The step from ‘new business’ to ‘growing business’ can be huge for many owners. Most small businesses start with one or two founders who wear many hats initially and then, as they become more established, delegate key duties to staff or create new positions to fulfil emerging requirements.
Therefore, it is common for business owners to change roles in the growth period. Before or just as you begin to scale is an excellent time to find out where your strengths are so you can maximise them while bridging gaps with team members who have complementary skills.
You may already know what you like to do, what you’re good at and how that fits in with the business. Still, it’s always good to take some time to do a formal evaluation, so you’re clear on the path forward.
Plan your growth
Why do you want to grow? For us, the ‘why’ is very important, and it boiled down to building a network that could support the exemplary practitioners to provide the highest quality allied healthcare in Australia. Growth for growth’s sake isn’t a strategy, so be clear about why you want to grow before you take steps to scale.
Physio Inq started as a clinic, and my co-founder and I practised physios. Today we have more than 350 people in our network spread over company-owned clinics and franchises. We no longer work as practitioners because we’ve redefined our roles to support practitioners doing their job well.
The most important part of our business is its culture, so as we scale, it has become my role to focus on our people to maintain the essence of what makes us Physio Inq.
Chart your plans and ask yourself where you add the most value as a key leader in the business. Then, you’ll be able to see what support you need at different stages. It may be that you’re prepared to stretch yourself until your business is a specific size, but beyond that, you might look to add to the management team.
Be aware of burnout. Growth can be exciting, and many entrepreneurs derive energy from the adrenaline rush of a successful, fast-growing business, but not every team member will function under that approach. Burnout happens when you don’t have enough people to carry the load, so existing team members have to do more hours or wear more hats. It also creates bottlenecks, potentially stalling efficiency.
It’s usually fine in short stints, but if this is the pace you expect them to go all the time, then it’s destined to fail. Planning helps prevent burnout because it means you can look for new team members to fill expanding roles just before they’re needed.
What does successful growth look like? It’s always helpful to know what you’re aiming for so you can adjust your course accordingly. Have a concept of what successful growth looks like for your business. It can’t just be about the money: are you reaching more clients? New markets? Are you making better products? Investing more in R&D? Have you redefined your industry? Is your business a household name? Where do you fit in this?
Success for us is the happiness of our practitioners: we put them first, so they have all the support they need to give clients the best care. Our practise is to ask for, and act on, constant feedback. Frequently and actively seeking feedback helps people feel comfortable giving it, but it’s the follow-through that counts.
You don’t need to do everything everyone suggests. Still, you should respond, consider their needs, and involve them in the process of addressing the issue. In this process, we found that flexibility is one of the most important factors in a practitioner’s role, so we built that into the job in response. As a business owner, this process has also directed me towards my current role in recruitment, people and culture.
Because culture is so important to us, we chose to grow at a pace to maintain it comfortably. Growth without upholding our culture is not a success for us. Every time we expand, I check to see that we’ve managed to scale the culture alongside size.
Grow too quickly, and we risk losing our culture. We know that culture takes a long time to rebuild, so accelerated growth can set back sustainable growth in the medium term.
Engage with your teams
Maintaining a feedback loop is also an incredibly important way to engage with teams and figure out issues before they become bigger challenges. Leadership is all about knowing when to trust your team to take care of things themselves and when you need to take the initiative.
Often you’ll have managers who look at smoothing the small friction points. Still, if you see a common theme coming up for multiple teams, it could signal that broader changes need to be made across the business – or, in our case, across the franchise network.
As leaders, we see a team member’s failure as a failure of our leadership. One example of this is how we deal with complaints. We recently had a situation where we noticed an uptick in complaints about communication with therapists from our clients.
Everything from slow email response rates or unreturned missed calls. We took this as a sign that our patient handling training wasn’t adequate, so we ran a refresher workshop to ensure all team members were clear on the etiquette and procedures.
Being attuned to the people in the business made me realise my strength was in finding the right people, enfolding them into our culture and supporting them to reach their potential so they can do the best job possible for our clients.
My foundation as a practitioner definitely helped with that, but as the business grew, I realised that my role was not hands-on with clients but hands-on with our teams.