Make It or Break It: Five Tips for Surviving Small Business Growth

If there's one thing that can kill a
small business, it's trying to grow that small business. Many of us at
the mom-and-pop level will choose to keep doing everything ourselves
because it's just so much dang work trying to walk anyone else through
the important stuff. "Hmm… but we need help, so maybe we just delegate
the menial stuff?" Well, no.

When we finally get to the point that we can hire staff for any
decent stretch of time, if all we give away is busywork, what was the
point? "But if it's anything too important and they get it wrong… ugh,
no. Y'know what, I'll just do it myself. I know this account inside and
out anyway. It would take too long to get anyone else up to speed."

Familiar words?

Before you have "throw money at the problem" money, making the right
moves can make the difference between jumping to the next tier and
killing your baby biz. Here are my five steps for surviving small
business growth.

Step One: Surround yourself with the best people on the planet.

This is one of my philosophies in life, not just business. If I
surround myself with the best people out there, make sure they know one
another, and give them the space to be amazing, they'll create brilliant
things (and have fun doing it). That's beautiful.

Each of our paid team members (notice they're called "team members,"
and sometimes "ninjas," not "employees," or "staff") started out as an
intern or participated in a work-study program with us. Working with
people before they're counting on a paycheck for what they're doing
(even if that first workload is really brain-numbing) is a wonderful way
to learn whose energy is a good fit for a bigger commitment, who would
be a fantastic virtual assistant, and which folks won't stick around
very long.

Step Two: Know you're gonna get some stuff wrong.

You will. So know it, going in. More importantly, make sure members
of the team know that's something you're expecting. Day one, I say to
anyone joining the team, "There will be something you should've covered
that I end up doing. There will be something I should've taken care of
that you tried to do. No big deal. Because we know it's going to happen,
let's not stress about what that first misstep might be."

I'm telling you, there is nothing more lovely than that sigh of
relief that comes from the new ninja on the team when she hears she's
not going to be fired the second she screws up. In the end, you're the
bottom line for everything that happens with your company, right? So,
let everyone know you're willing to be accountable in those first days
together, even if it's not YOUR email to a client that ignites a fire
you have to put out.

Step Three: Engage in tenacious communication.

I learned this phrase from volunteer organization WriteGirl, and I immediately made it a part of our world at Cricket Feet, Inc.
There will be a ridiculous amount of over-communicating at first, until
everyone is clear on strengths, weaknesses, scope of work, and
accountability. Newest team members have senior team members as
checkpoints. Everyone is copied on emails 'til it's clear there's no
need for that.

First time on a task? Expect a lot of instruction. In writing. Not
sure what to do? Go back and check that communication. Still not sure?
Ask. Still not sure after that? Ask again. That's better than guessing!
Going out of town for a few days? Communicate. We'll get you covered.
But to go off the grid with no communication? That's not okay.
Similarly, if we're gonna be unreachable for a bit, the team will know
it ahead of time, and coverage points will be assigned.

No, we're not curing cancer, but we may create something that
provides a beautiful, distracted moment of entertainment for someone who
is trying to get through that day's chemo drip. We don't let our cell
phones rule our lives; we communicate in advance so we can take time
away without stress. The bigger picture WORKS because we give it room to
do so.

Step Four: Use the zone defense.

Everyone is good at something. Almost no one is good at everything.
Sure, you built your business to the point where you finally have the
luxury of hiring extra pairs of hands (Yay, you!) and that means you're
pretty dang good at a lot of things, but most of the people who join the
team will have fewer areas of expertise.

Here's the great news about that: There will be something that your
lead assistant hates doing, and you'll soon find out the virtual
assistant she brought on absolutely loves doing that thing. And he's
FAST at it. Creating a task list that celebrates each person's interests
is a gloriously efficient way of getting things done. Folks are more
likely to spend quality time on the work itself if it's work they enjoy.

Of course, there will be something less fun that someone gets to
do… and that's a great way to test out someone's future with your
company: Can you stomach the scutwork while we learn where you really
shine, so we can reward you with more of *that* type of work down the
line? It's a great test balloon, and it gets the boring stuff done.

Step Five: Stay the course.

This is the hardest part. Yes, this is the step from which I come to
you, today. You'll hear it takes 18 months to survive growth spurts in
small business, and the most crucial one is the tier-jump from
mom-and-pop shop to staffed corporation.

I remember fantasizing about the day I'd get to cut payroll checks
and how awesome that'd be for our li'l business. Yeah. Some days, all it
means is that the stakes are higher than ever, because if *I* don't
bring home the bacon, several people's rent payments are in jeopardy,
not just mine.

Stay the course. When you decide it's time to assemble a team, find a
way to make it happen for more than a year. The level of productivity
you'll achieve, thanks to having a team to help cover in-house and
virtual tasks you take for granted right now, will likely astound you.

Sure, the first time I paid an assistant to spend four hours doing
something that takes me 40 minutes, I balked, but then I thought about
what I was able to create in those 40 uncluttered minutes, and the
revenue that bit of creation would generate, when compared to what I
would have saved, if I had just done that task myself. The first time I
paid someone twice to do the same job (because it wasn't done right the
first time), I realized that, sure, it would've been done right the
first time if I had done it, but I wouldn't have been paid to do it at
all, because I own the business.

Having a team to lean on means I not only own the business, it means I
can spend more time than ever growing it. And so can you, when you're
ready. Start by inviting an intern to open your mail and help you
prioritize your to-do list, just one day a week. In my next article,
I'll cover some of the best tasks to farm out, if you're a
do-it-yourself-er looking to let someone else do something to help you
grow!

Until then, you tell me! What would you add to these five steps? Y'know, because I'm still growing too. 😉

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