Every business should be built to scale. In other words, you want to have the ability in place to grow rapidly, even if you are currently a small operation. I think that being able to scale means you have to take measures right now to make it possible later. Here are just a few ideas that you can implement today to make scaling easier in the future.
Use a Wiki to Document All Business Procedures
Having your business procedures and systems well-documented is a key step for scaling. A wiki is simply a software tool that makes it easy to document information. You can give out access to the wiki to key employees so they can document their own procedures. You can then review procedures yourself and make changes. Even if you are the only employee, starting with a wiki will make it easy for future employees to access procedures and upgrade them along the way.
Hire an Accountant Early
It is important to hire the right people all throughout your growth as a business, but one of the most important hires is an accountant. You don’t have to bring one in full time. Just find an accountant who understands business and can help move yours forward. Understanding the numbers will help you make the right choices as you go along, and having a firm financial foundation to your business will make it very scalable.
Record All Training
Anytime you do any kind of training, record it. I don’t care if you write it down or use the family video camera. Just make a record of it. That way the next time you need to train, it will be more streamlined and consistent. Plus, if you take off and grow really fast, you will already have important training materials in place and will not have to personally be there every time.
Learn How to Measure
This is a big one. What you want to do is find the measurements that speak to your business’s health and wellness. Watch a few key metrics to spot troubling trends and to help you keep the business on track. This habit will become especially important as you get more removed from the daily grind. Determining what to measure takes trial and error. For one business, it may be number of leads in the pipeline. For another, it may be online conversion rate. For a third, it could possibly be the number of walk-ins at the store. It is important to find the measurements that most directly relate to future success (so last month’s sales numbers aren’t always the most helpful). There is some good advice on this topic in Mike Michalowicz’s The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur.
Yes, it costs money. But protecting your business with a legal entity, a corporation, S corp, or LLC, is the right move. In rare cases a partnership makes sense (an LLC will probably be better), but avoid staying a sole proprietor for too long. By making your business a legal entity, you get the legal protection of separation from your personal finances and liabilities. There are also many financial and tax advantages. This is something you need in place if you are ever going to scale your business. I suggest reading Incorporate and Grow Rich to learn more about the options and benefits.
Maintain a Database
Your business runs on information. The less information that is stuck in your head, the better off your business will be. I already mentioned cataloging procedures and training. You really should catalog everything. The main use of a database is to store customer information. Get in the habit early of recording everything. This includes emails, phone conversations, preferences, and more. Build up strong information about your customers.
For this, you will want to use a CRM, which stands for customer relationship manager. A good one will help you maintain information on your customers and sales without too much hassle. I recommend Batchbook.
This may sound cold, but it is in your customer’s best interests. It also goes hand in hand with using a CRM. You need to find a way to maintain a personal touch with customers, no matter how large you grow. So build in things like customer surveys, thank you notes, social media connections, etc. Take a look at how you handle customer relationships now and work to improve on it while also building a system to maintain your approach no matter how large you grow. One of the worst casualties you can have if you grow fast is your customer service. Building systems now will ensure that you maintain good relationships as you move forward. A good book on this topic is Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit.
Early on, you do all of the jobs. Maybe now you have a handful of people doing multiple jobs. You can’t just go out and hire everyone you would like to hire right away. What you can do is start to map out responsibilities. Create the job position before you fill it. If you handle five different things, start to think of them as five different jobs. Come up with descriptions for each job. As you grow, you will be able to easily plug people in, as well as separate yourself from the job. Without planning this out, there will be bumps in the road as you figure out responsibilities after your hire. Check out E-Myth Revisited for great advice on this topic.
That is my short list of business scaling ideas for small business. What can you add? Has this inspired you to make any changes in your business?
Photo by Steve Brandon