The startup stage of a business is grueling. Chances are, you are overworked, understaffed, and functioning on a shoestring budget. Taking into account the statistic that only half of businesses survive the first five years, even the downtime can get stressful.
Achieving rapid growth after a few tough years in the startup stage can be one of the most exciting (and relieving) times in the life of an entrepreneur. When your business begins to pick up steam, your profit margins begin to grow, and it’s 100 percent clear you are making a strong impression on customers or clients, it’s an “I made it!” moment that nothing else truly compares to.
So, how can you reach this exciting moment without losing your sanity?
Here are four ways to help speed up the excruciating startup stage and reach the promising period of rapid growth.
1. Think of employee productivity as a business strategy
To reiterate, you are likely working with a very limited budget during the startup stage. As your operation begins to grow, you’re going to need extra hands. But there can be no dead weight whatsoever.
Best practices for productivity need to be ingrained from day one. Keep in mind, the protocols and foundational workflows you put in place during the startup stage can have a great impact on how smoothly and quickly your business grows.
While there will certainly be a number of internal changes that will take place in the rapid growth stage and beyond, cementing standards for employee performance early on is one of the smartest long-term actions you can make. Hiring the right person from the outset is key, and there’s actually a lot you can do to make sure you don’t bring on a costly bad fit.
Once you have the right team in place, if you don’t currently have the budget to splurge on a fancy productivity tracker that can measure your employees’ ROI down to the minute, you might need to get a bit creative to ensure that everyone is firing on all cylinders.
This doesn’t have to be overly complex. Depending on the nature of the work, there are many easy ways you can lay out your expectations and measure performance. For example, if you are at the point when you need to bring on a business development manager, you can set up a shared spreadsheet of which they can enter in everything they do in their day-to-day.
This can include the amount of market research needed, budgets requirements, tactical projects, like outreach to prospects, etc. Make it clear you expect X amount of work each day and keep an eye on the output.
Even though this practice is pretty basic, it’s a great way to build a strong foundation of productive workers to set an example for the business during rapid growth and beyond.
2. Boldly establish your niche authority
In this age of social media and constant connectedness, businesses and individuals have a voice that can be heard across the world. Many thought leaders and experts have been able to use this concept to their advantage and make a strong impact on their audience or industry.
Keep in mind, one of the biggest side effects of this era of constant connectedness is that there are now more voices echoing around the world than ever before—most of which are just adding noise. If you want to actually get noticed and establish authority in your niche, you need to create messaging that stands out.
Make bold predictions about your industry, take some risks, be the one to voice something that many people are thinking.
Elon Musk is perhaps the best example of this concept in human history. As you likely know, Musk is very outspoken about his innovative visions for the future. He has gone on record saying things like autonomy will be the standard for vehicles in the next couple decades, humans will go to Mars by 2025, AI is more dangerous than nuclear weapons, and much more. If you need proof of this, take a look at his Twitter!
Building authority in any niche requires a leap of faith from time to time. However, it’s very important to note that there is a fine line between expressing thought leadership and just being loud. When you make a bold statement, be sure to back it up with hard evidence and direction. More importantly, tell the world how your vision factors in. Otherwise, you run the risk of being branded a “talker” and not a “doer.”
3. Be strategic about customer reviews
At this point, everyone knows how vital customer reviews are to a business. The concept of leaving online reviews dates back to the late 1990’s. Over the years, the way these reviews are collected and interpreted has certainly seen its share of growing pains. Brands realized the sheer influence reviews had on potential customers and would find ways to sidestep the system. This typically included writing fake positive reviews about themselves or paying others to do it.
Fortunately, most consumers have wised up to this fraudulent practice. In fact, some review platforms will penalize a business if they try to manipulate authentic customer sentiment.
Keeping this in mind, you need to be very smart about how you manage customer reviews during the early stages of your business. If a prospective customer only sees glowing 5-star reviews, it might raise some concern that they might not be 100 percent genuine. So, when you reach out to customers following a purchase or experience, encourage them to talk about both the pros and cons.
Take these reviews of Trustpilot for example:
By listing both the pros and cons, the review is much more honest and doesn’t overly favor the brand. When people look at this, they get a raw, authentic opinion of what it’s like to work with this business, which is the real purpose of online reviews.
When you display reviews, show a few less-than-stellar ones in addition to the good ones. You can use these to showcase your business values by replying and making an effort to resolve the issue(s).
Keep in mind, a bad review doesn’t define a business—but the way you handle it does. Displaying a strong desire and will to meet customer expectations in a public review arena is one of the best things you can do to shape the perception of your startup.
4. Plan with trends in mind
The world we live in runs on trends. While many are temporary, some are big enough to stick around and alter day-to-day life.
In the business world, the reality is you need to hone your internal radar for trends that matter, so adjust to the big ones or run the risk of being obsolete.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’re certainly aware of the rising presence of artificial intelligence (AI) in how businesses are run. As a startup looking to grow, you need to leverage this trend and find ways to implement AI and machine learning into the day-to-day.
A report by Salesforce found that over half of small businesses believe AI is an important factor in choosing new technologies these days. Many small businesses are finding that proper implementation of AI can save money in the long term.
While it may not be feasible at this point to make your entire business AI-driven, there are several key areas to start. Customer service is a big one. The rise of chatbots in recent years have given businesses the ability to interact with and help customers 24/7. Many of these tools can be programmed to mimic your unique brand personality and resolve common inquiries. Most are even equipped to use natural language processing (NLP) to understand the subtle graces of each interaction to become more human-like with responses. Furthermore, these chatbots can even be used to make sales!
There are all kinds of startup trends making waves across the business world, with AI leading the pack. As a business owner looking to grow quickly, you need to make it a point to stay updated and find ways to wisely implement new developments into your operation.
Over to you
Getting through the startup stage is tough; there is no sugarcoating it. However, it doesn’t have to be miserable.
Always remember: The core values you establish during this stage play a huge role in how your business develops, whether it be in terms of employee performance, shaping public perception, or keeping up with the times.
Trying to adapt to new strategies later on in business is harder. If you can establish strong, scalable practices in the startup stage, reaching and navigating rapid growth will be much easier.