When you first start out with your killer idea, the biggest priority is speed to market; get your product/service out there attracting positive attention as quickly as possible. But once you’ve developed a solid offering, your focus shifts to expanding the business.
Making the shift from energetic start-up to well-oiled machine without losing your innovative spirit and passion can be a challenge. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you build your empire:
1. Don’t underestimate structure and meeting notes.
When the company was only a handful of people, communication was relatively straight-forward. Everyone knew who said what, and everyone could be easily held accountable for the commitments they made in meetings. But as the company grows, one of the first things to degrade is internal communication. If you’re not careful, important information quickly becomes a bad game of Telephone.
It may initially seem “overly corporate” to the serial entrepreneur, but simple tasks like creating a template as a guide for meeting structure and requiring meeting minutes be shared in a central location can ensure that even as your company grows you still have the pillars of a strong organization: accountability, consistency, and early warnings about going off track.
2. Metrics, metrics, metrics!
Metrics were critical as you first built your offering and identified new features or determined where to pivot to become successful. Don’t forget that as you continue to expand! As the company grows, your metrics need to grow to help you monitor not just your end product but also the processes that internally will help your company continue to grow effectively.
Some key areas you want to ensure you focus on monitoring: Customer service (all customer touch points), quality, efficiency, employee turnover and more. As the company grows around you, your effectiveness as a leader comes from knowing early that something is veering severely off-course.
NOTE: That being said, a great CEO trusts in the people hired and will empower them to fix problems. But it is your job to recognize issues before they envelope the entire company.
3. Marketing and Sales are both independent and codependent.
In a small start-up, one person is usually running Sales, Marketing and Customer Service. But as you expand, these departments each become more distinct. In the process, though, they can also each become more segregated and less likely to properly inform and support each other.
Because all three entities are crucial customer touch points, and therefore can each instantly effect a customer’s impression of your company, it is critical to establish a solid communication schedule and confirm that each can reiterate the same goals and strategy. Many companies are now hiring Customer Excellence Managers specifically for this purpose. More importantly, creating a teamwork culture of support and involvement can ensure that these three departments don’t degrade into an internal competition where the first person to suffer is the customer.
4. Hiring and onboarding can make or break your culture.
Don’t be afraid to hire the people that have potential, but not all the required skills, and a good cultural fit. But also pay attention to the critical roles where the skills required for the job are seriously lacking in the company as it is now. Hiring the right talent is only half the battle.
One of the most overlooked tools for both start-ups and multi-billion dollar companies is a solid onboarding process. It takes a bit of time to develop, but it sets up your employee and company for success. Coming to the table prepared when you bring on your new hire instantly engages them in your culture and company priorities.
Helpful information you should provide: A schedule walking them through the first three weeks on the job, information about company culture as well as key external messaging, a buddy that can help introduce them to their workers. All of these tools instantly show a level of respect for their time, establishes your expectations of them and gives them confidence to hit the ground running.
5. Internal Communication is worth your time.
You’ve hired the right people and as the company grows exponentially your purpose and message may be getting diluted. Regular periodic all-hands town hall meetings can help keep individuals from veering off on the wrong path laden with good intentions.
Before and after each monthly (or at worst, quarterly) town hall, have a check-in with influential individuals in your company by asking them to email in with their impressions of initiatives and sentiments. Influential individuals aren’t always obvious; don’t just rely on your trusted leaders, pay attention to whose voice is most heard at all levels and you’ll have a better idea of how well the entire organization is doing as whole. Departments that are often overlooked, like customer service and finance, can have a resounding impact on the foundation as a whole.
All in all, you’ve been doing the right thing if you’ve gotten to this point and it’s time to start letting go of the reins and trust in the organization you’ve built. This can be a big challenge for any entrepreneur. Put the right systems and tools in place and you’ll be able to better manage from afar and let your business shift into a predictable model that grows steadily.