Launching a business is undoubtedly the most stressful yet exciting time in your career, but there are many things you need to do to get your idea off the ground. Once you've overcome any early bumps and have proven you've got a viable business plan, it can be tempting to take your foot off the gas and enjoy a well-earned breather.
But while no-one would argue you deserve anything less, you can't afford to relax too much. This is the time when you need to be putting plans in place to take your firm to the next level.
The decisions you make now will determine whether you can successfully build your company or plateau without ever achieving your full potential, but they shouldn't all be about expansion. As your business grows and matures, you also need to think carefully about how you maintain the unique identity and brand experience that got you this far.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you try to turn your startup into an established brand.
1. Evolve your message
As you look to grow your firm, the messaging you put out there about yourself will have to grow along with you. For instance, if you started out as an online-only brand selling directly to consumers, this is likely to have been a big part of your early appeal - a personal connection that cuts out the middle-man.
But what if your growth plan involves partnerships with big, national retailers? Securing these deals can catapult your firm to the next level, but it will inevitably have a knock-on impact on your brand identity. Make sure you're evolving your messaging to adapt to this, take a close look at how you're marketing your firm, and explain to existing customers the reasons why you're heading in a certain direction.
2. Embrace your story
As businesses mature, it's easy for them to become swept up in a more corporate culture and lose sight of the reasons why they started out in the first place. Your startup originally had a specific purpose in mind - whether to help certain groups of people or address a specific problem customers were having, so it's important not to forget that as you diversify and look for new revenue streams.
For instance, if you're expanding into new product lines, make sure you're doing it for the right reasons. The best way to do this is to ensure every decision you make relates back to the fundamental values and mission that inspired you in the first place. Put your firm's story at the front and center of your values, and make sure that all new employees and potential investors are bought into it.
3. Choose your partners wisely
Every business will need investment to grow, but it's important you're teaming up with people who believe in your story and understand what drives your decision-making. It can be easy to accept the first offer you get, or the one with the biggest check, but you should ask yourself what they can bring to the table beyond financial support.
If they're just going to pump in cash and expect to reap the financial rewards, are they the best fit for your firm? Will investors push you to take the firm in a direction that moves it away from its initial aims? Will they bring key skills and expertise to your organization that you currently lack, or have the right industry contacts to connect with partners who can help take your firm to a new audience?
4. Be receptive to feedback
Startups often have an advantage over larger firms when it comes to user experience. With fewer customers requiring attention, they can build a more personal service based around understanding the unique needs of individuals, and this is something you don't want to lose as you grow.
Therefore, investing in customer service needs to be a top priority for any growing business. However, part of this needs to include a mechanism for gathering honest feedback from both customers and employees, and applying this to your decision making going forward. A good feedback loop will tell you if your expansion plans are likely to alienate loyal customers, or disrupt how you interact with them on a personal level.