By Nayomini Weerasooriya
For most women-owned (or otherwise) small businesses, the startup phase is often considered the most critical. Yet, as most have found later on, the critical phase actually commences when the business enters the phase of growth. The growth stage can be challenging, even though the startup may have gone smoothly. The startup phase is referred to, by some, as the ‘honeymoon period’ – the actual marriage starts when the business goes beyond that.
The growth phase for some business owners can be demanding. Just how do you increase customers or orders – do we plan to include new products or services or do we stick to whatever we are doing at the moment. Should the business specialize in what we have found to work with customers or do we continue to offer a general range of products or services…these are decisions that a business owner must make as the business enters the next stage.
Some experts such as Lesa Mitchell, President of the Kaufmann Foundation, is on record to say that some women may break through the glass ceiling but encounter a glass wall that sometimes keep their businesses from expanding.
This may differ, she says because some business owners actually may want to stay small for various reasons. Yet, for most others, expansion is the next natural course of action to pursue. As the thrill of building a successful business stabilizes, you wonder – naturally- what is the next best step?
In a perfect world, this transition would be easy. But living as we do in a complex world with a competitive market place, growth is a stage that must be approached with caution and confidence. Exactly what criteria would be important in this journey?
Do your homework, say the experts. Study the markets, do your research. Get information you need to make decisions. Don’t forget to study competition and get a grip on your key areas. Once you have all the information you need, you can make the decisions you need to make with confidence regarding expansion and next stage growth.
Experts also believe in simple math - do your planning. Look at various aspects of the next stage. Where does the potential lie; which is the best road for more growth in less time. Do an audit of your business and your markets and you will be confident to enter the best avenue of growth, claim the experts.
Study customer feed-back. What do the customers want – in addition to what you are already giving them? What more would they like to see – where would further expansion lie. Are there value additions they might like or are there new products they may want to see? Don’t go by what you feel – according to the experts, going by feelings can be bad when compared to evaluating actual customer feed-back.
Of course, not every business must be chartered out into a territory of growth. Some prefer to keep it the way it was and would settle for predictable sales rather than go out on an adventure that might backfire.
After all, we live in bleak economic times when everything suggests small and downsizing is better than expansion and monumental growth because the dreams can come down tumbling faster than they went up in the first place. Caution coupled with optimism is better than optimism alone. So many businesses that crashed in the growth phase stand testimony to that.
Crunch the numbers. Too often, an enthusiastic business owner may excuse bad performance in favour of a business that seems to be growing. Never mind the customers and increasing sales but what is the bottom line – it is the bottom line that a business owner should be concerned about. In today’s hard talk world, just having customers or markets isn’t enough – turning the venture into profit is what counts. And that too, not in the long term but ideally, in the short to medium.
There’s something sentimental about creating and building a business that becomes successful. It can even become a child – to be nurtured, cared for and protected. Yet, when it comes to crunching numbers, we need to be able to let go what must be let gone off and continue with what works in delivering the numbers. It doesn’t take an expert to tell you that’s how a business must be run – otherwise you end up with a loss-making venture, one for which you will be making excuses although in actual fact, you should be closing it down.
The startup phase, for some businesses, last longer. It may take a few years to fully complete the learning curve, the experts believe, thus giving it more time to fully mature before experiencing the growth stage. It depends on the business but in general, as a rule of thumb, a good three years following the initial startup phase, a business could be ready to hit the next stage. Once again, it all depends on what the business owner wants for his or her enterprise.
Yes, there is a lot to learn as we go along. Starting a business can be as exciting as getting married or starting a family but the responsibility lies in keeping it going, making it work and enabling it to be fuelled towards expansion and growth. (Nayomini Weerasooriya is a senior journalist, writer and a senior PR professional and can be contacted at [email protected])