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There comes a point in most small businesses when the owner – you – stands back and acknowledges that it can no longer be classed as a start-up and that it’s time for it to grow to the next stage. 
The challenge now is, how do you do that? More of the same? Probably not.
You’ve done a great job to get to where you are now, but to get to the next stage will need a bigger plan.
Develop your vision
What do you want your business to become? How will it behave? What will set it apart from its competition? Decide what your growth goals are and set yourself targets and set some realistic milestones by which you can measure your progress. 
These will include your revenue targets, the time frame in which you will achieve this, number of staff and when they will join the business, number of outlets, profitability and so on.
Duncan Lugstein, managing director of Sydney-based Corporate Technical Services (CTS) believes the key is to map out a growth destination that is real, but stretches you and that can be broken down into smaller goals. “Planning growth in your business also needs you to work on developing yourself as a manager and a leader. Be prepared to get out of your comfort zone and grow as a person as your business will be a reflection of you.” 
Your next task is to be really objective and honest about the business as it is now. If it has just come out of start-up stage then it is almost certainly still very ‘you-dependent’. 
In other words, without you there it would not be able to operate effectively, let alone grow. This is a wake-up moment, and a very valuable realisation, because you are now able to ask yourself key questions about what really needs to be in place for growth to happen.
Time for action
The first thing is going to be time; specifically yours. Without you dedicating your time to business development, nothing will change. You are going to have to create some time in your working week.
Begin by identifying everything you do in a day, a week, a month. Work out which tasks you can delegate. (And if there is no-one to delegate it to, you may have to consider getting in some office support – even if it’s only a day or two a week.)
Introduce systems
Work out the instructions for each of the activities this person or people will be doing. Imagine that they are doing the work without you there to tell them what comes next and set it all out on paper. These instructions must include clear steps, standards and timing. This is a system.
Make sure each system is recognisable as such and follows the same format.
Aim to free up at least one hour of your time every day – and when you have done that, begin to work on your growth plans and the systems that will streamline the work that needs to be done.
If you were to use that time just to develop one system, at the end of the week you would have five systems; at the end of the month, 20 and so on.
Key areas of focus
Incorporate into your planning the key areas your business will need to cover to ensure that the growth will be steady, managed and sustained.
Once you have a plan and created your thinking and development time, look at what your business will need in order to grow. If the answer is more sales, then maybe you should be looking at your marketing strategy.
If you have enough enquiries but are not converting them to business, then examine what is happening in your conversion process. Are you confident that your customer service department can deliver your products and services faultlessly and seamlessly? If not, then start there. Iron out the glitches. There is absolutely no point in developing a marketing strategy to bring in more business unless you know your business can deliver on its promises.
Think of your business as having four key strategic areas: production, marketing, management and resources. Then break those areas down into key areas, such as those in the box out below. To begin with, you are going to be responsible for developing the strategies in all of these areas.
Lisa Clarke of Cavalier Homes West in Victoria, says that one of the first things she and husband and business partner Rob had to do was to define their roles and responsibilities within the business. “With that done, it was important that we had confidence in each other and our shared goals for the business to keep the ball rolling. We constantly review out strategic objective and look at where we are today to make sure we keep on track.”
Systems for growth
Duncan Lugstein says that recognising that he needed to implement systems was a breakthrough. “But before I could do that I needed to ‘systemise’ myself and my own thinking.
Without that how could I possibly expect my staff to understand and adopt the same principles? In the beginning the systems that made the most difference were the deceptively simple and small ones.”
Lugstein says it was through those systems that many of the daily frustrations and obstacles that prevented things running smoothly were eliminated. “Gradually we incorporated all the systems and guidelines into a handbook. Now everyone knows what to do and where they stand.”
Rob Clarke believes the most effective system he and Lisa put in place was what they call their Exception Report. “As most of the work we ask people to do is time line based we need to know if they can’t complete something by a given time as this affects other tradesmen coming onto the building site after them. This has made everyone more aware of how their work impacts on others,” he explains.
The Clarkes say the best advice they could give anyone wanting to grow their business is to know your target market. “Really understand who they are, where they are and what motivates them. And, document everything and anything you do. Do not underestimate the importance of systems. This means that as people come into the business they know how things are done and there is a clear road map to follow.”
Value your time
The problem with most small business owners is not simply that they are doing too much work, but that they are doing the wrong kind of work. They should be looking at where their input adds the most value to the business.
Put a value on your time. What is it worth to the business? Here are two examples of how different business owners approached this question.
Example one:
Brian was working with a business coach on some new strategies for his broking business.
He resented the time he had to put into the exercise, complaining that to date it had ‘taken him away’ from his usual office work for almost 15 hours. 
His coach persisted. When the strategies were finally in place, projections showed that they would generate another $250,000 in revenue in the ensuing six months. 
Brian’s coach asked him what he would pay someone else to do the work he felt he ‘should’ have been doing. His answer was, grudgingly, $50-an-hour. “And yet,” his coach pointed out, “15 hours of your strategic work is going to be worth $250,000 or more than $16,500-an-hour.” 
Was there anyone else in the business who could have done that strategic work besides Brian? No. He got the point and began reassessing where his priorities lay.
Example two:
Mary Ellen runs a public relations consultancy. Her client time is charged out at $175-an-hour.
However, the amount of time she can give to this is curtailed because of the administrative work that needs to be done to support her consulting work. She doesn’t feel she can justify putting on someone else at this stage until she is bringing in more revenue. Problem is, there are no more available consulting hours left in the month. 
Mary Ellen looked at what she would have to pay an administrative assistant; about $22 an hour. When asked if she would hire a $175-an-hour person and give them $22-an-hour jobs to do, she laughed. And then stopped laughing when she realised that was exactly what she was doing by doing that work herself.
Stop and look at the work you are doing. Put a value on your time and work out where you are spending it. Are you the most expensive clerical worker in your office? If so, reassess. Plan to work yourself out of that job and work yourself into the job that adds the most value to your business. 
Don’t be like the man whose business was turning over $5m and he still worked all his appointments around getting to the Post Office every morning to collect the mail. This is what he had done since he started the business when he was the only employee, and was such an ingrained habit that he had never considered that someone else might be able to do it, thereby freeing his early mornings to attend to activities and meetings he needed to do.
Tips for growth planning
Duncan Lugstein’s tips for growth planning 
  • Look for opportunities outside the norm that will still fit into your business framework
  • Develop your staff and yourself
  • Be committed and prepared to do what it takes
  • Lead by example
  • Plan for everything
  • Systemise your business
  • Put the right support structures in place
  • Employ those who complement your skills
  • Be prepared to turn away the wrong clients
  • Find good advisers (legal, etc.)
  • Develop a handbook for your policies and procedures
Lisa and Rob Clarke’s tips for growth planning 
  • Get a business coach
  • Define all the roles in the business
  • Constantly review your strategic objective to keep on track
  • Develop systems for everything and never underestimate their value
  • See frustrations and complaints as opportunities to make your business better
  • Delegate wherever you can
  • Care for and develop your people
  • Really know your target market
  • Measure everything

 

Published on: Friday, May 01, 2009

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