Scaling a business is not easy, and there isn’t one simple tip or magic bullet that is suddenly going to deliver phenomenal success. The statistics prove it – half of start-ups fail within five years and two thirds within 10 and, of all businesses, nearly 96% are unable to scale beyond 10 employees.
One of the fundamental things that separates those that successfully scale from those that do not is that those who manage to scale properly plan and don’t simply drift into growth. They work to a proven system and follow clear strategies to scale and build value.
Having identified some of the key challenges around creating and building a 7-figure [and beyond] business, I created the ‘Entrepreneurial Scale-Up System’ or ‘ESUS’, which has helped hundreds of companies scale.
Here are some of the key principles from the system to help you on your way to building a scalable, sustainable and valuable business.
According to BizSmart’s own research, 53% of owner managers say they ‘don’t have a clear strategy that works towards scalability and growth’, but it’s not a surprise that so many businesses fail to put a solid strategy in place.
The word ‘strategy’ itself conjures up images of spreadsheets, fancy diagrams, lengthy reports and presentations and can often give us a headache just thinking about what it means. However, it doesn’t have to be intimidating.
Strategy can be broken down simply into four key areas: leadership, value, vision and plan. For a winning strategy, you must ensure leadership and vision are strong within the business, and that your team are aligned with and passionate about the company’s overall mission.
Have a clear three-year plan in place and make sure your business’ values and purpose are embedded into all aspects of the plan and the way you do things day to day, from recruitment and onboarding to reviews and feedback.
However good your strategy is you won’t get far without a team but, whilst people can be the magic ingredient that makes a company great, they can equally be the biggest headache.
To really work cohesively, team members need to have a sound understanding of themselves as well as their peers. The starting point for this is often behavioural profiling, for which we use DISC assessments – behaviour self-assessment tools based on the 1928 DISC emotional and behavioural theory of psychologist, William Moulton Marston.
Getting everyone in your team to undertake DISC profiling is not only a great way to help them understand each other’s personalities, styles, differences, and priorities, but also to learn how other team members respond to challenges, influence others and respond to rules and procedures.
Not only that, DISC profiling can help you, as the business owner, ensure you have the right people in the right roles.
One of the key difficulties small and large businesses face is being good at executing their strategies. Whereas strategy is primarily focused around ensuring we are ‘doing the right things’, execution is about what we do to deliver against those plans.
A valuable tool to consider as part of of your business strategy execution is ’90-day planning’ – a concept which helps bridge the gap between ‘why’ and the day-to-day actions we need to take.
All businesses – large and small – can benefit enormously from this, but most businesses don’t do it. We recommend 90 days as it is short enough that we can see things reasonably clearly, and long enough that we can achieve something meaningful if we try.
90-day planning works by taking an annual view of what you want to achieve and breaking it down into 90- day increments, making your goals much easier to plan, evaluate and achieve. As part of this, try to identify things you are doing as a business that you should stop doing, things you should start doing and things you should continue doing. Also be sure to include a review of any emerging trends in your industry sector that might impact your business. For example, technology changes [e.g. the rapid move to online working, or the potential return to face to face], or an increasing lack of potential candidates due to the pandemic, that might shake up your market.
When it comes to managing a scaling business, there is little more important than managing the cash in the business. You can get by with a decent strategy and some hard work – but not without cash.
Cash becomes even more critical as a business scales up, and ensuring we have enough to get us through transitions and weather storms is very important.
Following the COVID-19 pandemic, the benefits of a large cash reserve are only too obvious and, ideally, we should be aiming to have at least six months of operating expenses in reserve.
Whilst this might be a pipe dream for many of us, the principle stands, so how do we manage to get to the point where we are able to hold some cash in reserve? Aiming for two months of operating expenses in cash in the bank is an excellent target.
It’s a good idea to look at your cash daily or, at the very least, weekly – particularly in times of change, for example when you are growing rapidly or at times of crisis such as the pandemic.
Ensure you have a set of financial Key Performance Indicators and ratios that are reviewed monthly, and that at least one cash improvement initiative is undertaken quarterly and included in each 90-day planning session.
Whilst these principles from the ESUS methodology won’t give you the answers to every question you will face on your scale-up journey, they should provide you with some structure to overcome the challenges you will undoubtedly face along the way.
By following the above steps, you will be well on track to building a more valuable business and achieving 7-figure success.
Kevin Brent is director of business support provider and franchise, BizSmart, and author of The Entrepreneurial Scale-Up System.