Networking to Scale Your Business

The prospect of networking for your small business may fill you with joy, dread, terror, or some other strong emotion. Whatever your feelings about networking, if you want to scale your business, getting out there and meeting industry professionals is a must.
Here’s a rundown of how to network with the goal of connecting with people who can help you scale up your business.

Why Should I Network?

A team of 1 can be toppled pretty quickly when storms come. As you strive to grow your business rapidly, you’ll need support from mentors to guide you, staff members to help you execute, investors to support you financially, and colleagues to give you a second opinion and encouragement. Networking can help catalyze the process of growing your connections.

How Do I Prepare for Networking?

Most people dread networking because of the inevitable awkwardness of figuring out what to say to a stranger you’ve just met. To avoid this situation, prepare your pitch in advance—a couple of sentences about who you are, what your business does, and what you’re passionate about. Depending on your networking goals and who you’re speaking with, you’ll want to tailor this pitch to be relevant to your listener.

Another simple way to prepare is to bring business cards. This gives you an easy way to break the ice, tell people who you are, and provide the information they need to contact you later.

How Can I Make the Most of Networking Events?

Your time is valuable, so you should put in some effort up front to make sure you get the most out of each networking event you attend. If possible, research the attendee list ahead of time to identify key people you want to chat with. Define your goals for each event in advance, and make sure your time is spent pursuing these goals during the mixer. After the event, make sure to reach out to anyone you want to continue building a relationship with to continue the conversation.

How Will Networking Help Me Scale My Business?

Scaling up requires you to add new staff members, find additional vendors, and potentially partner with investors. Networking provides an opportunity to make connections with all kinds of people who may be able to contribute to your business’s success, whether directly or indirectly.

The Bottom Line

For an entrepreneur who wants to scale his or her business, networking isn’t an option—it’s a necessity. By setting goals and preparing in advance, you can minimize the stress associated with networking and ensure that the time you spend at events is time well spent.

How to Establish Processes to Support Scale

One of the side effects of scaling your business is the need to create standard processes. The larger your organization becomes, the more crucial it is for your staff to adhere to set guidelines and expectations.
To many entrepreneurs, the thought of codifying procedures evokes responses of boredom, fear, or sorrow. Writing documentation seems to have little to do with the thrill of bringing a vision to life. Whether the thought of creating processes excites you or makes you want to run and hide, the truth is that you can’t scale a business successfully without them.

As with any daunting task, it helps to break it down into smaller, discrete chunks that you can address one by one. Here are a few questions to address as you figure out processes to implement for your growing business.

When should you start implementing processes?

The exact timing will vary depending on the nature of your products and services, your staff size, and your personal preferences. A clear sign that you’ve waited too long to implement processes is a decline in staff productivity. If your best team members are constantly taking time to reinvent the wheel, remind others of the correct way to do things, or settle disputes, then it’s high time to codify your procedures so that everyone is working toward the same goals with the same expectations.

What kinds of processes are necessary?

All major aspects of your company should have processes in place to help guide your staff to make the best decisions. Some of the major business areas to consider are as follows.

  • Administration: Anything administrative—payroll, billing, ordering, inventory, shift scheduling, etc.—should have a standardized process from day 1.
  • Branding: How your brand looks, how it sounds, what its key values are—these attributes should be standardized across channels so that your brand has a cohesive presence.
  • Quality: Define what standards each product or service at your business needs to adhere to, and what the customer-facing policy should be if products or services fail to meet these standards.
  • Productivity: Give your team concrete goals when it comes to number of customer helped, percentage of calls answered, time spent on each checkout, etc. If they have a number to work toward, they’ll be much more productive than if they have nothing to benchmark their efforts against.
  • Customer Service: Having processes in place on the customer service side will ensure that patrons have a consistent experience. This will also protect you when unhappy customers come to you with complaints—if your policies are in writing, it’s much harder for them to argue that they were promised something else.

Who should define these processes?

