5 Pitfalls of Rapid Growth and How to Avoid Them

A company that grows much faster than expected can cause headaches and stress at a time when any business owner would prefer to be celebrating. While some businesses manage to transition from niche to mainstream by scaling with ease, others struggle to maintain their identity and high standards of customer service—and eventually, their profits. With these problems in mind, I’ve outlined some of the pitfalls of rapid growth, and how you, as a successful business owner, can avoid them.

1. Lack of a business-growth strategy

At the start of a business’ life, the owner is more likely to be thinking about how to stay afloat than what to do in the event of rapid growth. You will probably have short-term goals, and possibly a big-picture dream, but no strategy depicting how you will get from one to the other.

Avoid encountering problems in the form of fast-paced growth by planning how this might impact your financial and human-resources requirements, as well as the day-to-day operation of the business. It’s important to consider how what’s currently in place can be adapted to meet needs in the future. As the adage goes, “fail to plan, plan to fail.”

2. Minimal understanding of the financial impact of rapid growth

Many small businesses operate under the impression that the more sales they achieve, the more profits they will gain—and consequently, growth is the goal. This is true when the journey has been carefully thought out, but it’s still important to understand the broader implications of growth.

Achieving more sales means more production is required, which means more staff, machinery, and overhead costs. These demands can often run ahead of working capital, and many companies stumble when presented with their first tax bill due to insufficient reserves. To keep track of this, company owners should put in place effective financial-monitoring systems which measure all the items involved: the cost of materials, machinery, staff, marketing and customer acquisition, premises overheads, packing, and shipping. Only with a good understanding of all these aspects can a business owner get a true picture of the profit and value of the business.

3. Ill-equipped to fulfill orders on time

Another common problem for companies that experience unexpected rapid growth is the fact that they simply cannot keep up with demand. From the start, business owners must consider this and put actions into place to ensure that the company can fulfill orders and deliver a fast turnaround and quality customer service.

While at the start of a company’s life, it’s likely that the founders will know the products inside out, it’s important to bring staff on board and learn to delegate at an early stage of the business lifecycle. Sharing knowledge and responsibility will be a huge advantage if the business takes off, when new members of staff will need to be trained quickly.

4. Offering too many products to too many customers

Companies with a large repertoire of products will likely struggle to continue to deliver all of them if the business grows too fast. Likewise, if the product or service is delivered on a contractual basis to a large number of customers, it might be difficult to offer every customer the same level of service. I have often seen the initial unique selling point that your customers love become a millstone around a business’ neck when what your company offered initially doesn’t scale.

In the event that a business has grown rapidly, and in order to maintain a high standard of service, a company owner might be in the position to cut down the number of products they supply, or even triage the customers that they want to continue trading with. Assess which of them offer the company the most value and consider whether some would be better suited as a thorn in your competition’s side.

5. Inefficient leadership and staff

When it comes to coping with rapid business growth, your people are your power. Everyone working at the business should be flexible and adept at working under pressure so that the business can survive any unforeseen periods of growth. This is particularly true of senior staff.

Business owners should consider the skills and leadership styles of their existing management team and ensure that everyone in a senior position is able to drive the business forward. Managers should be able to deliver the same high standard of work at any given time and have the initiative to think quickly and react to evolving requirements.

It’s also important to carefully hone the onboarding process for new recruits. When a business is growing rapidly, it’s imperative that the right additional staff are hired to enable the company to continue to prosper. While you might need a quick turnaround between advertising and hiring new staff, attention must be paid to the onboarding process to make sure the best applicants are recruited. Studies show that a strong onboarding program can boost new-hire productivity by 70%.

Forewarned is fore-armed. By thinking through these five common pitfalls of rapid growth, it will be easier for you to plan ahead and avoid them. It’s important to put the strategies that will allow your business to thrive into place now. This way, when your business does take off like a rocket, you’ll have the fuel to take that opportunity straight to the moon.

Guest Post Written by Matt Bragg, a Director at FMP Global, an award-winning global HR consultancy. Matt has worked for many large international corporations including Adobe, IBM, and Harte Hanks and has a wealth of experience advising and engaging with international brands in finance, retail, hospitality and government. Matt is a commentator on the current issues surrounding the worlds of HR and payroll and is an up-and-coming thought leader on the topics of digital work and employee engagement.

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