One thing that successful small business owners quickly learn is that in today’s relentlessly competitive landscape, there is no such thing as standing still. Indeed, even in sectors that enjoy relatively high barriers to entry such as healthcare, financial services and biotech, it’s just a matter of time before owners need to answer a pivotal, profound question: how do we upscale our business?
If you’re currently facing this scenario — or you’re on a road that will force you to grapple with this decision in the near future — then according to retired insurance and international risk management executive Teresa Wolande, here are five tips to help you successfully upscale your business, and elevate to the next level vs. slowly but surely start circling the drain:
- Turn processes into systems.
Your small business relies on dozens of processes and sub-processes to do everything from generate new customer leads, to handle billing and accounts payable. However, when you shift gears and enter the mid-sized organization or perhaps even the enterprise space, these processes will quickly stop being assets, and become liabilities. To avoid a traffic jam that will bring your thriving business to a screeching halt, turn processes into systems that can be established, optimized, and applied at scale.
Added Teresa Wolande, who is currently establishing a Women’s Forum in the Naples, Florida area to help women transition into the fourth quarter of their lives: “Systematizing everything from hiring to sales to finance and everything else is even more important if you plan on franchising, because you want to make sure that your franchisees get up and running as quickly as possible, and that performance issues don’t damage your brand and reputation.”
- Remain obsessively focused on your customers — not your business.
Many small business owners who try to get to the next level become distracted by the new normal and lose sight of the most important piece of the puzzle: satisfying customers and driving brand loyalty. This isn’t to suggest that business owners suddenly go from being customer-centric to anti-customer. Rather, it’s a warning that small businesses should constantly ask the question: are we delivering optimal customer value? If the answer is yes, then it’s safe to proceed. But if the answer is no, then it’s time for an immediate gut check and course correction
According to Teresa Wolande, a significant part of staying relentlessly focused on customers, is understanding the marketplace. Many small businesses carve out a niche that works nicely as long as they’re a small fish in a big pond. But when they enhance their profile, they discover that there is insufficient demand for their offerings.
- Make sure you have enough capital.
The vast majority of small businesses don’t have deep capital reserves or a roster of enthusiastic VC’s who are lining up to write a check. This is where having a smart finance executive — typically a CFO — on board is often the difference between successfully upscaling and outright disaster. A competent CFO will identify potential sources of funding, assess the cost and risk of each viable source, and then develop a strategy to support the upscale effort with sufficient capital at each phase.
- Ask for advice — because you’ll need it.
Although you may be an expert in your particular niche, don’t let this well-earned confidence prevent you from seeking advice as you upscale. Knowing what you know is important but knowing what you don’t know could be even more vital as you move forward.
Added Teresa Wolande: “Whoever you tap for advice, make sure that they really understand your business and brand, and that they’re going to give you insights and recommendations that make sense for your specific situation. In simpler terms, they need to care about your long-term success as much as you do.”
- If the hard data tells you to do so, don’t be afraid to push the brakes.
This last piece of advice is the toughest to follow but may prove to be the most valuable. Ideally, everything will work out according to plan, and your small business will upscale smoothly and successfully. But if you face bumps in the road then don’t be afraid to push the brakes. For example, instead of scaling from one location to five locations in year one, you dial it down to two or three.
Added Teresa Wolande: “Sometimes, you need to scale down a little before scaling up. It’s not an easy thing to do, and it takes a lot of courage and willpower. But when the hard data tells them to do so, entrepreneurs who wisely push the breaks instead of slam the accelerator often thrive in the long run. Conversely, those who refuse to acknowledge a brick wall up ahead often become the architect of their own business destruction.”