As the business owner, you should be driving the processes put in place. You don’t have to do it alone, however. If you have a manager or co-owner who geeks out on documentation and workflows, enlist their help. It’ll make the experience more enjoyable and give you a chance to get a second opinion on areas where you might need one.

The Bottom Line

While defining standard processes and writing documentation might not be the most exciting task, it’s one of the most important things you can do to help your business scale successfully. One of your many challenges is to figure out when to introduce new processes, what kinds are needed for each aspect of your business, and who should be involved in defining processes. Discovering the answers to these questions will have a huge impact on your day-to-day operations, so it’ll be well worth the time and effort you invest.

Staffing for Scale in Small Business

Exponential growth in sales also means exponential growth in the amount of work to be done. As you scale, it’s important to increase your staff size appropriately to keep up with customer demand. Hiring without a clear plan in place can lead to poor choices and more recruiting work down the line.
These 4 tips will help you make wise hiring choices as you scale your team along with your company. 

1. Hire for the Long Term

If scale is one of your primary goals, your first few hires will be crucial to your success. Each member you bring on will become a key player on your team. During the hiring process, be sure to ask yourself: Is this person someone who can fill a short-term need, or someone who will help me achieve my long-term mission? Hire only the people who fall into the latter category. 

2. Hire Strategically

At first, your open positions will be created to take work off your plate, so you’ll be bringing people on who can do what you do. The next phase of hiring should be strategically oriented to recruit people who have skills or experience that you don’t have. These people will help bring fresh insights to the table and provide complementary viewpoints to your own—two things your business needs in order to thrive.

3. Hire for Culture

When there’s pressure to add heads quickly, it’s easy to take the first qualified candidate who walks in the door. If you want to maintain a great company culture as you scale, you need to keep hiring people who will make a positive contribution to that culture. In addition to considering individual skills and personalities during the hiring process, think about how each person will mesh with your company’s ethos.

4. Hire to Keep Up with Demand

As sales increase, your staff will quickly become maxed out. It’ll make the hiring process easier if you can come up with a formula early on to determine how much work each person can do so that you know when to add more staff members. For example, you might calculate on an hourly basis how many customers a salesperson can help, how many orders a register clerk can ring up, or how many haircuts a stylist can give. These estimates will help you determine when and what kinds of new hires to make so that quality and efficiency remain high during the scaling process.

The Bottom Line

Building a strong foundation of staff members who are there for the long haul, dedicated to your mission, complement your skills and expertise, and mesh well with your company culture is essential to being able to scale quickly and stably. As you project growth for your business, you’ll want to similarly project growth and allocate resources for new heads to ensure that your business continues to operate smoothly.

How to Fail Like a Startup

After reading the title of this article, you may be wondering why we’re giving advice about how to fail. Shouldn’t we be helping our readers learn how to avoid failing?
The truth is, being in a position to scale your business doesn’t happen by having a perfect plan in place from day 1. It happens by testing concepts early and learning from unexpected outcomes, then putting those learnings into practice to improve your business.

Start-ups, who begin with a limited amount funding, small teams, and virtually no brand recognition, have come to master the art of failing forward—that is, making mistakes without spending too much time or money in the process, and using those mistakes to iterate quickly and develop a viable product or service.

These 3 tips will help you learn how to fail like a startup—and use those failures as stepping stones success as you scale your business.

Tip 1: Start By Talking to Customers

We all have our ideas about what customers want and need, but we’re never 100% accurate in our assumptions. Make sure to run your ideas by customers (or potential customers) early on to see if there’s preliminary interest. If not, you’ll be able to quickly move on to other ideas.

Tip 2: Test Your Hypotheses Early

Rather than thinking of poorly performing concepts as failures, think of them as the scientific results of testing a hypothesis. These results will either confirm your current hypothesis or deny it, prompting you to develop a new one. This process will help you pursue the right answer without feeling like a failure. Starting early will ensure that you don’t waste too much time developing a new product or service before you have concrete data that says your audience wants to buy it.

