• Christa Dhimo, Impono LLC

The Small-Biz Hub: Fear of Growth

The dark tunnel of the unknown. The feeling that you cannot control the inevitable. The concern that you may not know how to grow your business-- that you don't know what you're doing as soon as you go beyond "your bounds."

These fears are real, and when we hear them from small business owners looking to scale up we tell them we are relieved to hear it. Business owners who simplify the process of growth or brush off the concerns do not live in reality, and that means their growth won't live in reality either.

But there are ways to manage that fear, and we try to "humanize" a business to help that out.

Step One: Reframe the Meaning of Growth

The heart of what your business does, and how you operate it, doesn't need to change drastically in order to support growth. In fact, unless you have a failing business, the essence of your business should remain in tact-- especially during growth.

Think of business growth as childhood development into adulthood. In the infant stages, the systems that keep the whole alive are small, basic, and in need of love, care and constant vigilance. For the parent, or the new business owner (start-up), sleepless nights, a lot of learning, and a pronounced shift in priorities lead the way.

As your business grows into toddlerhood, it becomes more active, requiring a change in vigilance and leadership (or parenting) style. The personality of your business starts to come through, and some measure of autonomy becomes possible. With that comes more time to attend to other things, and finding additional people for the care and feeding part becomes a little easier. As your business continues its growth, so too do the changes you experience as a business owner: conversations evolve, clientele and interests shift and change, activities become bigger and more concentrated on the critical few.

Some businesses stop around the pre-teen stage and remain very comfortable maintaining "evolving pains" without every really growing. Perhaps they shift or change their services, or maintain the same clients for years-- decades, even. The pains are from adjusting the scope without ever changing the scale: they are evident but not disruptive, and that's OK. Some small businesses continue to thrive for years in this phase.

But for small businesses that see a new vision in front of them, where they are poised to move into a mid-sized business and beyond, it is now time to enter the true "growing pains" of adolescence as a bridge to adulthood. In many ways it will feel like infancy again, and in other ways it will feel like you're ready for way more than your business is. Things that worked so smoothly for so many years now feel challenging, bumpy, contrarian to all you used to know about the very business you yourself created. Some of your star employees are no longer stars, and some of your best clients seem to be the very anchors keeping you from doing more and becoming more.

Throughout all of this, though, the essence of you and your business shouldn't change. You will discover more, become more, deal with more, blow-up and put everything back together again... but the evolution shouldn't create a drastic change for who you are and why you do what you do, it should simply push scale.

In order to maintain focus as you push scale, we ask our clients to remember their "Why" and then ask the "What," and leave the rest to the process of growth.

Step Two: Know Your WHY

Threading through our points about the essence unchanged, of vital importance as you embark on growth is to know your why:

  • Why did you get started? What was it that compelled you to do what you do?

  • Why is your business important to you? Why is your business important to your customers? Why is your business important to your competitors?

  • Why do you want to grow? Why are you thinking about it now?

"Why" questions are never simple, easy or linear. Likewise, neither are the answers. The answers to "why" questions are often meandering, layered, nuanced, fraught with perspective often overcoming fact, and rarely concise-- at first.

Still, those "why answers" probably set your course at start-up, and they will set your course for growth.

We also recommend you refrain from making the "Know Your Why" exercise a self-fulfilling prophecy or a late-night snack as you ponder the greater questions of the universe. Get your team involved, ask trusted clients about it, do your homework. At least half of your answers should be rooted in market research and team feedback, as that will help ease your fears and concerns and offer the right data points to create a plan and determine your next steps. Involving your team also brings them on board quickly-- growth creates uncertainty, and you will need your best and more engaged employees with you.

Step Three: Know Your What

After appropriately attending to your Why, it's time to talk about execution. Growth strategy-execution plans often take place over the length of a fiscal year (and typically spanning over 2-5 years). Growth is risky-- it's your job to put your personal fears aside so that you don't add unnecessary risks that will distract you or your team from your business's growth.

The "What" focuses on your goals: incremental, responsible, appropriately funded and resourced goals that enable you to pace your growth responsibly.

These very same goals also allow you to make meaningful course-corrections as you learn what growth patches can be accelerated and which growth pits can be avoided. (we have a little article to help you with goals, too)

Yes, yes, yes, the How is important too-- but if you don't know what your What is, you shouldn't jump in and get started on anything. Here is where Focus and Discipline are crucial to your growth. As a small business, you may have jumped in feet first years ago at your start-up stage, but that doesn't work at growth stage, certainly not when you're looking to get through adolescence and into adulthood.

And beware the people pushing you to act before you know your What. Action, especially in the United States, can often appear to be the hungry, aggressive business owner many investors like to see, but what we've witness and experienced first hand at Impono is that action without a plan is wasteful and puts everything at unnecessary risk.

Know your What, then work with your team to validate the What and develop the How.

Bottom Line: Growth is a Process

Shows like the early-small-business-fix-ups have brought to light some of the most common concerns and issues that infiltrate ALL businesses, not just small ones... and then of course added the requisite drama and dysfunction that makes for good TV!! (but that doesn't have to happen to all small businesses, especially those poised to grow)

The challenge we have seen with our small business clients ready to grow is their desire to maintain the intensely intimate atmosphere of a small business. In truth, that cannot easily be replicated as a company grows:

  • The proximity of each employee (literally) grows apart as you grow...

  • The way in which successes are shared and failures are leveraged changes as you grow...

  • The funding structures and complexity of your finances (and areas of compliance across ALL aspects of your business) increases as you grow...

  • The ongoing sense of liberation and freedom managing a small business vs being a mid or large business shifts as you grow...

  • The amount of business exposure and learning that comes from owning and operating a small business increases-- and often that means the risks become seemingly bigger and more intricate too, as you grow...

So above all else remember: Growth is a process, and when you have all the right tools and support to understand and acclimate to that process, growing pains ease and transformation soars.

We know that launching a new or transforming an existing organization isn't simple, but it can be easier with the right advisors and doers. If you have additional questions about this topic or how it can impact your business, contact us. Let's see what we can do for you.

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Impono: verb, 3rd conjugation



1) to place in command

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