How to stop your business getting too big for you

Doubling your team overnight might sound like a start-up's dream, but it can very quickly turn into a nightmare if you're not careful, says digital marketing entrepreneur Guy Levine.

by Guy Levine
Last Updated: 24 Aug 2016

As an entrepreneur, you spend the majority of your life striving to grow your business. It’s like pushing a heavy boulder to the top of a very steep mountain. One day you reach the top, admire the view and then realise the very same boulder is rolling down the other side, trying to outrun you. That is the speed of scale. How do you manage the momentum you have built up and keep growing?

Let Process Take Care of the Mundane to Make Way for Creativity

As businesses grow, process becomes important - really important. From onboarding new team members to ensuring impeccable delivery, fast-growing teams will test processes to the max.

However, process mustn’t suffocate or remove creativity. Simple checklists, visual flow charts and bullet point instructions will remind people of the essentials. The last point in any process should be ‘can you think of a way to improve this process?’ to make innovation part of the process.

Keeping Millennials Engaged 

There’s no hiding from it, Millennials now make up a large part of the workforce. Communication is vital to them, but it is important to communicate in a way that suits them. The old handwritten note or thankyou card still holds a valuable place, but a company Instagram video, a WhatsApp or a tweet can be much more effective. Don’t be caught out by social-savvy hiring managers who can make best friends on Twitter and slowly poach your A-players. Fish where the fish are and use social media to your advantage.

Build Leaders Young

The key to building a great business is to create a team of great people. People who get it, want it and have the capability to do it. As a company starts to scale, finding a reliable stream of new recruits will become a challenge. Constantly hiring external talent into positions of seniority can be demotivating for the rest of the teams and dilutes your culture. Take people who have the potential to lead teams, departments or specialisms and give them the support they need to grow into leaders. The expertise is there; only wisdom is lacking, which is just due to a lack of experience. But with some training, mentoring and lots of support, leaders who are a cultural fit, have the respect of their peers and feel committed to the cause will be born. 

Core Values Are Core When They Hurt to Keep Them

Core values, or the behaviours at the heart of the company, are not just management lingo to be written on a wall during a Sharpie and Post-it Note exercise. They should be behaviours that exist already and are the secret sauce of success. Hire by them, fire by them and live by them.

From founder to apprentice, the same standards should be true. To keep them alive, constantly look for core value stories that are examples of core values in action. Capture and share the legends which will become the stories that define the company. Use these in recruitment, in company updates and for rewards.

Why do they hurt? Because when a leader doesn’t live by them and needs to make it right, there may be a financial or ego cost associated. When a talented team member flaunts them, they have to go. Failure to keep standards to these 3-5 key behaviours that make the company what it is will breed rock stars and terrorists who will ultimately grind growth to a halt.

All of these lessons have been learnt the hard way! After realising that people communicate through different channels we started making a monthly company video instead of a company newsletter. Swinging between no process and regimented Excel spreadsheets caused massive bottlenecks. Losing talented people because we thought the expertise we needed could only be found externally caused bad feeling and was a wrong assumption. Not having a core set of simple, already-present values by which we can benchmark every decision led to a fragmented workforce and a higher-than-comfortable attrition rate.

We are by no means there yet, but try to consistently keep it simple, prioritise and take massive action.

Guy Levine is CEO and Founder of Return On Digital.

Image credit: Leon Yaakov/Flickr


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