What comes next for businesses that have grown beyond the start-up?
You might say reaching a new phase of life is like taking a leap into the unknown. Not knowing what happens next is daunting, but standing in the face of change can be limitlessly empowering. With new challenges come new opportunities, and new opportunities bring greater freedom. To the owner of a start-up, this story is undoubtedly familiar.
They’ve seen their business grow from an idea in their mind to a tangible, physical manifestation of their potential. To the start-up owner, their business is the beginning of something that could one day change the world – and there comes a time when it’s time to fly.
The next step towards greatness
The ‘scale up’ – defined as “a company that’s seen average annualised growth of at least 20 per cent in the last three years, with 10 or more employees at the start of this period” – is the next stage in a start-up’s natural progression, and it’s a time for great change, growth, and new, exciting responsibilities.
But according to Barclaycard research, over a quarter of businesses that have gone through these steps aren’t aware of what a ‘scale up’ is – despite having been one themselves. The study also finds that 57 per cent of scale ups have experienced a moment when they thought their business would fail. The most common challenges keeping them awake at night include maintaining employee satisfaction, finding and retaining talent and standing out from the competition.
Self-made business woman Bianca Miller-Cole has worked with Barclaycard to develop 10 top tips for getting through the scale up growing pains. A leading entrepreneur, Bianca started up her own business, The Be Group, the ‘go to’ business for personal branding in 2012 and then shot to fame as a participant on the BBC’s The Apprentice program in 2014. She is therefore well placed to know what it’s like to scale up a business and provide advice to others.
Recognise the moment when you need to scale up
1. Sounds like an obvious one to step back and recognise what’s going on around you. But when you’re a key business decision-maker, wearing multiple hats, you don’t always recognise the moment when you need to do something until after it’s happened. Taking a moment to step back before taking action is really important and might prevent you from diving in without having the right infrastructure or external support in place. A simple question could prove to have a very worthwhile answer and that question could be, am I technically a ‘scale up’? Over a quarter of key decision-makers in businesses that have scaled up don’t know or haven’t heard of the term ‘scale up’, according to research from Barclaycard.
Use tools that will help you in more ways than one
2. In order to scale successfully, you will need to start thinking about the processes that can be automated. Technology can drive significant efficiencies and it is important to use it to your advantage. There is a plethora of solutions on the market than can be used to increase your productivity and efficiency; thus giving you more time to work on the business (instead of ‘in’ the business). Make the most of your transaction data to provide insight into your sales performance, and join up all your commerce channels for a consistent, seamless customer experience. Speak to providers like Barclaycard that can support you here.
Innovate to accumulate
3. Innovation is vital in today’s marketplace and this does not just refer to your product – your website, payment technology, events, store layout – the list goes on of what you should be innovating. If you don’t have some of these things in place yet, then this is your opportunity to approach them with a creative eye. Think about how you can keep ahead of the trends by speaking to the right people, networking at business conferences and looking for gaps in the market. Constantly challenge yourself to think bigger and better. At a medium size, you are nimble enough to try something different and be one beat ahead of the competition. The most important theme to consider is how the innovation will help you to have a positive influence on your audience demographic.
There’s no I in team
4. Employees and your wider team are your number one asset but don’t just think about the people on the office or shop floor. There are other stakeholders who are instrumental in your long-term success; think of your suppliers and the wider network of people and experts who can help you to grow successfully. This might be your customer manager at your payments provider, your social media manager or a company offering the right software solutions. Let your wider team help you and keep hold of those trusted partners who add value.
Barclaycard’s research shows that the number one worry for scale up businesses is employee satisfaction – and looking after employees is key. This ranges from fostering a supportive, fun culture to offering the right upskilling opportunities. So think about your three key stakeholders as your customers, your employees and your shareholders – you want to keep them all happy.
Create unique customer experiences
5. We know the experience economy is here to stay – consumers want experiences that go above and beyond the products you sell or service you provide. Think about how you can do this efficiently and profitably – it doesn’t have to be installing a coffee counter in your boutique or a gym class in your office space. It might be changing how you deliver a product, trialling a pop-up or partnering with another experience to reward your customers. When thinking about how to garner loyalty from your customers, positive experiences are key. You don’t just want customers, you want raving fans!
6. You can’t escape tips for social success these days but make sure you’re taking advantage of social platforms as a marketing tool, customer acquisition source and even sales platform. The reality is that in this day and age, there is a clear expectation that your business will appear on one social platform at least. So it is important to think about how you create your brand personality. Remember to adhere to guidelines though and stay true to your brand tone of voice in the content you create and collaborations you look into.
Keep your finger on the pulse
7. There’s always a new ‘of the moment’ trend and it can be overwhelming to keep up with all of them. Be aware of what customers are interested in but don’t get carried away. If it doesn’t make sense to your business, don’t try and capitalise on it but try and support the opportunities that do. In other words, not every viral trend is relevant to your demographic, don’t try to force it.
8. Stay true to your company culture, your business mottos and your passion – don’t let growth steer you away from the vision that everyone is a part of. Big doesn’t mean boring! By keeping your head fixed on your shoulders and working with the right partners, you can keep what makes your company unique and grow successfully at the same time.
Focus on solutions
9. Think about novel ways to grow your business from how to pay your suppliers more efficiently to how to find out more about your customers’ needs through data analytics. A lot of people are working on innovating these processes already, so speak to the right people to stay focused on the task at hand.
Don’t be afraid to fail
10. This would be one of my top tips and from my experience, trial and error is how you learn! Failure is always a part of success so don’t be disheartened by a knock-back. You need these to ultimately succeed! Trying to scale up is daunting so it may not come as a surprise that almost six in 10 leaders of growing business have feared they might fail. Look at failure as part of the learning curve.