Once you have successfully started a business, the next step is to expand it. Expanding a business can take many forms, depending on the industry you are working in. It may involve employing more staff, investing in greater infrastructure, and marketing your services to a greater number of clients across a greater geographical area. It has been well documented how hard this endeavor can be, and many businesses have failed after their owners have over-reached and been unable to scale up a successful small enterprise. The pitfalls are many: overstretching your budget, investing in the wrong areas, being unable to meet the demand of more customers.
However, there is one risk that isn’t discussed as much. When you are attempting to expand, it can become much harder to keep oversight over your company’s activities. After all, if you are operating alone in your garage, you know exactly what’s going on with every aspect of your business. When you start employing ten, twenty, a hundred employees, this becomes much more difficult. There’s nothing ultimately wrong with this – it is a part of business growth – but it can feel overwhelming, and lead entrepreneurs to make bad working decisions that threaten that growth.
There are many ways to keep control when expanding your business, which will allow you to retain oversight over your activities whilst effectively delegating, and without falling into the traps of micro-management. By following these, you will be able to make informed decisions more effectively and expand your business with confidence.
It might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many small businesses forget to delineate their operations into clear departments. Your finance department might be one person, or it could be a thousand, but having clear, defined roles within a growing company is vital to prevent confusion, ‘doubling-up’ and other business pitfalls. By creating departments, you are also clarifying chains of command, and which of your employees is responsible for reporting the department’s activity to yourself. This will help you to keep oversight even when you are not involved in the day-to-day functions of a particular area. An added benefit of creating clear departments that are responsible for certain actions, is that it will free you up to concentrate on overall planning and expansion. If you can trust your Head of Department to provide you with clear, efficient, useful rundowns of your business’s progress, you will be halfway towards a successful expansion. Too many new business owners attempting to expand become bogged down in the continuing minutiae – by utilizing departments, you will avoid this common pitfall.
A typical business organization may contain the following seven departments, although it will vary depending on your industry:
Production – responsible for the manufacture of any goods required
Purchasing – AKA procurement, they will buy goods, services and materials for your company
Marketing – in charge of promoting your business and driving sales
Sales – responsible for selling your product and building links with customers
Human Resources – manages the workforce of your organization
Finance & Accounting – responsible for efficient financial controls and management
Research & Development – a department dedicated to the innovation of new services
Though all the departments listed above have significance, perhaps the most important when you are expanding your business, is Human Resources. We all know how vital it is to hire the right people. A great workforce will increase the value of your company exponentially, make your working life infinitely more enjoyable, and provide your business with a new lease of life. On the other hand, even one bad apple can have drastically negative effects. Whether it is incompetence, bad attitudes, creating employee disputes or instances of malpractice, hiring the wrong person can destroy your business’s reputation, slow down your growth and set you back months if not years.
An effective Human Resources department will be vital in managing your growing workforce and ensuring it remains positive. There are two main ways this is accomplished; hiring, and oversight. Your HR department (or employee, if you are a small business) can create hiring procedures and documentation that follow regulation whilst ensuring you are attracting the best candidate for the job. This lowers the risk of hiring an incompetent worker, allowing you to relax and let the process take its course whilst feeling confident in the results. Following this, HR can occupy a valuable position as the mediator in any disputes, ensuring all your employees remain satisfied and fulfilled. As a go-between for you and your workforce, this will be invaluable in ironing out any issues as your business expands and changes.
Methods of Efficiency
As you expand your business, it may prove harder to keep track of many different factors, including expenditure and logistics. It’s important to recognize that the methods you have used in the past may no longer be the most efficient option. For example, as a tiny business, many people find it easier to hold a single business bank account with a single card. It is easy to keep track of transactions, and if one of your employees needs to purchase something and be reimbursed from the company card, this isn’t that hard to accomplish. However, as soon as you start to expand, this will quickly become unfeasible. For bigger companies, you may need multiple different pockets in a bank account in order to keep track and manage your finances effectively. It may also be necessary to issue company bank cards to necessary employees, so they are able to make purchases without constantly going through you or asking you for reimbursement – in a larger company, this can get very messy, very quickly.
Though this is one example that will work for most businesses, usually your methods of efficiency will vary depending on the type of venture you are operating. If you run a delivery or road-based business with growing numbers of vehicles, you may want to start using fleet credit cards – on the other hand, an expanding restaurant-chain business will want to consolidate suppliers and consider the benefits of buying in bulk rather than purchasing for each individual location. The key here is to take a holistic look at your business and try to identify the specific, unique areas where you might be able to find a more efficient, streamlined alternative to methods you are currently using.
The best way to retain oversight control over your business is by establishing crystal clear lines of communication. These lines must run both between yourself and your departments, and between the departments themselves. You can think about what form these communications take. First of all, it’s important that you present yourself as someone that your employees feel able to speak to frankly – otherwise, you may never hear about minor mistakes that could affect the business in unforeseen ways. If you expect trust from your employees, you must also trust them in return.
By the same token, clear communication does not necessarily mean constant communication. You may want to be kept apprised of operations, but your employees have their own jobs to do that don’t involve reporting to you. Solutions may include a weekly meeting between you and your Heads of Department, to give everyone a rundown of what has been happening, and make sure you are all on the same page going into the future. Clear, regular structures such as this can help give you a feeling of control, help your employees feel supported and motivated, whilst allowing everyone to get on with their work uninterrupted.
Delegation and Outsourcing
With a focus on control and oversight, it can be easy to interpret this as a need to grab onto every aspect of your company without letting it go. This would be a mistake. Delegation and outsourcing are two of the most vital aspects of growing a company, and yet they are two aspects which new business owners often find most difficult to grasp. We have covered the necessity of delegating within your business, but it is worth reiterating; if you can find employees you trust, you must allow them to accomplish their work unimpeded. It would be physically impossible for you to do all the work of a growing company yourself, and true delegation is the only way for your business to grow healthily.
The same is true of outsourcing. What if, for example, you need a particular financial service for the company, but you cannot yet afford the wage of a full-time accountant? Rather than trying to take this work on yourself, or assigning it to an under-qualified employee, consider outsourcing the job to a specialist service. Outsourcing can also be particularly useful for HR, as an external company will provide an even more objective, unbiased overview of hiring and employee issues. Many new business owners are afraid of outsourcing, but when you are growing your business, it will become one of the activities that could make or break your expansion. Just like everything else, it will take trust, delegation and finding the most efficient methods – even if these are outsourced to other companies – that will ultimately allow you to grow your business with clear oversight and control.