What is the secret to growing your business? As simple as I like to make things, “growing your business” is way too broad a topic to be explained simply. There are, however, several relatively simple ideas that you should be keeping in mind. If you are growing quickly (or even growing at all!) you are likely very busy. When you are moving a mile a minute, it can be easy to get derailed. As always, remember to not over-complicate things, business really is simple!
Keep It Simple
Which brings me to the first point: keep it simple! When you were one a one-person operation the way you ran your business was simple. Then problems, mistakes, little snafus here and there started to pop up. Being a responsible business owner, you started adding steps and systems and controls to help you keep tabs on things. Then one day you wake up and find out that everything takes twice as long to do as you think it should. All your “systems” are clogging the pipeline. This is not to say that you don’t need controls as you grow. I know I just told you “What got you here, Won’t get you there”. But sometimes people don’t consider the cost of a system. 100% accuracy can be prohibitively expensive to maintain. Unless you make things like heart valves or airplane wings, it probably isn’t even necessary. Before putting in a control system, think “What is the downside to this going wrong”? If it is just as simple as “the client will be annoyed” then maybe the better system is to just plan to accept a certain amount of failure, to refund the client, and send an apology letter. The client will be content and you can keep producing more efficiently. Often times the cost of the refund and apology for the once in a great while you have a problem is significantly less than the cost of slowing yourself down. You should always be evaluating your systems with an eye towards making it simple. Remove complexity wherever you can!
As with most things in life, moderation in business and growth strategies is a good strategy. Don’t take failures too hard. Also don’t assume that a success will continue indefinitely. Making course corrections is a great idea. Almost all successful businesses make changes constantly. Changes to products and services, changes to marketing, changes to their models, etc. But don’t let one bad experience make you change everything. If you put real effort and research into your business plan one unhappy customer shouldn’t be enough to change it. Making changes off-the-cuff can also be killer. When the time comes to make changes, and the time will come, it should be done strategically as part of your annual planning process. The same care and effort that you put into your original business plan should be put into looking at what the next steps or changes your business needs for growth. And, generally speaking, incremental adjustments have a better risk-reward trade-off than the big ones do.
Buy Low, Sell High
Throwing money at a problem typically won’t solve the problem. Neither will not throwing any money in. Validation is a very powerful emotion. Business owners are highly susceptible to being blinded by the success of their business. You had the idea, you did the work, you took the risk and now it is paying off! Why shouldn’t you feel good? The truth is you should. But just because you were right once, does not mean you will be right again or right always. Business moves in cycles just like the stock market. Boom times and trough times. If you want to really supercharge your growth don’t spend the “easy money” that comes with being at the top of a business cycle. Save it to reinvest it when the trough time comes. Because your competitors will not do this and will be struggling to stay alive when the slowdown comes. But if you have a war chest to get you through that period, you will come out of the trough tremendously successful. As I write this, we are still muddling along in the end of a recessionary period in the US. But there are lot’s of people making a killing right now. Why? Because they were conservative when the top was here and saved money. When the crash came, their competitors went out of business. Now they have money to reinvest in growth and are picking up business left and right.
This is exactly the same strategy you would use to invest in the stock market. Sell high, buy low. But just like most investors do the OPPOSITE of this, most business owners spend when the money is “easy” and barely scrape by when then trough comes. Have the foresight to flip this usual behavior on it’s head and reinvest when the bottom comes. You will shocked at how much you can grow.
Slow Yourself Down
When you start your business you can make decisions easily. You know your business inside and out. There is very little (relatively speaking) going on. Which means that you have a handle on the heartbeat of your company. This allows you to make tactical decisions quickly because you instinctively know what you want to do. But you can trust your gut too much. When your business is simpler, your gut is probably pretty accurate. As your business grows, it will naturally get more and more complex. At a certain point, your brain cannot integrate all the variables necessary for you to make “gut” level decisions. That is when your “gut” will start to not be right any more. As with overreacting point above, care and research is required to support growth. Force yourself to slow down and consider the options. In this day and age, it seems ridiculous to not move as quickly as possible. But the reality is that all our modern technology only moves information to us and away from us faster. We have not yet invented something that can make decisions for us. Only a human being can take in the data and make a decision. And none of our current tablets, phones or computers has increased the processing speed of our brains. So don’t kid yourself into thinking that you need to “think faster”. It isn’t possible. And please, don’t kid yourself into thinking that you “need to move faster” and you don’t have time to do the research. That is just excusing laziness.
“Burn a Hole”
Something of a continuation of the last point is an idea that I stole from Patrick Rhone. I searched everywhere I could online and I think that he mentioned it in his podcast, which you should check out. But the idea is that laser like focus will allow you to “burn a hole” through your projects. Productivity has given us all the impression that we can and should be doing more than we are. But the reality is you can only move forward so many projects, ideas and products at a time. Productivity is great but I believe that it should be used to allow you to dedicate more substantial time to a few important projects, not dedicating a little time to dozens of projects. As a successful business owner, you will likely have many opportunities and ideas. In fact, you will have more than you can deal with at any one point in time. You will be more successful if you do them one at a time. My way of accomplishing this is to create “Paths”. I have four paths, two personal and two business. That means that I can only have four projects going forward at any one time. For the business paths, I have one for my online projects and one for my full-time job. But I have many, many ideas and projects that I want to do. So during my quarterly planning I update my “path time-line”. For example, I have a list of all the major projects I want to do at NCH (NCH Tax & Wealth Advisors is where I work). It can be anything from marketing to a new niche, developing a new IT infrastructure, or recruiting more staff to grow the business. After making the list, I review each of them for timeliness, seasonality, and resources required. Then I “time line” them out. Project A will be complete by end of January at which time I will start work on Project B which I estimate will take three months which means Project C will start at the beginning of May, etc. This has allowed me to “burn a hole”. I have accomplished more since I have started doing this than I ever did when I tried to work on everything I wanted to do. It also means that I do not lose track of projects or ideas. I can take comfort in the fact that, when the right time for a project arises, I will have that project ready to go.
The point is: If you have 12 ideas you will likely finish all 12 faster by putting focused effort into one project at a time, than you will trying to move all 12 projects forward at once.
I hope this has been helpful and you are as excited for the new year as I am.
What growth strategies are you planning to work on this year?