Tip 3: Iterate on What Works

Once you have a concept that works, it’s tempting to want to spend a ton of time perfecting it before launching it to your customers. The start-up way of development, however, if one of iteration. Rather than trying to make something perfect out of the gate, the goal is to develop a MVP—minimal viable product—to roll out to users. This approach allows you time to get feedback from users and plan out your next round of improvements while also generating revenue from an in-market product.

The Bottom Line

Every business is bound to experience failures. Failing like a startup means preparing for mistakes early on, working through them quickly, and applying what you learn to create better products and services. These tested, optimized concepts are what will ultimately help you scale your business.

How to Build a Positive Public Persona

The more your business scales, the more your persona becomes of interest to the public. As a small business, this persona is inextricably tied to your individual image as business owner—after all, you’re the person driving your company’s vision, culture, and policies, and people are curious to know more about you before becoming customers.
The best way to create a positive public persona for yourself and your business is to consciously invest in it. Here are 5 ideas to keep in mind as you proactively shape your image.

1. Show Your Personality

Neither brands nor individuals are memorable unless they have an interesting personality. People want to know what makes you tick, what makes you unique, what your style is, what you’re passionate about—and the answers to these questions will ultimately determine whether or not they take you and your work seriously.

Of course, the personality you convey publicly is also a reflection on your business, so remaining professional and respectful is essential. Within that framework, consider how you can paint a self-portrait that stays true to yourself and to the mission of your company. This picture will serve as a guide for how you present yourself and interact with others, both in person and online.

2. Position Yourself as an Expert

You started a business in order to meet a need or solve a problem in your community. As such, your public persona should constantly reinforce your industry expertise, whether you’re sharing advice, commenting on other peoples’ content, or providing helpful content of your own. This doesn’t mean that you have to pretend to know everything, or act like you never make mistakes. It just means that you should feel free to share the wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm you have about your industry with others.

3. Cultivate Transparency

There are a handful of issues that can undermine a public persona, and one of these issues is a lack of transparency. Business owners who try to cover up fraud, illegal practices, safety hazards—or even more minor issues like poor product quality or customer service snafus—quickly feel the backlash. In your own public persona, be as open and honest as possible with your customers and audience, even when things aren’t going well. Addressing issues head on, and declaring your commitment to make needed improvements and changes, will help you maintain a positive image even during rough times.

4. Invest in Your Online Profiles

As a busy entrepreneur, your social probably can’t fit in a networking event every week. But that doesn’t mean you can’t connect with influencers and industry leaders. Leveraging your online profiles is a great way to cultivate a positive public persona. Engaging with customers, social followers, and other entrepreneurs in your industry or local area can help you flesh out your image and give passive spectators a great impression of you and your business.

5. Give Back to Your Community

Today, organizations and individuals who invest in social causes (think Tom’s shoes, Warby Parker eyeglasses, and Sevenly clothing) are being rewarded for their benevolent business models. If you’re passionate about a cause in your local area and have the resources to give back or actively participate in it, don’t hold back! Investing in your community will give your public persona a boost and have a positive impact on your neighborhood as well.

The Bottom Line

Your public persona will be a key asset for your business as you scale. Make sure to invest early on so that, when more eyes are on your company and you as its leader, your words and actions tell the story you want people to hear.

4 Strategic Thinking Tips for Small Business

Small business owners are faced with unique challenges when it comes to scaling. Most entrepreneurs don’t have the luxury of managing operations from afar; they’re helping customers, overseeing inventory, reviewing finances, and coaching staff members on a daily basis. This necessary involvement in the everyday happenings of a business can make it difficult to step back and focus on strategy—but strategy is an essential component in scaling your business.
These 4 tips will help you make time for strategic thinking so that you don’t lose sight of the big picture as your work toward immediate goals.

Tip 1: Define Your Vision

All strategy should stem from the ultimate vision for your company. What’s your business’s mission? What are your values? Who do you serve? What makes you unique from your competitors? Pursuing objectives that align with these attributes will help you develop strategies that make sense for your business and your audience.

