Scaling up can be a daunting process for many startups, especially if they don’t have the right resources or systems in place to support growth, with research showing that 9 in 10 new businesses fail and only 40% make a profit.
Although scaling a business does come with its challenges, you can overcome them and achieve sustainable growth in the long run.
So what steps can you take to expand your business and reach new heights? We asked 16 business gurus to share their tips on scaling a business for growth.
1. Maintain brand visibility
One of my secrets to scaling up as a company is to always stay visible. During these uncertain times, some companies have hit the pause button on a lot of their expenditures. However, if your customers don't see that you're in for the long-run, why would they choose to stay loyal and purchase your products?
I decided early on that I would continue our marketing efforts so that we stay relevant, regardless of the current economy. People will always be in need of meaningful gifts and products that make them feel good about themselves. Ensuring that consumers have a visible, obvious choice can take one more thing off their plates.
Sally Rong, CEO of Rellery
2. Outsourcing tasks
There are only so many hours in a day and as a business owner, I know all too well how you can end up running around the clock, trying to tie all loose ends and playing catch-up.
In-house employees are expensive and in uncertain times like these, and it may not be a viable option to expand your staff. By outsourcing certain aspects of your business to freelancers all over the world, you access a wide range of benefits. Not only can you get many things done at a much lower rate, but you can also increase efficiency by picking the brains of niche-experts who specialize in the task at hand. Outsourcing non-core business processes will allow you to narrow your focus area to what really matters for the business as a whole.
Popular platforms like Upwork and Freelancer will easily set you in contact with the talent needed for your specific tasks and with so many capable workers in the game, prices have become very competitive.
Previously, I wrote and edited all my content myself, but this wasn't a viable strategy for scaling multiple websites. I turned to Upwork for copywriter talent and now have a small team of around five writers that work on a per-task basis as needed, along with a virtual assistant to handle the content posting procedures.
Paul Strobel, Affiliate Marketer and Micro-Mobility Expert at ERideHero
3. Scale strategically
It's incredibly tempting to start rapidly scaling in periods of growth. Afterall, it only makes sense to reinvest profits back into the business, double your output and effectively double down on your business strategy.
The problem is growth isn’t linear. Just because you're doing particularly well one month doesn't mean that trend will continue. In fact, continual growth is simply unsustainable. The issue is when you try to get ahead of the curve and scale your business too quickly. The moment that growth stops, you're stuck with a completely unsustainable business model.
For example, you might decide to upscale your office to a bigger nicer building with the aim of expanding your team. But when that growth slows and you realize you don't need quite as many team members as you expected, you're still locked into a lengthy, expensive office contract and effectively throwing money away.
I see this a lot with business owners and urge them to watch out for this trap. Never try to scale too rapidly, and especially not during short periods of growth!
Mark Webster, Co-Founder of Authority Hacker
4. Make your business an asset
My secret formula? Love your business but run it like you plan to sell it. Because when you start thinking about selling your business, you’ll start acting like an investor. You’ll see your business through new eyes and take steps to make it run without you. That’s a business that’s valuable in any economy. And deciding to love the business on purpose is foundational because it will give you the energy to make the strategic shifts necessary to turn it into an asset.
Debbie King, CEO and Founder of Loving Your Business
5. Time is money
As the owner of a company, I cannot emphasize enough the fact that spending time wisely is the base of scaling up a business successfully. When it comes to scaling your business (and keeping that expansion in check), the cliché is true: time is money.
Make sure all actions for scaling and growth are time bound. More often than not, unanticipated important tasks emerge at the worst times, like during expansion and scaling. To ensure that your team stays efficient throughout the process – and can accommodate last-minute changes or variations in schedules and tasks – make use of time management tools and strategies to get the best out of the time you have.
Thomas Fultz, Founder and CEO of Coffeeble
6. Invest in your company culture
David Niu, CEO and founder of TINYpulse, scaled his business by knowing the importance of a positive workplace culture.
“Focus on one thing, become really good at it, then scale.”
For him, that was the choice to focus on creating happier employees.
