic model of setting up an office and going from there) that the opportunities can be intoxicating. You can seemingly do anything you feel like, and it doesn’t really matter if you fail because you can simply try again — but while this is all true for the freshest startups, things are trickier when you’re looking to grow.
At that point, you have something to lose, and a lot of time (and effort) invested. Failing to achieve your planned growth, or even making a huge mistake and outright losing ground, doesn’t bear thinking about. You need to ensure that you only grow safely, never risking more than is absolutely necessary. But how do you do that?
It’s actually not as difficult as it might sound at times, though it does require some careful forethought. To help you out, here are 7 tips for scaling your business with minimal danger:
As you grow the practical responsibilities of your business, you’ll also want to grow your brand, because your brand will stick with you for as long as you’re in operation. You need a great website (which means getting a great designer), and a comprehensive set of brand elements: a versatile logo, fonts types and styles, a primary value proposition, a tone of voice, and a story that cuts to the heart of why you do what you do. Something like OpenBrand will help you create guidelines (it has a free tier).
What you don’t want to do is find yourself in the awkward position of realising in the middle of growth phase that, for instance, you don’t have a slogan yet. That’s not to say that every business needs a slogan, of course — but if you do want one, then you need it lined up and agreed upon before you start trying to expand the business, because it’s so much easier to refine a brand identity before it gets any traction.
Trying to figure out how much to charge is a difficult part of getting a business established, and you don’t even get the luxury of settling there and moving on. As your company expands and your brand becomes more valuable, you must semi-frequently revisit your prices to ensure that you’re not charging too much (deterring potential customers) or too little (failing to take full advantage of the custom you’re already getting).
This can be hard to judge accurately, admittedly, so it isn’t as simple as it sounds. Surveys will help quite a bit: before you make a major change, consult your customers to ask if they’d stick with you if your prices went up (though be sure to imply that they will go up, or else you might find that everyone claims they would go elsewhere purely to get you to freeze your prices).
A solo business can only grow to a certain extent, even with all the technological assistance available to the modern entrepreneur. Sooner or later, you’ll run out of steam, overworked and stressed to the point of being completely incapable of getting anything useful done. If that happens, it could mean the end of the business, because clients won’t be interested in waiting for you to take a leave of recovery.
Not only do you need to assemble a fantastic team to work beneath you, then, but you also need to get into the habit of delegating anything you don’t need to handle personally. Your role as the company head should be to guide overall strategy and helm the direct promotional efforts — selecting new products (if applicable), attending networking events, pitching to influential figures in your industry, etc. As soon as possible, make yourself minimally essential.
You can only grow your business when you have a stable foundation upon which to develop it, and your foundation consists not only of you and your team but also your first customers — the people and companies that decided to give you a shot when you had no successes to mention. Your growth depends on their custom, so you can’t afford to take it for granted.
Growing businesses can easily make the mistake of looking past their core customers while trying to attract new ones. They assume that those loyal customers will always be loyal, no matter how much they change, but that clearly isn’t the case. The key is to establish a solid balance between appealing to new customers and taking care of existing customers — it isn’t easy, of course, but it is mission-critical in the long term. Be sure to map your customer journey so you can have an appropriate experience for every type of customer.
While every business has a unique story, the elements tend to be very similar, and this is a fantastic source of both warning and inspiration for growing businesses. By researching companies vaguely similar to yours, you can learn about how they grew: what challenges they encountered, how they overcame them, and what mistakes they made along the way.
In the end, you’re going to chart your own course, but this kind of insight allows you to think more clearly about how your decisions are going to affect your chances in the long run. If you discover that someone previously tried what you’re attempting and failed miserably, then you have two solid choices: try to do things differently to get a different result, or consider that there’s an issue with your fundamental business and go back to drawing board to rectify it.
In the early days of running a business, you can get away with a casual approach to getting things done: cobbling pitches together, working on content for weeks, and generally being extremely inefficient. This inefficiency won’t stand when your business is growing rapidly — that’s why you need logical and repeatable processes.
There’s another reason, though, and that’s employee on-boarding. Even if you’re very lucky, you’re going to see current employees leave and new ones join the team, and you can’t afford to let an employee’s tactics leave with them. Everything that every member of the team does on a regular basis should be conveniently documented — that way, it’ll be easy for someone new to get up to speed, minimizing disruption to the business (SmartSheet has some free templates).
Steady growth should always be the objective, because you want it to be enduring. If you try to double the size of your business within a few months, the cost of funding that growth might end up causing your operation to seize up and stop working entirely. That’s why I strongly suggest that you only ever spend within your means. If you don’t have the savings to invest in growth, then perhaps you’re not quite ready to grow.
You do have alternatives to minimizing growth spending, of course — you could seek further investment, or find ways to cut your costs so you can afford to spend more — but the point is the same regardless: only spend what you can survive losing, and only commit resources to a tactic if you’re extremely confident that it will work.
Assuming you’re not independently wealthy and are actually invested in success, it isn’t possible to significantly grow a business with zero risk. There will always be threats lurking around the corner, so you shouldn’t hold out for a certainty — instead, you should take every precaution you can to make your risk a measured one.
Need more support making your ecommerce site a success? Chat to the Avid Brio team today to discuss how we can grow your business together.
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