You started your company to leave your mark and get away from the structure, hierarchy, and the limited impact you had in corporate America, right? So, you enjoy your leadership freedoms as an entrepreneur and you run your company like the Wild West. No rules, no regulations, and a strong individualistic identity. And guess what? The Wild West actually works. I grew my organization an average 40% per year for five years this way. And, if you were thinking I loved it, you are right on.
The Wild West is easy when you’re under 30 employees. We would gather in a conference room or someone’s office and the entire company could get on the same page with the company direction. In fact, everyone came to every meeting when we had them. Which was not frequent, because I hated the meetings I had to attend in my last gig.
The Wild West is about letting people be themselves. Early employees join because they believe in the founder and in why the company exists. Employees simply made decisions. There are no job descriptions. When the phone rings someone answers it. When something needs to be done no one needs to ask, someone simply did it. This time in the business is really special. Every customer win or innovation is so easy to see and celebrate, and communication happens in real time, all of the time.
Then one day it all stops working. The growth stops. You might even lose ground! This is my story. The Wild West gun slinging era stopped producing results. Your staff hates it and can’t figure out why! And they will leave unless you make changes to how you run the day to day. And many small business folks never figure out how or why. As you grow communication begins to break down.
Everyone stops knowing everything. The business that ran so perfectly in its early years grinds to a halt. It seems like every person, every step in the business, every process, even every function of the business like accounting, sales, or marketing can’t keep up and does not know what the other parts of the business are trying to get done.
So why is growth so hard?
1. Leaders find it hard to change the business routines. Small business leaders love working long hours at first. I was known to say “Every problem is mine to fix!”. The variety of tasks and duties (although overwhelming) is intoxicating. Delegation becomes really important here.
2. We have an identity crisis when it comes to putting process in place. If you worked in corporate America I bet there was lots of process and focus on systems. Early companies just exist. I find the hardest part of my job is right here. How much process is enough for the stage my company is right now? Or if I am growing for next quarter? Don’t over-engineer and kill the entrepreneurial spirit. BUT, if you don’t put process in place your costs of doing business will escalate and not keep up of with your top line.
3. All of a sudden competitors and clients know you exist. Small business does not claim market share. Small business goes out and does what it needs to do to sell things and create top line revenues. Bills must get paid. The big hope really is that as you pay some bills, your customers will help refine and improve your products and services. This Outside-In® interaction with your market will drive creativity and new offerings to solve your customers challenges – and your growth cycle continues. However, if you grow, your (bigger) competitors get to know you, …and they can lower costs or press to take away your clients. So it is hard to mature and grow as a business, everything about your business must grow up too!
I know I said three reasons growth is hard. However, there is one additional big challenge to stay aware of and that is the entrepreneurial leader. We as leaders must change our approach and style with the phases of growth of your business. Yes, you still want to open the mail, and show that you’re hands on. But how does your role need to evolve? It involves trust in your colleagues and employees. Are you able to let go of the reins a little bit and let your vision grow in the hands and minds of those you hired?