The other day, as my 4 daughters were making an absolute mess out of my closet by trying on my shoes and my scarves, I started thinking about some parallels I was seeing right that moment, as it pertained to small business.
Believe me, I tried to stop as it was indeed a Saturday and my day off – but a creative mind never sleeps and I found myself compelled to share with you the truths between sweet little girls in wobbly high-heels and the growing wonders of today’s businesses.
As with most entities who haven’t quite reached maturity, there is this constant need to stretch beyond the comfort zone – beyond what is age appropriate and even what is safe – all in a desire to reach the next milestone.
While watching my 5-year-old twins trip and turn their ankles wearing my favorite Anne Kleins even I haven’t been able to wear yet, I was reminded how important it is to sometimes grow into something before jumping full-force and ending up on crutches.
Much like every other stage of business, growth and stability require strategy and planning. While my girls stand there wobbling to just make it down my carpeted hallway, businesses are constantly doing the exact same thing just to meet next month’s payroll.
Some might say that is the nature of business itself – risk and hardship until the growing pains subside – but I wonder often if these can be avoided by simply having clear, concise, calculated, controlled growth.
My daughter Sydney, who is 10, might have said it best when she asked me if she could have my lace-up high-heel biker boots (yes, I have them and yes, I wear them). My response to her was ‘Syd, when you fit into them and are old enough, you can wear them.’ Her response rings true on so many levels ‘Mom, by that time, they won’t be cool anymore.’
Now a business owner might say if they don’t grow at the rate the market demands, their products or services will be passed over for more available ones. This could very well be true, but the mark of a good business owner is someone who can read, strategize and prepare for the market and somehow get ahead of it without jeopardizing his business. My daughter’s reaction to my very rational response to her was a typical knee-jerk to justify a somewhat unreasonable request.
Responsible and decent parenting dictates I not let my daughter walk to school in boots that will probably break her neck and will certainly make her look ridiculous. And standout leadership also reveres the idea of thoughtful and deliberate business growth.
Strategically, how do you accomplish this, though? The glitz and glitter of market demand and having customers line up outside your door is so overwhelming it is horribly difficult to not just throw everything you’ve got into it here and now.
Think about it – while this demand is hot and heavy now and you can, through some major realignment, meet the demand before you, are the responses to the questions below optimal for business longevity?
- Can you sustain this type of growth with the business infrastructure you have in place?
Most growth requires spend. Whether it be new hires, materials or a larger facility, it is important to know what money you have in the bank and how long it will last should you borrow against everything you have and try to make a go of it. This one question alone can define your success.
- Will other segments of your business suffer while production increases?
While you beef up production or staffing, what is lacking? Do you have to cut corners in customer service or support because you ramped up production? Did you put off hiring the accountant to do the books so you could do other improvements? Every aspect of your business is a reflection of your growth plans – good or bad.
- Are you still running an environment conducive to employee nurturing and growth?
Stressful growth brings about stressful situations. The last thing you need is a workplace filled with drama and stress. You still want good people working for you – employees who are treated well will work hard and will be loyal. Never discount the importance of a good working environment.
- Are you sacrificing quality for quantity?
If the eyes your ordering from China are 50 cents cheaper per thousand and you receive them two weeks earlier, it doesn’t matter if they are a choking hazard, right? WRONG! Don’t sacrifice quality for more production quantity. Your public has made your product popular based on the craftsmanship you’ve put into it here and now – don’t reject their acceptance of it by changing it up for the worse.
- What is the increased product growth or demand telling your customers?
Several of the above touch on this. If you are smart, you want the increased product growth and the demand to tell your customers this: That you appreciate their faith in you and your business and you appreciate them sharing their experiences with your services to their friends and family because without it, you’d not be growing. Remember who makes demand and who makes growth – steady customers and repeat business. It’s just that simple.
- Is your brand still reputable?
When a business grows, copycat businesses follow. They want to capitalize on your success. How you make yourself stand out is by always striving to be excellent in the field. Always attempt to have the best reputation. If growing your business too fast is going to impact that, don’t let short-term gain outweigh long-term effect.
- Is this growth a fad or is it something that will level off and help your business sustain and grow for years to come?
Much like the Kangaroo Athletic Shoes I loved as a child, fads come and go. A good business appreciates the rush of a fad, but has plans for sustainability. One hit wonders don’t make it in business and who wants to equate their business to a really bad VH1 rerun?
These are all questions so key when thinking about taking your small business to the next level before it is ready. In some cases, it indeed works and store product shelves are testament to that. But more often than not, something becomes freakishly popular then ends up only having a lifespan of a few seasons.
Top strategists in the industry recommend one of the most elementary mechanisms in defining whether or not a market-demand quick growth is right for your business: Make a pros and cons list.
Put on your strategic thinking cap (or shoes) and invite other stakeholders in your business to participate. Just as 4 little girls have 4 distinct tastes in shoes, everyone in your business will have a different way of approaching how and when you should grow the business.
It is beyond the money – it is about health, sustainability, legacy, reputation and your pride – all extremely important if you want to be more than a fly-by-night outfit.
So while you anticipate growth and what is in store for your company, remember this: A good growth strategy will help you see through Fad and fiction … And a black, lace-up biker boot will NEVER go out of style.