Depending on whom you speak with, business lifecycles number anything from four phases to seven. But whichever ‘theory’ you might subscribe to, the phase that tends to create the most stress for people who aren’t directly part of your business is the growth phase.
If we look at the simplest setup, most successful businesses go through at least these four phases:
- Successful Expansion
For now, I want to talk about the second phase: growth. Your startup is gaining momentum. You’ve dug in for a few months and you’re starting to see results. Your cash flow is easing and you have a little room to breathe. Now it’s time to really grow the business. That might involve hiring staff, building premises, adding on to your territory… whatever steps will take your business from the startup phase to one where it is in growth mode.
While most people imagine that startup is the hard part of the lifecycle, and it IS hard, the struggle can really come at the growth phase. Why? Because while you’re in startup mode, everything is new and exciting. You’re making plans and you’re getting your feet under you. In growth mode is when the real ‘nose to the grindstone’ work has to happen so it can also become the phase where expectations become harder to manage.
Whose expectations? Everyone. Your family, your friends, your new clients and your existing ones. This is the time where you can make or break some relationships so you really need to have plans in place for all eventualities. One of my core beliefs in business is: “Start as you mean to finish.” That means starting out on the right foot so that you end up on the correct path, going forward.
Dealing with expectations from friends and family
In the growth phase of a new business, you are going to be less ‘chicken with your head cut off’ running around and more engaged in the day to day as you build onto your plans. You can’t do these things at the expense of everyone else in your life, though. If your kids don’t recognize the weird guy whose eyes are darting left and right who just walked into the house, that’s a bad thing. If your mother sends a wreath to your home because she hasn’t seen you in three months and is assuming the worst (jokingly, of course!), you know it’s been too long.
You need to sit down with the people closest to you and walk them through your plan. If you’re in growth phase and hiring seven people, finding new premises, interviewing for a new accountant, all the while managing the day to day sales for your business, tell people this is what you’re doing. If they feel like they are being included—not for their opinions or advice but just for the sake of understanding where you are at—they will be more accepting of the fact that you are too busy to attend every family gathering for the next while.
Another important tip:
- Don’t make promises you can’t keep. There’s nothing more disappointing than someone saying they will attend an event or even just ‘be there’ on a specific evening, only to have those plans dashed at the last minute.
Managing expectations from your existing clients as you seek new ones
The real danger in growth mode is growing too quickly. I know: that sounds crazy, right? How can you grow too quickly? But it’s possible and if it happens, and you become overwhelmed with sales / orders / requests / new clients, you will end up serving no one. If you don’t have the staff or production support in place because your cash flow is only now covering operating expenses, it will be difficult to handle all the new business and could quickly become too much work.
So while a lot of businesses pour their efforts into pursuing that elusive ‘new’ and ‘perfect’ client, at the expense of the existing ones who have been there from the beginning, your best bet is to cultivate and grow the clients you have until you can put the support in place to reach and receive new ones without upsetting the apple cart. Managing the growth is an important part of being able to manage expectations.
Managing personal or business emergencies
Basically, you need a plan B. A system for dealing with things when you can’t. For example, if you’re running a copywriting business, which needs to be at the ready for new projects from clients and handling tight deadlines, you need to be ready for the day where you are sick, or injured, or someone in your family is. The fastest way to lose clients is to not have a plan B for emergencies. There are those times where the unavoidable happens and you simply have to be honest with your clients but if it comes to that, make sure you outline how you’re going to move forward so that they remain satisfied with your company.
A pitfall of a smaller business and why some people don’t want to deal with them is precisely this lack of a backup plan. The customer could be left ‘hanging’ if you aren’t prepared.
Asking for help or admitting to being overwhelmed is not defeat
My final point is that you can and should ask for help. It’s not a defeat and it’s not a failure to say that you can’t do it all.
- Touch base with people in your industry and find out how they handled situations that you now find yourself in.
- Outsource personal things like cleaning, if you can, so that you aren’t trying to do 30 hours of work in a 24 hour day.
- Outsource business tasks that aren’t directly related to growth. Get those accountant interviews DONE and make sure that your books are in order. Outsourcing doesn’t mean losing touch with those tasks completely: it just means that you are letting someone who is an expert in those areas take over the day to day, so you can focus on #creatingyourowneconomy.
Ultimately, the growth phase in any business is an exciting time. Manage it well and you’ll reach the expansion phase faster than you think. If you need help with finding mentors, or understanding how you can put a plan in place that will work for you, contact us here at Entrepreneur House.