Growth seems to be the magic word for all business owners. It’s constantly being discussed, in the terms of how to grow your business, or how to grow your customer base. Some claim you must “grow or die”, and others focus on growth metrics as the key indicators of success.
What’s more subtle is that growth means different things to different businesses, based on where they are in their lifecycle and based on their goals.
When first beginning in business, growth often means taking as much work as possible, filling the coffers as best possible by doing whatever it takes to pay the bills. Adding one more customer drives everything, and business owners tend to have little to no regime about standards or tools. Growth is just adding more revenue.
When the business starts emerging – moving beyond just a handful of customers – growing means trying new tools, trying to suggest solutions rather than working with any solution, and beginning to become selective about which customers to serve. Rather than take any work, the business has the ability to be somewhat selective, and growth means moving towards a common goal while adding revenue.
In managed services at around thirty customers, the business begins to scale, and the meaning of growth has become more about finding ways to consistently grow. Growth means finding customers that look more like the ones already being served, and the toolkit is starting to come together in the business. At scale, growth means learning to do things consistently, ensuring that as customers are added, they are served well.
Beyond that, the business changes again as scale becomes less of the problem, and optimization becomes the focus. Compliance with standards becomes part of the growth plan, with new customers using a standard toolset and customers very regularly engaged. To grow, the business focuses only on those areas that drive it’s goals and fit into its system.
Finally, at a level of innovation, customers are onboarded with few exceptions to standards, tools are a standard, and the system runs like clockwork. Growth has become about acquisition of right customers in a systematic way. Customers that in the beginning would be welcome can potentially now be detrimental to the business.
The differences in the meaning of growth also expose that the strategy for achieving that growth will be different based on the stage of development of the business. What works for one business will not necessarily work for another if they are at different stages of their development. The “best practices” of one business don’t necessarily translate into another if they are at different places in their evolution, and comparing the two is like comparing the proverbial apples and oranges. While both fruit (or businesses), they are simply very different kinds.
Growth remains possible no matter what your maturity level is – it simply means something different to the various kinds of business. The important decision for a business owner to make is to ensure that the kind of growth being pursued is in the best interest of their business and it’s state of development. Taking any customer available when first starting out is critical to growing revenue and sustaining the business, but deadly for a business that has hundreds of customers standardized on a single technology stack.
There is always a growth step. Growing a business is a matter of focusing on the right things at the right stage of development. It’s tempting to try and do everything at once, particularly when the business is seeing first successes. The good news is that there is guidance to be had, to find the right growth step next.