Australia is a nation of small business owners and most of those remain comfortably a part of the small business community for much of their lifetime. While there are many positives to owning, managing and working in a small business, there are many Australian entrepreneurs with growth firmly in their sights. To grow your organisation from a small business to something much larger takes an entirely different approach to management, processes and your offerings.
I set up information management, advanced analytics and business intelligence company, C3 Business Solutions, with Cameron Wall in 2006. We started the venture after long careers with some of the largest global consultancies. The company billed $3.5 million in its first year which was far above our expectations and we’ve been lucky enough to see our business grow rapidly and continuously since then. C3 was named on BRW’s Fast Starters List in 2010 and BRW’s Fast 100 list for 2011 and 2012, turned over $20 million last year and now has over 100 people working for the company.
The move from a relative start-up company to a much larger, successful, award-winning business comes with a lot of hard work and a great deal of flexibility, reassessment, reorganising and restructuring in terms of how your business operates. After all, what you want to achieve when you’re a 20-person business is very different from what you want to achieve when you’re a business of 100 people or more.
DEFINING A CLEAR VISION
While it may sound a little like corporate speak, an important element in growing your business is having a strong vision. Know where you want the company to go and what you want to achieve, and be able to articulate that clearly and easily. Make sure the people around you understand the company’s vision and are wedded to it thoroughly.
If you are looking to grow, plan for the long term. Set goals and work towards them. It’s helpful for the whole business to break those goals down into smaller targets or “bite-sized” chunks so you can achieve milestones, regularly see progress and let your staff feel like they are contributing.
MAINTAINING YOUR COMPANY CULTURE
When you start your business, it’s important to agree upon and build your company culture. This culture will define your organisation and will be just as important in five, 10 or 20 years’ time as it is in the early stages.
A major part of this is your staff and hiring the right people to build and grow your company. As a services company, our people are our lifeblood but this is true for any business, no matter the industry in which you work. Your staff will be vital in your ongoing success so it’s important not only to hire people with the right skills but to hire people who will help foster the culture you desire and cement that into the future. A strong company culture built on respect and honesty will also help keep those same people happy and secure throughout the often changing period of growth.
While we’ve achieved fast growth a major part of our strategy and overall management is maintaining that small company feel. This is really important for us, our staff and ultimately our clients.
Insist on keeping connectivity to what is happening in the company. It will not only make you aware of areas of success, potential opportunities and likely hurdles but it is a great way to remind yourself why you started the business in the first place – because you enjoy doing what you do.
Cameron and I both still really enjoy consulting and working with clients so this is something we continue to do despite managing a rapidly growing business. We also maintain an open door policy and place a lot of value on company-wide events so we are constantly in tune with our staff and the projects on which they are working.
It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, if you divert from your original values, you quickly become unstuck and lose trust and vision. Success and growth isn’t possible without the great people who are motivated, committed and produce results for clients every day.
REASSESSING BUSINESS PROCESSES
Coming from large, successful organisations, Cameron and I were fully aware of solid, successful business processes. For our fledgling company, though, we wanted a more lightweight and nimble process.
While it is important to maintain that connection to your roots as a company, you don’t want to sacrifice achieving outcomes for your clients or efficiency. As your company grows over the years, you will need to carefully reorganise and restructure business processes to accommodate this growth.
This continuous reassessment and reorganising is something each company should do on a regular basis to closely manage processes and administrative efforts.
Depending on the speed and size of your growth, you can plan and reassess at certain milestones such as staff numbers, clients or revenue, or simply lock in a regular date and stick to it.
At C3, we reassess and test our business processes and restructure them accordingly every six months. We look at it as a constant path of self-improvement and take the default position that we are never finished.
The demands of our business are constantly changing and through this regular process, we can still operate like a small business for the elements that matter to us – being nimble, flexible, responsive and driven by clients’ needs. We have grown so much that we can now afford longer-term planning and are looking towards a 2020 strategy.
What your business starts out doing may be a far cry from what you provide down the track. Many of the most successful companies in the world started by offering one simple product or solution, and have grown and diversified that offering over the years.
If you’re looking to diversify from your core offering in order to grow, make sure this is built on two things: your area of expertise and what your clients want. Your clients are the heart of your business and their needs and demands are the best starting point.
Study the questions your clients frequently ask – is there an additional product or service they commonly request? Is there an opportunity to provide a better product or service than what is currently being offered in the market?
C3 started out purely as a services business but after clients constantly asked us the same questions and we identified common demands and gaps in the market, we reinvested our profits into new products and services to fill those clients’ needs.
If you are thinking of diversifying now or further down the track, keep in mind that it’s important to continue doing what you do, and continuing doing it well. Don’t diversify at the expense of your bread and butter.
BEING BOLD WHILE LEARNING HUMILITY
Be prepared to be the disrupter in your chosen field, which means that you’ll often find yourself up against the “big guys”. This can be daunting at first but be bold and stick to your guns. Your success in the market will be based on offering a point of difference from those established leaders so don’t be tempted to model your company on theirs or become more like them as you grow. Disrupt with agility and innovation; the benefactor is your client.
Finally, learning humility is key for growing and running a successful business. Growth comes from hard work. While there may always be an element of luck, the harder you work the luckier you’ll become.
*Original Article by Conrad Bates: http://www.brw.com.au/p/business/mid-market/how_to_turn_small_business_into_QvnrXkckt9SYeaoPmAoGVL