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How to give your growing business the structure it needs

A business becomes self-sustainable when it has a repeat client base, with new business coming in the door regularly through sales and marketing activities or referrals. Often, it is a combination of both.

There is a team in place, which may be small or large depending on how rapidly the business is growing, and it is starting to make money.

Once a business reaches this stage, it represents a huge shift for the business owner. It is probably the most important stage in transitioning the small operation into a bigger business.

The person or people who started the business are no longer the only ones in it and no longer do everything. They need to delegate to others, plan ahead and change their own roles to move through this stage.

Dealing with the complexity of this stage is a huge learning curve for most business owners who have never been in a situation like this growth phase before.

A lot of the knowledge about how things work and are meant to work is in the owner’s head, and when things reach a crisis point with too much going on at once, the solution is to throw more resources at the problem. Hence the complexity continues to grow.

Many business owners run the risk of this happening when they start expanding. Some fail to understand the importance of building structure and continue to focus on more growth and the irresistible desire to take every opportunity that arises. If you neglect structure, your business will fail. It is essential to take stock and build structure at this stage to continue on your growth path.

It is now that the game changes. When you start to see any of these signs, you will know for sure that it’s time to put more structure into your business to enable it to continue to expand.

Signs that something isn’t right

  • You don’t feel in control of what’s going on: Your business has grown relatively quickly, and you have lots of new clients and work, but you and your team are feeling a little overwhelmed.
  • Mistakes and problems are occurring more frequently
  • There’s uncertainty about how to get things done: You have a team of people, but you seem to be the only one who knows how everything is done or is meant to be done 
  • As the owner, you feel ready to crack: You are overwhelmed and exhausted by trying to keep it all together
  • People aren’t performing: One or more of your original team is no longer performing, placing extra pressure on you

What has caused this?

As a business grows, and particularly if the growth is rapid, there comes the point when increasing complexity can place huge pressure on the business owner and team. The impact of this includes:

  • The owner of the business hasn’t had the need or the time to document what they know, so it remains largely in their head
  • As a result, their team isn’t quite sure what they have to follow up on, undertake, or even how to do it without asking a million questions. That’s why many business owners at this stage wonder why they’ve employed so many people when they still end up doing most things themselves.
  • The business owner holds on tighter to what needs to be done, as they often believe that in the circumstances, if they want something done, it will be easier and faster to just do it rather than delegating it
  • This increasing load on the business owner takes them to breaking point
  • The team, meanwhile, is trying to be supportive but is not sure what they’re meant to be doing or how to do it because this information resides in the business owner’s head
  • Early recruits are often given far more responsibility than they can shoulder as the company grows. The owner keeps expanding their role beyond what they’re qualified and suited to do. As a result, they start to falter under the load and stop being effective, but they don’t want to let anyone down.
  • No-one has had the time or the availability to take information out of the business owner’s head and put it into a format that other people in the business can access
  • The business owner causes a bottleneck in the company by not letting anything go forward until they have reviewed it, amended it, or approved it.
  • There is a lack of coordination amongst people and projects because there are no processes tying the different parts of the business together.
  • Typically, sitting at the centre of all these challenges is a business owner who is inexperienced in making the changes needed at this stage of growth and is reluctant to let go.

Three steps to implement a more sustainable structure

It is only when the business owner lets go and becomes the CEO whose role is to implement structure, organisation and processes so people can effectively support them that the company will strengthen and keep growing.

Step One – Map out core processes with your team

For example, if you develop brands, map out the entire process from idea through to costings, samples, development, launch and distribution. Be very specific at each step of the process regarding who does what and who needs to sign off before the next step can proceed. 

If your business uses a system to manage stock movement, map out the process from when stock/raw materials/components are ordered through to when they are used for production, shipped as finished goods to whom and when, and stock on hand counts. Add where the relevant shared files are for easy reference into each step.

By doing this for core processes, the knowledge gets out of the business owner’s head and clarifies for the team who is responsible for what and how the end-to-end process is meant to work. It is also an invaluable tool for inducting new people into your business.

Step Two – Identify any resource gaps in the company

There is no one-size-fits-all way to do this. Here is one option which includes your team and gives a more comprehensive perspective of the additional resources you need in your business:

Have each person in your team list all their responsibilities and highlight those they are struggling to get done (because of skill set or lack of time)

Do the same for your own role, highlighting what you need or want to delegate. Be ruthless for your role and honest about where you can add the most value to your growing company.

Once completed, list all of the highlighted responsibilities that are getting left behind. Identify if any of these could be moved from one person into another’s role. Consider whether a new employee could take on most or all of the remaining items.

As a result of this exercise, have everyone (business owner included) update their job descriptions accordingly.

Step Three- Accountabilities and KPIs

  • Following on from the above exercise, you will need to take some time to decide how to assess performance for each of your team members.
  • KPIs (key performance indicators) must be specific and measurable and be both quantitative (e.g., make sales budget of 100k/month) and qualitative (e.g., positively contribute at management meetings).
  • Have everyone agree and sign off on their KPIs.

There are additional strategies to implement that will provide more structure and focus to your business. However, if you can implement these three, you will be well on your way to stepping up from a business owner to a CEO who feels in control of how their growing business is operating.

Read more: Let’s Talk – Growth

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Jenny Stilwell

Jenny Stilwell

Jenny Stilwell is a strategy advisor and business mentor who has helped hundreds of business owners through the challenges of growth. Her first-hand experience is unique, both as a mentor to CEOs and as CEO of her own and others’ companies, including being one of few women at the time to head up a publicly listed company. She is the author of The 7% Club – How to be one of the 7% of businesses that make it beyond $2M in turnover.

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