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April 3, 2018
Planning & Strategy  |  8 min read

What Exactly Is Scalability in Business? 5 Keys for Success + 3 Business Organization Tools

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Jeanette LeBlanc

If you are like most small business owners, you started really, really small. Probably just you, your laptop, and an idea.

Now growth is on your mind. Maybe you’re impatient and chomping at the bit to get to the next step, or maybe you’re scared and holding back. Either way, most small business owners have dreams that are bigger than their current reality.

The problem is, when the day to day of small business ownership can be so overwhelming, it’s tough to know what you should be doing now to ready your business for a successful future. What is scalability in business and what are your limitations? An understanding is fundamental to your success.

“We all feel some level of impatience that our businesses are not growing fast enough. Every time I look at the latest iteration of my DIY website or the stack of big ideas still in the to-do bin, I think ‘man, I’m so not where I want to be yet!’ But the beautiful thing about being in business for yourself is that you get to direct your own evolution. And allowing that evolution, however organic or stunted it may feel in the moment, is a stellar strategy in itself. Like a conductor with a symphony, you learn the rhythms and movements over time. You’ve got to grow at your own pace and feel out the bumps along the way.”
Amy Birks, The Strategy Ninja

So, how do you build a scalable business? Follow these five keys for scalability success:

5 keys to building a scalable business

True scalability in business allows for expansion and revenue growth while minimizing increases in operational costs. Even if you’re not ready to grow right now, there are things you can do to set yourself up for scalable growth and success.

1. Build a solid foundation

Right now—while your business is small—is the perfect time to invest your time and energy in foundational systems that will allow your small business to grow into a much larger entity. These systems and processes can help you avoid the painful (and expensive) growing pains that can hit when you’re not prepared.

Having robust systems—such as a solid CRM or powerful e-commerce software—can help you untangle the web of time-consuming details and free you to focus on the parts of your business that will drive growth and expansion. Automation is the small business owner’s friend.

Review your business to see what aspects are repetitive or monotonous and make it your ultimate goal to automate them as much possible so that your attention remains focused on growth-related activities.

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2. Focus on scalable business solutions

In the early days it can be tempting to go with the quick (or cheap) fix. Money, time, and expertise can be in short supply, and investing in basic solutions that don’t require a huge financial investment or learning curve can seem like the wisest solution. Resist the temptation to slap together a myriad of inexpensive and inadequate options and think ahead to what will serve your business best in the future. A forward-thinking mindset can help you avoid a common small business trap: a patchwork maze of systems that just aren’t getting the job done.

Think as the owner of a business 10 times larger than your current reality. Choose solutions that will serve what is AND what may come: quality over quantity.

Simran Thadani, the executive director of Letterform Archive, a nonprofit organization that has a library of typography and design elements, has a few tools up her sleeve that helped her achieve scalable growth:

  • Trello: Imagine digitizing your wall of sticky note to-do lists. That’s basically what you get with Trello. Using the app, you can create note cards that you can put on lists and then move them around by clicking and dragging them. Trello gives you a flexible, interactive, collaborative tool with which you can chart out anything from team roles on a specific project to your company's 18-month road map. You can also use it to simply to track your to-do list.
  • Gusto (formerly Zen Payroll): This app allows companies to manage payroll and benefits in one solution. Plus, when employees receive their first paychecks, the app says, "Hey, you've just been paid. Isn't today a beautiful day?" with a picture of butterflies and flowers.
  • Google Ventures Design Sprint: A word of advice from Thadani: “Slow down to scale up.” The sprint begins with quiet time to brainstorm. Employees are told there are no bad ideas, then asked to write everything they think of down on a sticky note and stick it up on a wall. This helps to eliminate one voice dominating, or dead silence from all.

People then use stars or tallies to vote on their favorite ideas. Generally, you’ll find that it’s not just one person with all the good ideas. Typically, all parts of the company will be represented, and all employees have ideas worth contributing.

Next, you talk about validating the idea, asking the team: Why did you choose this idea? Why did this idea have three stars and the next had five? What's the best way to pursue the idea? From there, you can prototype the idea. The exercise brings tremendous validation—not just of the best ideas, but of the people who brought up those ideas.

The frequency of your sprints depends on how frequently you feel you need to iterate on something new, whether it’s to improve a process or come up with a new idea from scratch. The design sprint works in a range of different situations. Bt you don’t want to rely on it as a crutch, like going back to the drawing board because it didn’t work. Take the time you need, but don’t get stuck in too many meetings. Use the sprint to figure out the path to the next idea. Iterate from where you’re stuck. Be confident in the good ideas you’ve had thus far, and then take things from there.

3. Embrace strategic planning

Strategic planning is the link between a great idea and true success and growth. More a philosophy of operation than a one-time event, it requires ongoing attention to detail and an investment of time. Knowing your business inside and out can prepare you to deal with challenges and prepare you for opportunities to scale.

"When you take the time to define where you’re going, you can develop a plan, stay on course, make adjustments as needed and reach your destination."
—Infusionsoft CEO Clate Mask

Develop a series of quarterly and annual priorities, a mission that sets the tone for the next three to five years of operation and a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) to keep you reaching for success.

4. Focus on your core strengths

You can’t be everywhere. Focusing on your core strengths and hiring or outsourcing the rest of the tasks associated with running your small business is essential to a scalable business. Concentrate on working on your business instead of in your business; scalable business owners are experts at leveraging outside resources. Build a staff or team of freelancers to do what they do best so you can concentrate on letting your own native genius work its magic.

5. Be patient

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Good things come to those who wait. Patience is a virtue.

Cliché or not, there’s a reason these little gems of wisdom are so pervasive. In your small business, patience is just as important as it is in the rest of life. Take the time along the way to maximize the systems, processes, and people you rely on to make your operation a success so that when opportunities present themselves, your business is ready to grow.

Remember, a path of slow and steady growth is much more sustainable–and scalable–in the long run.


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