One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to small business growth. Some small businesses grow slowly, while others experience rapid growth. There is one common stage shared by all successful businesses, however—a period of unplanned growth. Some business owners pull back the reigns when this happens; others work to grow through it.
The Pros and Cons of Unanticipated Growth
In his book, The Small Business Life Cycle, Charlie Gilkey calls this stage the Crucible Stage. “This is the stage of business that’s awkward, it’s challenging, and there’s generally some type of catch-22 involved,” writes Gilkey. “If you had more business you could make more money, and if you had more money you could get more business. If you had a bigger team you could do more, and if you could do more you could get a bigger team.”
There are some significant benefits to going through this type of growth stage with your small business. It indicates that clients and customers are starting to recognize you as an expert in your field, but you’re not quite big enough to be seen as a threat by competitors. You can also take it as confirmation that you have a business model that works. Finally, it’s a welcome relief when your friends and family stop browsing the Internet trying to find you a different job.
The challenges of this stage might include the exhaustion caused by carrying the business on your back for a long period of time. And the attention of others could mean that any mistake you make could be more broadly noticed. Finally, you will likely need more professional services—administrative, legal, financial, etc.—to take your business to the next level.
Expand Your Staff
Business owners grow weary because they’re trying to manage sales, update social media platforms, file quarterly tax paperwork, manage inventory, and keep the accounts and ledgers balanced. When your business hits an unanticipated growth stage, it’s too much for one person to handle.
Make a list of the items you want to keep doing yourself (or what you realistically have time to do). Then determine the type of support staff you need to do the rest. Depending on the cash flow you have, you could hire part-time or full-time employees, or you could look for independent contractors. “Many services can be outsourced or done by freelancers,” report writers at the Wall Street Journal. “This work may include accounting, manufacturing, website design, marketing and public relations—even administrative assistants can be hired on a ‘virtual’ basis now online.”
Expand Your Space
You don’t have enough capital for a warehouse or an office, but you’ve definitely outgrown your home office. How can you expand during this stage? Consider alternatives to a traditional office setting. One option is a virtual office. According to Marco Carbajo, writing for the U.S. Small Business Administration, “For a flat monthly fee, you get a business phone number, a live receptionist answering phone calls, a corporate business address for all your mailing and packages, personalized voice mail box that converts to e-mail, and even a fax number that will convert to email.” If you decide to use a virtual office, Carbajo advises you to “make sure that all of the information you supply is identical to the information you have on your corporate documents. This includes things like the spelling of your company name to the description of your business operation.”
Your business is set up with a virtual office, but what do you do with all of the business supplies stored in your home? From office supplies to company files and inventory, it’s too much to fit in your home office. That’s when you know it’s time to consider self-storage. Climate controlled units maintain a constant temperature so your inventory is stored properly. An aspect appreciated by most small-business owners who make use of this option is that there are options for allowing employees to have access to the storage unit, meaning you no longer have to be home for them to get their work done.
Your business is taking off, and the growing pains you’re experiencing aren’t unusual. Instead of giving in to that overwhelming feeling, make a plan of how you’re going to use this chance to grow your business. Add support staff, establish a virtual office, and consider using a self-storage unit to make your home office feel like a more productive place to work. It won’t be long before you’re past this awkward, small-business growth stage and onto the next opportunity.