“Know what type of culture you want to build, be very intentional about finding those people with the same values and mentoring them so it creates a flourishing environment.”
He also recommends not to be afraid of investing in top quality talent:
“It’s OK to pay a little bit more, stretch a little higher, to bring on those great people because they could be doing the work of 3-4 others while inspiring hundreds.”
David Niu, CEO and Founder at TINYpulse
7. Perseverance is key
Despite the economic consequences of COVID-19, 2020 was still a great year for any digital company to scale up.
We successfully scaled up our SaaS business by being persistent with our marketing goals and emphasizing business networking through our social media channels. When the pandemic hit, we also had to be proactive and flexible, adapting our workforce to a hybrid office/remote model at the time.
Stefan Smulders, CEO of Expandi
8. Adapt to changing circumstances
When circumstances outside your control interfere with your long-term business plan, stay calm and adapt your goals. When the pandemic hit, we decided to begin selling home gym products and put more energy into marketing. We’re grateful that we did - we scaled up through SEO and content marketing, and this year our web traffic and sales have more than doubled.
Jacob, Director of eCommerce, Made4Fighters
9. Three tips for a successful scale up
Don’t be afraid to hire
Hiring is a requirement when scaling your business. Whether it’s a consultant, a contractor, full time, or part time employee, recruitment will only enhance your business and your ability to serve more people effectively.
Streamline your business operations
Mapping out your current workflows to address any possible bottlenecks or inefficiencies is always a good idea to ensure your business functions properly. Not having efficient business operations, systems and processes only causes delays in customer service, decreases external and internal satisfaction and creates the feeling of chaos.
Eliminate what isn’t working
When scaling a business, you want to double down on what’s working and eliminate what isn’t. If there’s a product or service that isn’t meeting the market demand, eliminate it. The energy and resources going into creating an unwanted product or service is only taking away from the focus that could go toward something else that’s working and needed for your ideal customer’s needs.
Brandy Mabra, CEO of Savvy Clover Coaching & Consulting
10. Delegate to talented managers
My top tip for scaling a business is to identify management talent promptly to start successful delegation. Many founders struggle to scale their businesses because the scope can seem overwhelming—and it is, but only when you're still in 'do it all yourself' mode. Once you put your trust in talent who you know can handle the responsibility, you open up your perspective to better opportunities for scaling.
Tapping talent to manage their own teams doesn't necessarily mean you'll see growth, but it will allow you to focus on your efforts where you're needed most, while others can oversee freelancers, temp workers or hiring if your revenue allows. Remember, it's still your business; the only thing that's changed is the importance of your time.
Chris Laan, Founder of Designer Sheds
11. Think outside of the box
It seems that the pandemic separated industries into two types; the adaptable ones and the others that fell behind. It isn’t surprising that investors now see adaptability as the most important trait all companies seeking to raise should have. Having experience implementing “outside of the box” techniques to keep your sales growing is a great sign of adaptability.
On our side with Sküma, a water purification device, we were fortunate enough to have resorted to guerilla marketing techniques such as sticking “Don’t buy Evian - buy Sküma” stickers directly on Evian advertisements across London. This proof of adaptability of our marketing strategy considering the pandemic allowed us to secure our third investment round resulting in an $800,000 valuation.
Alexandre Mahe, Director & CEO of Sküma
12. Leverage real-time data and automation in your growth strategy
With consumer behaviors and market dynamics changing at a pace never seen before, marketers are having to rewrite every playbook they use to scale up effectively. At Wilbur Labs, we’ve leaned into these trends and focused on pairing real-time data with automation to drive rapid growth.
Ordinarily, historical snapshots are a great guide for growth strategy. In the course of a global pandemic and everything that’s happened this year and sure to happen in 2021, that isn’t the case. Historical data is worthless and not a good predictor for what’s happening now or what will happen in the future. The value of real-time data and automation has skyrocketed because of the importance in understanding what’s happening now versus what happened yesterday.
Though trends are smoother now than they were in March and April, we’re still seeing rapid customer behavior changes happening every day, and real-time data loops have directly contributed to greater marketing efficiencies. We know that 2021 is going to be equally as unpredictable as things are now, and with potential reopening post-vaccine, it’ll be even moreso.
