Three years ago, my company was fortunate enough to be featured in a major publication for the first time. My idea was validated, people cared about Fattmerchant, and I was going viral. I couldn’t have been happier! Until our systems started to crack under the pressure.
Up until that point, my small team was getting by with sticky notes on a whiteboard, a handful of phones and a small website. Our press feature, although exciting, was bringing in traffic that we simply couldn’t handle. We missed out on a lot of business that day because our website crashed, we couldn’t respond to emails fast enough, and we weren’t able to answer every call.
So what did we do next? Planned for scalability. I made it an objective for the next year to focus on building processes, tools and headcount (if necessary) for complete 10x scalability. I worked closely with my chief operating and technology officers to make sure all of our bases were covered — and the lessons that came from that year have been some of the most important since starting Fattmerchant.
You Can’t Manage What You Can’t Measure
When you’re operating on a small scale, it’s easy to pull numbers when you need them or simply remember important information. You’ll notice where your leads are coming from because there aren’t that many — so you take a personal look at each one.
This should go without saying, but that just isn’t going to work at scale. As your company continues to grow, it is vital that you have tools in place to track everything. The more data you have, the better equipped you are to make changes when necessary, either to fix what’s broken or improve what’s working.
Metrics dashboards have become my best friend, all thanks to my CTO. We’ve built dashboards for all of our departments so we can stay on top of metrics day to day. This has been a game-changer as far as scale is concerned, because now we can look at the numbers and gain a better understanding of where our roadblocks are.
Determine Build Versus Buy
So you find yourself in need of a certain product or tool — a website upgrade, customer management system, new landing pages — but you don’t know where to start. You might immediately look at your in-house developer for your website upgrades, but she already has a full plate with your core product. In these cases, it might be the smarter decision to buy services from an outside source. Other companies have found their niche and have the time, experience and expertise that your team members might not have for certain tasks.
Look at each new process or tool you want to implement and make sure that your internal team’s time is being used in the best way. For example, my company recently reached out for third-party help on some website optimization items, but looked in-house for customer onboarding improvements.
Never Say ‘This is Fine for Now’
Saying that running a business is hectic is a massive understatement. Trust me, I know how difficult it is to look at broken processes, see what it’ll take to fix them, and feel overwhelmed by all of the other things on your plate. But saying “this is fine for now” is the worst thing you can do.
Putting the time, effort and dollars into building scalable processes now will pay off in the long run. In the early days of Fattmerchant, we didn’t know how to keep track of deals. Someone picked up a Post-it, wrote down the contact information, stuck it on a whiteboard, and we all thought “this is fine for now.” We quickly learned it wasn’t and realized the importance of a good CRM system the hard way.
Understand When to Break Your Ceilings
One of my favorite analogies for scale is the ceiling analogy. Basically, every new stage of growth can be viewed as a floor of a building. The most difficult part of scaling is breaking through to the next floor — but once you do, there’s a period of relative calm as you float toward the next ceiling.
Something that our COO is wonderful at is understanding when to break that next ceiling. It’s natural to want to break it as soon as you see it. Growth is exciting! But that isn’t always the best idea. Understanding the right time to make the move can ensure you’re actually ready in every sense — headcount, funding, process and so on.
Give Your Decisions Time
With everything going on as you scale your business, it’s easy to feel impatient. As you continue to build processes, make decisions, implement tools, and hire new team members, you will naturally expect instant results. But don’t fret if you don’t. These things take time!
One thing we have all learned is to not overcorrect. Once you make a decision or implement a new process, give it time to do its thing. Just because it’s not immediately showing results, doesn’t mean you need to pivot to a new solution right away. A good way to combat this is to go into each new decision with a set of success and failure definitions. What exactly does success look like for this process? What’s the ramp schedule? Answer these questions and set expectations for each major decision. You’ll be set up for success.
But above all, I encourage you to take risks. You already took the leap and started your own business, so the “playing it safe” mindset has no place in your company. Success comes from your ability to go outside of your comfort zone and do what you need to do to grow and scale the best way you can. Create great processes and hire great people, and you’ll be on the road to success in no time.
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