Anyone can start a business — that part isn’t particularly complicated, and there are enough guides out there that you can follow a set procedure by rote and call yourself an entrepreneur. It’s everything after that point that’s complicated. Consider this: it’s been reckoned that the probability of a new business making it to a fifth year is only slightly higher than fifty percent.
Let’s say that you’re particularly ambitious: you not only plan for your new business to survive indefinitely, but also intend to hit the scaleup phase in just a couple of years. Plenty of startups that prove sustainable never achieve the kind of success needed to scale up significantly, so you’re clearly facing a major challenge.
Nothing is ever guaranteed, naturally, but how can you optimize your chances of reaching your goal? Here are some suggestions to help you navigate the choppy waters of startup growth:
Imagine being a novice tennis player trying the game for the first time, but hoping to one day turn professional. What should you work on first? Hitting winners, clubbing the ball as fast as you can in any way you can? That isn’t advisable, because that’s how you develop bad habits — physical idiosyncrasies and inefficiencies that will hamper your efforts in the long run.
Instead, you should work on your technique: the grip you use, the stance you maintain, how you move around the court, how you breathe efficiently, how you stay mentally strong. The better your technique, the better you’ll perform under pressure, and the less likely you’ll be to suffer a major injury that will prevent you from competing.
In business, this preparation involves turning everything you do into a procedure that can easily be reproduced when needed (and can be trimmed for efficiency) — Creately has a great guide for this. You might have time now to cobble something together last-minute and account for your inefficiencies, but the bigger your business gets, the more damaging that approach will become. At the same time, you should be aware that creating new processes can take a lot of time, in particular "how long does SEO take?".
Suppose that you relied heavily on an assistant for 18 months, never documenting their role, only to end up in a mad panic when they left for another company. Even if you found a good replacement, it would take a long time to get back up to speed. If you’d carefully documented everything your old assistant had done for you, though, you’d have been able to pass that information to your new assistant and get things moving relatively quickly.
This operational smoothing also concerns the resources you use: most notably the equipment you need and the software you rely on. If you get into the habit of using outdated equipment, you’ll have a difficult time achieving the kind of polish needed to work at scale, you’ll run the risk of suffering breakdowns, and you’ll eventually need to face the awkward onboarding phase of moving to enterprise-level substitutes.
And you’d better think carefully about the systems you use, because they need to be fundamentally scalable: this is particularly important in ecommerce where demand can fluctuate enormously. For instance, maybe you feel that Magento suits your needs right now, but will it still be suitable when you’re selling at ten times your current rate? It’s possible to migrate down the line to something more convenient and hands-off (Shopify being a popular choice), but migration is complicated — if possible, it’s far easier to start with the platform you intend to keep.
The average business today generates a massive amount of data through its everyday operations, and it’s easy to get somewhat lost trying to analyze that data to reach valuable conclusions. It doesn’t help that plenty of metrics don’t actually mean all that much — these metrics lacking any practical meaning are sometimes known as junk metrics.
Annoyingly, junk metrics can serve as major roadblocks to new businesses led by entrepreneurs lacking the experience to spot them. They’ll look at analytics dashboards, see some alarming totals or percentages, and conclude that something must be done about them.
Bounce rate is the classic example: it sounds very negative for a page to have a high bounce rate, but if you only have a handful of pages on your site and the page in question is informational, it makes total sense that people would visit that page and leave (having retrieve the information they were seeking). Any time that you spent trying to address the high bounce rate would be completely wasted.
By prioritizing a core set of metrics with clear real-world significance (ROI being the major metric, of course, but you can get more granular and look at things like resource downloads and contact form submissions), you can use your time most efficiently and keep your business improving in the areas that matter the most. (CFI has a handy ROI formula to get you started).
The value of just one loyal customer is difficult to overstate. Not only will they likely spend more money with you, but they’ll also quietly endorse you without your involvement, improving your brand reputation and potentially bringing enthusiastic referrals. And when you’re trying to expand your small audience to a large one, you need hyper-motivated customers ready to convince all the people they know that your business is worth investing in.
When you’re running a business at scale, it’s very difficult to provide exceptional customer service: you field so many queries and deal with so many complaints (no matter how well you perform, there will always be complaints) that it’s tough to manage more than putting out the fires and openly acknowledging positive comments.But when you’re in the startup phase, you have some time to spare, and you should put a lot of it towards going above and beyond with your service. How can you make your customers not just satisfied but thrilled with you? How can you delight them so immensely that they’ll feel indebted to you for years to come? If you can make a strong effort to exceed expectations, that impressive performance will surely pay off down the line.
24 months isn’t a very long time for a startup manager with a packed schedule, but the business world moves quickly: a lot can change from month to month, and even week to week. New technologies hit the mainstream, new regulations come into effect, new competitors arrive on the scene, and in the blink of an eye you can find yourself in a very different field.
Because of this, and because operational flexibility becomes more challenging to maintain at scale (big corporations have a lot of inertia: they turn sluggishly, like oil tankers), the formative years of your business should be negotiated with an open mind and a willingness to embrace new ideas and methods. If the first version of your business isn’t really viable, don’t just give up or keep going along a doomed path: pivot to survive.
There’s certainly no shame in pivoting. Plenty of top businesses and entrepreneurs have done it. Airbnb started out as a business providing temporary housing for conferences, and if it had kept that up, it would never have become the phenomenon it is today.
As noted, your success isn’t guaranteed, but applying these tactics will give you a much-improved chance of achieving excellent results and scaling significantly within just a couple of years. Set sensible goals, and stay dedicated. Good luck!
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