Why you need to look internally for business growth – not to customers

You’ve done something that most people will never come close to achieving: you’ve not only started a business, but also taken it to the point of stability.

Your revenue is flowing, you’re in profit, and you’re confident that everything is under control. That means you have two options: settle for contentment with that level of success, or push on to see how far your company can go.

Let’s be realistic, though. You’ve fought hard to make it to this point, overcoming numerous challenges along the way. Are you really going to stop now? Of course not.

You’re going to battle for continued growth, aiming to fully deliver on your professional potential. The only question is how. How will you deliver that growth?

Many company heads look to their customers, wanting them to up the ante somehow. Which clients can buy more than they currently do? Can they ramp up their prices without damaging any business relationships? But this isn’t the right path to take.

If you really want to grow your business, your focus should be on your side of the equation. Here’s why looking internally is the key to taking your operation to the next level.

Employee retention must be a top priority

What are the ingredients that make up your business? There’s the equipment you use, and the assets you own, and the processes you follow… but the most important ingredient for long-term success is the workforce you rely on daily.

This is because an employee’s value trends up the longer they’re with your company — to a point, obviously, but one that’s quite far down the line. (It’s also expensive to replace long-term employees, which compounds the value.)

Bring in a trainee today, and they might only be capable of filling in some basic spreadsheets. After 12 months of training and support, they might have developed a wide range of skills, making them a well-rounded asset for the business and giving you various fresh options for using their time profitably — all most likely coming at the cost of a modest bump in pay.

Now think about what that employee might be capable of in 5 years. Sometimes it’s readily apparent, and sometimes it’s hard to discern, but your workers have incredible untapped potential. Help them to develop and you’ll soon find that you’ve cultivated a team with all the ability needed to take a business to the enterprise level.

Sustainable scaling demands efficiency

Imagine for a second that you managed to achieve customer-driven growth through winning some big deals or even convincing an existing client to massivelyincrease their demand.

How long would you be able to handle the increased workload? You could bring in new employees to cover it, of course, but the problem there is that any inefficiencies in your process will be magnified — and potentially move towards breaking point.

Take your basic operations, for instance. How do you handle staff communication? If you run it quite casually, letting people use the channels of their preference, then you won’t encounter any issues on a small scale — but when you bring in many more staff members and clients, important details will start to fall between the cracks in that foundation.

That’s why you need a robust communication system in place (whether something like Slack or a well-rounded project management tool like Basecamp).

And since I mentioned employee retention, we should really touch upon the importance of payroll. Small business owners often do it manually, but that can’t last, and when their teams double or triple in size (and their responsibilities get more daunting), they can end up forgetting — leading to disgruntled employees at best and a mass talent exodus at worst.

Clear up the procedure, automate it with a finance tool like Wave, and generally check that the fundamentals of your business are ready to scale to the required level.

You need to earn a new level of trust

I brought up the prospect of an existing customer taking their business to a new level, but there’s the straightforward reality: it’s extremely hard to get much growth from most business relationships.

If you really excel, you might get a bump in the budget, but it won’t be transformational — and if things dip, a client might just leave without letting you respond.

It isn’t necessarily about how much money they have. It’s about how you’re perceived. If you want a new scale of commitment from them, you need to convince them that your business has changed in its scope and its capability (with a new outlook and a new plan).

It isn’t enough to say you’ll invest in growth once they’ve handed over a substantial sum. Unless you really shift gears, their perception won’t change.

So when you’re looking to expand your operation, overhaul its inner workings (and its public image) before you start looking for lucrative new customers. After all, you’ll only win them if you step things up, and any growth you achieve can only stick if you’ve really worked on efficiency.

Photo by Michał Parzuchowski