In a world full of start-ups with great ideas, smart services, and innovative products, one of the biggest questions out there is how to build on that initial success, scale operations and grow your company in a sustainable way. Taking a lean, slick start-up team and scaling it up to be a growing, thriving business represents a huge risk and a time of potentially catastrophic mistakes that undermine all that has gone before. So how do you scale operations without any of these problems?
Ambitious entrepreneurs need to create realistic growth targets and develop plans and concrete actions of how growth will be achieved.Phillip Salter
The answer lies in your processes. These are what are currently holding your start-up business together, and how you manage them as you scale up will determine how successful you are. Inevitably, things need to change as you grow your client base and number of staff, and with these changes come added complications and the amplification of existing issues, but one area you can control is what your processes are.
Business Process Management can help your business cope with the challenges that come when you scale operations, but the most important thing to focus on is keeping your business processes consistent and under control. The moment you let this slip is when problems start to happen and trying to fix them is similar to slamming shut a barn door long after the horse has bolted.
So here are some tips on how consistent business processes can help you scale operations effectively and safely:
Start Planning Before You Scale Operations
You’ve already got business processes in place that are currently working well, so before you start to scale up, you need to audit what is currently taking place and where the strengths and weaknesses are. Identify process gaps that already exist and come up with strategies to address these before they turn into process chasms that cause you immense problems further down the line. If something isn’t working with 20 staff and 100 customers, how is it going to cope with 200 staff and 1,000 customers?
You need to spend as long looking at the processes that are working as those that aren’t because extra strain will be felt across the board. Also, the kind of processes that are used in start-up organizations tend to be very different to those in larger, more corporate companies. This is because processes aren’t always a benefit in the world of start-ups, and can get in the way of the flexibility and experimentation that’s needed, but if you are scaling up, it’s time to get serious about processes.
Start Measuring Success
Obviously – hopefully – you will have ways of measuring the outward success of what you do, but do you have measures for how well your internal processes are working? If not, then you will have noticed that the previous step was decidedly tricky, which should be enough of a warning that you need to get better at this before it’s too late and you’ve lost control of any attempt to measure and track.
As you scale operations, measuring your processes will be an essential part of your strategy, because it is the easiest way to keep track of where issues might emerge before they become major problems. Measuring and assessing should be a monthly task for management at all times, but particularly during times of growth and rapid change. Segmenting your business areas may help identify where process gaps are developing and where consistency is failing, but this leads us to the next point.
Don’t Let Silos Develop
Segmenting the way you analyze data is one thing, but allowing silos to develop your business is a common mistake when businesses scale operations. Silos can impact upon every aspect of the way your company works, affecting collaboration and communication, affecting morale and preventing processes from being effectively and consistently implemented. No matter how big your company grows, it needs to operate in a cohesive manner, and this can be managed by having processes that are consistent across the board.
This makes it easier to measure successes (even if you are segmenting the data in reporting) and to follow all of the other tips we’ve suggested here. If you allow your business to fall into siloed fiefdoms, you have lost control of it, and we have all worked in companies where this kind of chaos is evident. As with other issues that arise during scaling operations, it is incredibly difficult to fix once the silos have developed.
Keep It Simple
The temptation can be there when you scale operations to go nuts with the processes you bring in. It’s an exciting and scary time for any business and there are so many strategies out there that you can implement. But it’s also a time to stop and take a step back. The easiest way to maintain consistency in your business processes is to keep them simple, especially during a time of change and flux.
Another reason to avoid spending too much time and money on new processes at this stage is that you need to future-proof the way your business works, and while at the scaling up stage, it can be hard to accurately predict what your needs will be in two years, never mind ten years. One of the last things you want to do is invest in processes that will actually hinder you when you need to further scale operations in the future.
Look To Automate
One of the most effective ways to ensure consistency in business processes is to automate them, eliminating most of the human errors that can affect the scaling of operations. It also cuts down on the amount of time that needs to be spent by your staff on these processes that takes them away from their core duties, which in turn can affect morale and lead to many other issues when you need to scale operations instead of a firefight.
There are lots of automated software solutions out there
However, it’s worth paying attention to your infrastructure as well as investing in new software. As you scale operations, you will be bringing in extra staff and hopefully attracting many more customers, so you need to make sure your processes cover the regular monitoring and upgrading of the infrastructure that services these areas. If your website crashes because it gets too much traffic or your email system can’t handle the extra workload, that’s a failure of process management that will cost you in the end.
When you are ready to scale operations, you need to consider many factors, but chief amongst these should be how to keep consistent business processes to ensure the scaling is smooth and seamless for both staff and customers.