Every small business eventually reaches a plateau. You’ve maxed out your current capacity, but you’re hesitant to hire another employee, open another location, or take another step forward. You fear that sales may slow, wonder whether the risks are worth taking, and face other obstacles — all of which are preventing you from making the next leap.
Here are a few surefire signs it’s time to grow, along with some expert tips for planning your company’s expansion.
1. You’ve tapped an untapped market. Filling an uncharted void can be a gold mine for a small business. Woof Gang Bakery started as a single store in 2007. “We knew it was time to expand when individuals in multiple markets inquired about the company,” says CEO Paul Allen. “With no bank support or financial backing, we decided to offer franchise opportunities in order for the company to grow.”
The company has since expanded beyond selling pet food and accessories to offering dog grooming and day care services. By the end of 2013, Woof Gang Bakery will have 44 locations across the U.S. and open its first full-service animal clinic, Allen says. International expansion is also in the works, with the company’s first U.K.-based store slated to open in 2014.
2. You’re getting tons of leads with minimal effort. “The biggest catalyst for our growth was a huge number of leads coming in through our website (with a very minimal marketing expense), which led to what most consider a good problem to have,” says Luke Marchie, co-founder of Majux Marketing. “That is, too much work for our original company founders to keep up with and still deliver the results we aim to deliver for all of our clients.”
Like many businesses at this stage, Majux Marketing hit a “growth wall.” The company had to quickly hire new talent, find office space, and handle other tasks its owners hadn’t planned for. “We’re much better prepared to deal with any future growth [now],” Marchie says. “Taking that first step and renting an office with employees can be a costly and scary thing for new business owners to tackle without previous experience.”
3. You have more work than you can possibly handle. There’s only so much work you and your existing team can tackle without sacrificing quality. An excessive workload isn’t just a sign that you should grow; it’s a sign that you must grow. Trying to press ahead without expanding your staff could cause quality, consistency, or deadlines to slip and send your business in the other direction.
“You do good work, people want you to do more good work,” explains Steve Kantscheidt, a founding partner of Three Group. “They tell their friends, and suddenly you find yourself in a position where you can no longer do good work because you have too much work. Perhaps that’s the key: When you see the quality slipping, or when you see an opportunity to improve the quality — to make a better product — that’s when you take the leap.”
Look Before You Leap
Blindly expanding your operation, either out of necessity or desire, isn’t a good idea. You need to think ahead. Timing is everything, says Troy Hazard, a serial entrepreneur and author of Future-Proofing Your Business.
“Business expansion is not about the right time, [it’s more about] the right time for you,” he says. “As the leader, you will be the one putting in the extra hours, hiring new staff, and/or traveling to get another location going. You will spend a lot of time and focus on that venture.”
How do you know if it’s the right time for you? Hazard suggests using the following approach:
- Discovery — “Get intel on the ground from the location you are opening. Be there, see it, feel it,” he suggests.
- Business Development — “Have clarity of purpose and profit from the location in the first 12 months. It will for sure take twice as long, be twice as hard, and cost twice as much,” he says.
- Integration — “Be sure to keep your culture and values consistent across multiple locations to solidify your company’s brand image,” advises Hazard.
- Sustainability — “Finish what you start. Be committed to the new location, or it will be a very expensive romance,” Hazard warns.
Getting tons of new leads with minimal effort, reaching an untapped market, or being flooded with work is generally good for any small business. If your gut is telling you it’s time to grow, plan ahead and then go for it!