So your once-small startup has found a viable market niche, and you’re beginning to see an increase in demand as well as opportunities to expand. That’s a good thing, right?
It is if your startup’s foundation is solid, and the company has been configured for scalability. If it’s not, growth will be painful and may require you to reinvent your business, which costs time and money. Doing it right the first time can prevent headaches.
Following are some tips for building a truly scalable startup that will be poised to grow when opportunities arise.
Don’t Skip the Mission Statement
The earliest efforts of the first employees of a startup may shape the future of the company, so it’s critical that everyone is pulling in the same direction. Many companies skip a formal mission statement–considering it time-wasting fluff–or they ignore the one they do have.
By creating a mission statement that outlines your company’s short- and long-term goals, you can help everyone remain focused on the important hurdles. A well-crafted mission statement also is an important tool for attracting high-quality employees, according to HR consultant Daryoosh Dehestani writing for TechRasa.
“Nowadays, employees prefer to work for the best companies that let them thrive both professionally and personally,” he wrote. “With an effective mission, startups could define a competitive vision to provide a mutual understanding with their employees.”
Get Your Hiring Goals in Order
While it may be tempting to use your hiring budget on people with brilliant technical minds, remember that you will need leaders to grow. This means you’ll need employees with people skills and practical experience, and not just tech wizards.
Rely on any relationships you have with industry influencers for staff recommendations, and give some thought to what kind of leadership style you want.
“There are many leadership styles out there that may have worked well in the past, including authoritarian and paternalistic,” wrote startup mentor Marty Zwilling for Huffington Post. “But in this new age of relationships, these often work against your business. There is more and more evidence that a more ‘human-centered’ or ‘heart-centered leadership’ yields the best results with your team and with customers in the long run.”
Look for Software That Grows with You
While there are a lot of free business solutions and apps out there, not all of them are going to be able to grow with a company. You don’t want to become reliant on a solution that you’ll need to abandon when you hire your eleventh employee.
This is particularly important when it comes to sales and marketing. There are many low-cost solutions that can help you build the foundation of your customer relationship management (CRM) correctly so you’re well-poised to grow when your business takes off.
“Today your business may be small,” wrote Maya Pillai of Apptivo, a marketing and sales automation solution provider. “But tomorrow it may grow to become a large entity. The desirable CRM should be scalable. Buying another CRM tool later will require extra investment in terms of time, training employees and money.”
Don’t Skimp on Marketing
In addition to the core production of your product or service offering, all you need are salespeople, right? This is a common mistake made by many startups. In truth, marketing should be “baked in” to a company’s operations from the beginning, and it’s about more than just a Twitter account.
Content marketing in the form of blogs, white papers and videos is one of the most scalable marketing vehicles when it comes to growing startups. It can be tailored precisely to support your brand, your company’s message and your distribution channels. It’s also the kind of thing that can be easily outsourced, with companies such as EdChief.com offering turnkey content creation at prices that startups and SMBs can afford.
“Every business is in the media business now,” says EdChief.com founder and former journalist, Peter Kowalke. “Thought leadership is crucial for standing out and driving the conversation.”
Automate What You Can
It may see unnecessary in the beginning when your customer roster is small and your marketing efforts rudimentary, but using automation software for sales and marketing can reap big rewards down the road.
If you do it right from the beginning, your CRM ecosystem could become your most valuable asset.
Solutions such as Apptivo, in conjunction with a CRM database, can capture leads automatically off your web site and eliminate the need for redundant data entry. They can also automate sales and marketing processes so you can keep up with your business’ growing needs.
Information entered once (or even gathered automatically) such as leads can be easily converted into email marketing campaigns, RFPs, project directives, invoices and automated follow-ups.
Automation solutions provide startups with the opportunity to easily gather, manage and analyze data on their interactions with customers, according to social media and marketing guru Lilach Bullock.
“Using this information, these businesses are then able to improve their relationships with customers, increase acquisition, and improve retention,” she wrote in a blog post for Agora Pulse. “Zoho CRM, Nutshell, and Apptivo are some of the leaders in this sub-market.”
Outsource Your Non-Core Functions
Content marketing isn’t the only function to outsource. During the early years, it’s wise to outsource all non-essential roles, including payroll, public relations and customer service. While your resources are limited, you’ll want to muster them all for activities that lead to growth.
Nobody has time to learn public relations from the ground up, and bungling the management of your IT or finances could interfere with future growth.
“It’s important to figure out which activities would bring most benefit to the company when outsourced. ‘Core’ activities are generally defined as strategic tasks that improve customer value and drive profits,” blogged Alex Yuruts of software development company Intetics. “’Non-core’ activities are generally defined as day-to-day routine tasks that add little value and are not a profit center.”
Many startups stumble or even fail because their creators rely on early success and build the foundation downward, often making it too weak to support a growing business. By building scalability into the base from the bottom up, companies will have the tools they need to enjoy their success in the future.