By Bryan Miles, CEO and co-founder, Miles Advisory Group, Inc.
When businesses begin booming, that’s typically a good thing. The irons in the fire have taken on a life of their own, blazing along the path we’ve set. We see balance sheets go from being in the red to finally creeping into the black and, if we’re fortunate enough, beyond our wildest dreams. We witness so many of the subtle gains of our labor – ideas made real, people turned passionate partners and the prospects of inching ever-closer to a long-term future rather than the great likelihood of total business failure.
In business, growth is a big deal, especially when you think about this: Most businesses cease operations and shutter their doors before ever really hitting their stride. Based on data from the Small Business Administration, merely half of all businesses are still active five years after opening. But by year 10, just one-third remain in operation. Despite the peaks and valleys in the economy, and the institution of more technologies, this figure has been pretty consistent for years.
At the same time, despite these odds, entrepreneurs have gusto about growth. According to an American Express survey, about 75 percent of business owners plan to grow their enterprises. But entrepreneurs face other concerns that compete with this growth focus, including hiring, maintaining current revenue sources and distinguishing themselves from the competition.
This means that growth is a delicate dance, dictated by more than just getting bigger. And it’s no different at my company – or, in fact, any company. After all, no organization is static; companies are either in growth or decline. My experience has shown me that it’s time to evolve or pivot as a business when leaders spot an opportunity to seize something great, even if the directions to get there are uncharted or feel ambiguous.
Though business evolution first starts with risk in that direction, we don’t necessarily have to put ourselves, our people, our services or our products in the path of so much of the potential collateral endangerment that can accompany growth. There are ways to sidestep and avoid some of the crap quietly lurking behind our gains. And I’ve honed in on some ways to hunt down and remove such land mines before they explode. As leaders, it is our duty to organize the chaos that potentially limits growth rather than allowing it to take hold and gain control.
1. Shore up confidence and continuity, while preserving commitment.
Some people call it a credo. For others, it’s a guiding principal. I call it casting vision. This means starting first with the “why,” which informs the what, how and when of your company and its culture. A happy, healthy organizational culture full of great employees exudes confidence and steadiness as you strive forward. Also, leaders must model what they expect; we cannot ask our staff to do something we wouldn’t do. We have to charge the hill of growth with them, leading the way about two steps ahead of our teams.
2. Re-set the vendor and partner paradigm.
As your business thrives, the providers who support you with banking, marketing and other services should change as your demands change. Renegotiate experience and expectations with these external third parties. Expect it, plan for it and don’t apologize for it. Clarify and document expectations through a simple letter of understanding.
3. Manage cash flow.
Knowing where each dollar is coming and going is essential. At my company, our cash position is reviewed every week, come rain or shine. Hell or high water. This top-of-mind awareness and intentionality with our cash keep us agile and enable us to take on new opportunities. There is so much empowerment and peace of mind in knowing where your money is.
4. Leverage the opportunity to become better, from the inside out.
Growth places new demands on business, and with this comes an opportunity to reevaluate core functions and operations. As my company spreads its wings, we are examining the entire customer experience, assessing better ways to streamline reporting, re-thinking the execution of ad hoc projects and reviewing how to make inroads into other areas, like intelligence and research.
5. Know when to say “no.”
If you grow fast for any period of time, salespeople will approach you from all angles, wanting to sell you everything under the moon. You’ll be inundated with sales pitches, lame template emails, unsolicited voicemails and more. Leaders and their teams must create a filter based on real business needs, one that keeps every new shiny offering from passing through and draining your capital and focus.
These five tips can help stave off some of the thorny issues that keep entrepreneurs awake at night. But they alone cannot supplant the most important lesson of all about growth. There are many cautionary tales around about business growth happening too soon, too reactively or too unsustainably, like this one from Harvard Business Review. But take it from what a good friend and advisor once said to me: “Ego is dilutive to net worth.”
Don’t expand for the sake of your ego. Expand for the right reasons, like more market share, greater depth of service to customers or enhanced stakeholder ROI. As a leader, you must check your ego at the door in terms of expansion and growth. Knowing the difference between the feeling of growth – and the folly of doing so in the wrong way or at the wrong time – is what sets successful, expanding businesses apart for the long haul. Don’t be another statistic, be a success!
Bryan Miles is CEO & co-founder of Miles Advisory Group, Inc., which is the parent company of eaHELP, the leading executive virtual assistant provider, and MAG Bookkeeping, a virtual bookkeeper serving churches. Miles Advisory Group was founded in late 2010 with eaHELP and MAG Bookkeeping quickly developing into distinct brands. Miles oversees the organization in partnership with his wife and co-founder Shannon Miles, who serves as COO.