Tip 2: Make Time to Blue Sky

Make a regular date with yourself to spend some time kicking around blue-sky ideas. This is valuable time where you can take off your pragmatist’s hat for an hour and dream big. It’s easy to shut ideas down when you let your internal budget-wrangler reign over your thoughts; give him or her some time off and let your creativity thrive.

Tip 3: Use Ideas to Drive Action

Once you’ve finished brainstorming, it’s time to put your pragmatist hat back on and look over your ideas. Identify the ones that are viable in the short term, those viable in the long term, and those that are unlikely to happen. Then, take the short-term list and make a plan to put those ideas into action.

Tip 4: Be Accountable

As with any major goal, it helps to have someone to keep you accountable for making progress. Whether it’s your business partner, a mentor, a friend, or a family member, make sure you have someone you can talk to about your strategy, what you’re doing to pursue it now, and what you plan to do in the future to achieve your goals.

The Bottom Line

Guiding your business’s growth with strategic thinking isn’t something that happens overnight. It takes vision, time, creativity, and commitment to develop actionable ideas that will drive successful change. Having a solid strategy that adapts to your goals and the needs of your business and consumers is one of the keys to scaling success. Dig in, think big, and go after your goals!

How to Scale Your Small Business

All big things have small beginnings, including top franchises and corporations. Rapid growth can’t happen without preparation, though. Whether your goal is to ramp up production for your current location or to launch hundreds of locations nationwide, scaling up requires careful planning—and the sooner you start, the smoother your growth process will be.
While every business will scale in a slightly different way based on your industry, region, and offerings, these 5 concepts will help prepare you for the task ahead get you started on the right foot.

Focus on Strategy

Do you need to have a short-term plan in place? Absolutely. Do you need to pitch in on the tactical side to get things done? Of course. But instead of letting yourself get tangled in the weeds, you should always take time to step back and think about the long-term vision for your business. Where do you want to be a year, three years, five years from now? What will you need to do to achieve those goals? Having a strategy in place from the beginning will help you scale quickly and effectively.

Fail Quickly

The start-up world has provided regular businesses with many valuable lessons, one of which is the concept of failing quickly. Being able to test new concepts and assess their viability without investing a ton of time and money is a crucial factor in scaling your business. The sooner you can identify concepts that don’t work, the sooner you can move on to ones that do.

Craft Your Persona

Companies such as Apple, Facebook, Virgin Group, and Berkshire Hathaway are proof that the persona of a business’s CEO has a big impact on the overall perception of the company. Passionate, memorable CEOs attract attention for their business that goes beyond the appeal of their products and services. Conversely, CEOs with notorious reputations can negatively impact their business’s performance, no matter how great their offerings might be. As you build your company, make sure to cultivate the kind of public persona that will benefit both you personally and your business as well.

Hire for the Long Haul

Building a staff from scratch can be a challenge, especially when you’re overworked and in need of immediate help. However, the people you choose to join your team in the early stages of your business should be more than just heads to take work off your overfull plate. Consider how each staff member you hire can play a role in the future of your company and help you achieve your long-term mission. If you create a solid foundation for your team, you’ll be able to build on it rather than ripping it up and starting from scratch later on.

Invest in Key Relationships

In order to scale your business rapidly, you need support, both emotional and financial, from key players in your industry (or from those investing in your industry). Establishing and nurturing those relationships over time will ensure that you have a network of trusted people to go to for mentorship, second opinions, and financial support as you ramp up your business.

The Bottom Line

Scaling your business is all about thinking ahead, which is part of the challenge and reward of being an entrepreneur. While part of your brain needs to focus on the short-term strategic and tactical needs for your business, the larger part should be thinking about the long game—what strategy will take you where you want to go, what offerings and processes will bring your business success, who you want your public persona to be, what kind of people will contribute to your company’s growth, and who will be there to support you along the way.

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