In addition, broad customer behavior and audience interests are still constantly fluctuating. For the first time in modern history, we’ve seen trends like global ecommerce adoption that ordinarily would have taken five years instead occur in five weeks. With such rapid change, it’s impossible for manual processes to keep up. By utilizing automation wherever applicable — and connecting it to real-time data — we’ve been able to ensure that our portfolio companies are maximizing every opportunity available to them. Real-time data and automation will be the difference between companies that scale up in 2021, and those that are left behind.
David Kolodny, Co-Founder of Wilbur Labs
13. Make a long-term commitment
Entrepreneurs often ask me about growing their companies, and I respond by asking them how they grow as people. If they’re building an enduring business, they’ll be taking the long view and making a lifetime commitment. Thus, any move toward growth needs to match the entrepreneur’s life plan. If it suits their needs, the needs of their employees, and their company’s needs, the right and wrong growth strategies typically become obvious.
When an entrepreneur is committed to their company for life, rash and risky growth gimmicks become obvious, as do the motivations of activist investors. So first develop the passion, discipline and confidence to achieve a vision to grow and then do so on your own schedule. Specifically, I tell leaders to ask themselves if they’re one of many players with a poorly differentiated offering which means aggressively growing will be nearly impossible. Large companies or mass consumer markets will be reluctant to give you a break. I then advise them to stick with it, get a bit bigger and obtain an established track record that will help open a few doors. In other words, slow and steady wins the race.
Ray Zinn, Silicon Valley's longest serving CEO and author of Tough Things First
14. Develop your short term and long term methods
I’ve developed a balance between short term and long term methods to scale up my business. In the short term, I focus efforts on customer retention and email prospecting, whereas in the long term, I’ve made online public relations a focus since June 2020. Through consistent effort, I’ve generated more than 70 high quality placements – including links – to my business.
Bruce Harpham, Founder of SaaS Marketing Services
15. Invest in the right tools and technologies
A key component of scaling up your business is investing in the right technology to assist in automation, efficiency and overall growth. Increasing your access to different types of systems that handle marketing, sales management, accounting, manufacturing bookkeeping, HR and so forth will allow you to yield higher volumes of production while remaining organized and functioning at your optimal level.
Most businesses struggle with backend efficiency, so delving into the right technological advances will give your business an edge. Along with software, also spend some time considering the physical equipment – computers, printers, phones, routers, etc. – that you run your business with as well as your servers. Even with the top-of-the-line software, slow computers and internet access can harm productivity and ultimately stunt business growth.
Make sure you find the right fit for your business that’s also cost-effective; whenever possible, go through trial periods thoroughly to ensure the automation method will yield the increase you seek. Investing in the wrong program could set you back, so take time to figure out what system will serve you best. Ultimately, scaling up a business means you’ll have to spend more money and time finding the appropriate technology to move your business forward.
Roy Ferman, CEO of Seek Capital
16. Gain third-party accreditation
One of the greatest challenges facing any company that wishes to scale up is how to simultaneously foster cultures of innovation and compliance. Young companies can strike out on their own and gain a competitive advantage on the basis of a great idea alone - but you can’t go far - and be taken seriously by more established businesses - without instilling discipline from early on.
This is a hard balance to strike as nobody wants to stifle the creative impulses that got the ball rolling. But as a business matures, it’s incumbent on the founders and management team to walk this knife-edge. One key step a business can take when scaling up is to test its organizational mettle against the rigor of a relevant ISO certification standard. Having an independent, third party accreditation enables scaleups to establish their position in the market as a serious player. The investment of time and resources isn’t trivial but will make all the difference.
At Anyline, we develop mobile data capture solutions, enabling our customers to digitize analog data with any mobile device. Developing this technology involves innovative AI and machine learning approaches, while handling data securely. For us, gaining ISO 27001 certification was therefore a business-critical decision as we scaled up because it gives our clients confidence that our data-driven approach to innovation is matched with equally rigorous data security practices.
Lukas Kinigadner, CEO of Anyline