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The allure of business growth is strong, and for many entrepreneurs, it’s a dream from the very start. In fact, many professionals see expansion as a key indicator of success. But increasing the size of your organization inevitably comes with growing pains. From managing a larger team to navigating complex market dynamics, there are countless obstacles that are hard to avoid along the way.
Growing pains are a necessary part of the process, and by being proactive and informed, you can anticipate these challenges before they crop up and consider innovative ways to overcome them. And that process starts with acknowledging the need for an operational shift.
Communication and other skills you need will change
When you first get a business off the ground, it’s easy to communicate and execute because your team is right next door. You can catch mistakes quickly. But when you start growing, all of a sudden, everything becomes more spread out. Marketing, support, development and sales can be in totally different parts of the building or even a separate building altogether. Suddenly, it’s harder to get a clear picture of what’s really going on within your own organization.
As this shift happens, it becomes critical to gather data from all corners of your business. Otherwise, you won’t have a thorough understanding of your business’s day-to-day operations and what your people may need from you. But it’s not just about data; you also need specific processes in place that hold everyone accountable and provide clear direction.
Adjusting to these new ways of communicating and operating can be uncomfortable. Not everyone will be able to keep up, and you might have some people who don’t stay with you. That’s OK. But your job as a leader is to help shape the attitude of the company overall and enable your team to understand that these adjustments are necessary for success.
Part of that maturity is being able to discern whether you need to bring in new skill sets to achieve the business’s goals. There has to be a willingness to evaluate what you were doing, admit that those approaches aren’t working anymore and explore the possible ways to evolve — and you have to do it quickly.
Be ready to remove some hats
Leaders of small companies are often a jack-of-all-trades. You’re used to answering all the phone calls and responding to customer emails because, in the beginning, the success of your business solely relied on you. One of the hallmarks of entrepreneurship is wearing a lot of hats to make something work.
The game changes when expansion starts. There comes a point where you cannot logistically handle everything on your own. At that point, you have to decide whether you can recruit someone from the inside to take on a role or if you need to hire talent from the outside.
Remember, not everyone who’s with you is necessarily ready to lead or grow. Even if you can promote someone from within, they might still need some guidance and support as they take on new responsibilities. On the other hand, hiring externally comes with a different set of challenges — you have to trust that they’ll be able to do the job well and mesh with the rest of the team. One of the biggest growing pains you’ll have to deal with is transitioning into the mindset of needing to hire other people and having faith that your business won’t fall apart if you hand off responsibilities.
Closed-loop learning and development don’t stop
Most growing businesses understand the importance of moving quickly to stay on top of innovative technology that can help them get ahead of the competition. This was certainly the case at Vagaro, where we not only had to look at what competitors were doing and what options already were out there, but we also had to develop our own software. We’re still constantly researching and tweaking to improve.
But the same research and development concept applies to all of your products. To create something that’s different and unique, you have to constantly look at what’s available. In the beginning, you don’t have a marketing team to do that. You have to rely on yourself to identify and develop a product that would set your business apart.
Once your company starts gaining traction and your sales increase, you now need a sales department. You start needing people who can do customer support. Hiring people becomes harder because you have to set clear expectations and teach them how to do things the way you’ve been doing them.
There’s a real need to balance your expectations and training with a good dose of humility — you have to accept that you don’t know it all and remember that you’re bringing in new people because they have fresh ideas and skills. This is one of the reasons I’ve intentionally made the choice to let my team manage what they can on their own and allow them some room to experiment and sometimes fail. I know I need to share what I’ve tried and be clear about the costs I’m willing to embrace so they can make some mistakes.
This growing pain of always having to research, adjust and hire doesn’t end. But that’s part of what makes developing a company thrilling. You’ll always have a new problem to solve, and the achievements and improvements resulting from the healthy pressure to find answers and solutions keep you excited.
Many professionals who talk about growing a business focus on all of the good things that happen, and that’s inspiring. But the best entrepreneurs know that there’s also going to be some discomfort along the way. Rather than shy away from their growing pains, they realistically anticipate them and work proactively to handle them well, such as seeking advice from mentors or building solid feedback infrastructures. Seek the same type of perseverance and preparedness in your own business, because it’s during the discomfort that you’ll learn how to thrive rather than survive.