Success is hard. As an entrepreneur, we’re all focused on achieving a certain level of assured business, or a steady rate of incoming clients. What many overlook, however, is how difficult it is to continue to serve those clients with the same quality we originally promised. Scaling properly requires founders to keep track of many moving parts, demands and requirements, all while maintaining at least the appearance of order and security (and our own sanity).
Scaling requires working with our entire team to ensure that our company is growing evenly across all departments, while also managing priorities as urgent needs arise. While scaling has always been an urgent need for every business, the speed at which growth is demanded is only increasing with the expected pace of business in general.
Even though scaling is challenging, it can be done–and I’ll show you exactly how. Here are my top four ways for managing to scale your business without losing your mind in the process:
Be An Owner, Not An Employee
This is a tough pill for many founders to swallow, but it’s critical: putting off delegating tasks that your employees can do will only hurt your business. Once you’ve hired an employee to do a task, you have to actually let them do it–whether that means writing your blog, building your website, or doing safety checks in your factory.
Your role as a founder is to build the business, not the product.
Why is this so important? As a human, accept that you can only do so much. That means that if you have more tasks than you can actually achieve, you need to make sure to prioritize the ones that only you can do. If you’re writing lines of code all day, that means you’re not refining your long-term goals or your financial plan, and you’re not building relationships with investors or stakeholders.
Make Sure No Department Gets Forgotten
Everyone knows that adding staff and resources to R&D and sales is usually urgent, and it’s absolutely fine to prioritize those two–for the short term. Don’t forget the rest of your company though!
As your engineering, design and sales teams grow, they’ll demand more resources over time from the less urgent departments and roles, such as accounting, legal and administrative assistants. Remember that you’ll have just as much trouble–if not more–if your taxes, payroll or legal needs go unmet than if you lose a single client.
Stay Focused On Your Core Value
Listening to your clients is a great thing to do. Investigating how your company can be better is a great thing to do. Losing sight of what your company’s true value is because you’re attempting to be the panacea to all of your client’s problems is not a great thing to do.
Feature-creep is a danger in almost every industry. It’s the problem that occurs when you cross the (very tiny, almost invisible) line between adding value and adding every single thing a client requests. While we all hope that our product will change the world for the better, it’s important to recognize that we can’t do it all at once, or, usually, all by ourselves.
Even those of us who are aware of the dangers of feature creep, and have experienced it many times before can sometimes fall victim to it. However, once you realize the issue, it’s critical that you refocus on your core value, or you’ll risk your business spinning into chaos.
It’s Okay To Say No
This last tip may be the hardest for most of us entrepreneurs to swallow: it’s okay to say no to new business if you aren’t ready to support it. Really. It will prove you to be a cognizant and level-headed manager.
When a new client approaches you and you aren’t ready, it’s important to weigh the risk versus the reward of accepting them. For example, if they’re an enormous industry leader, there’s a lot of reward for accepting them, but also a lot of risk because of the strain it will create on your business, which will undoubtedly result in growing pains from which you may or may not recover. Consider the capital you’ll earn from saying yes, and plan out exactly how you’ll scale to serve them at the level they’ll expect. If you can’t form a plan you’re satisfied with, know that it’s better to tell them you aren’t ready to serve them than to give them a bad experience.
If you have many small clients approaching you, the temptation is to accept another one every time they call because each individual one seems like an easy task. However, know when the final straw will break the metaphorical camel’s back – usually in the form of your valuable employees starting to look elsewhere because they’re overworked.
As you scale, make sure to continuously look at your business from an outside, bird’s eye perspective. Is it getting lopsided attention? Is it struggling under the weight of client loads? How can you best support the entire staff?
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.