Grow your business step by step

By Susan Yellin | September 10 2015 09:00AM

Expanding a business can be a daunting task that usually has more questions than answers: How fast should I expand? Do I need a bigger office? How do I delegate jobs? How do I increase my business, take professional development courses and stay on track all at the same time?

Those who have been through it or those who advise business owners on steps they should take, provide some of the answers.

Take Bob Fleischaker. He had already worked for 22 years in sales and then in sales management for a large insurance company before he went out on his own almost 20 years ago to forge Stonehaven Financial Group Inc. He started out with just himself and hired an assistant. Now the firm has grown to five advisors and three staff.

Office: One of his first big conundrums as he was expanding dealt with how much space he should take for an office. “I was completely flummoxed,” says Fleischaker. “But generally it doesn’t matter. If you know you’re going to be a downtown guy then get yourself a space downtown – if you want to be uptown then get something uptown. But your location is likely not integral to your success. You will absolutely have the wrong space and the wrong lease because you don’t know how much space you need. If you oversubscribe your costs are too high and vice versa. You have to figure it out.”

He suggests when expanding, think about having staff work from home or sublet an office nearby. It’s always easier to get more space than to be stuck in a lease with too much space, he says.

Spending time on things that don’t matter: For many people getting a catchy name for their firm that says everything in just a few words occupies way much too much time, says Fleischaker. “We fiddled and we fussed. But the name does not matter. It’s what you do with the name and who is working with you as you grow that matters.”

Capital: In hindsight, says Fleischaker, he wished he had more capital when he began expanding. “You just don’t want to be using your Visa card to get cash to pay your assistant. It affects your objectivity, it affects your attitude. A bigger cushion would have been a wiser choice [for me].”

Delegation: One of the biggest obstacles to growth for many small business owners is the inability to delegate, including support tasks like answering the phones and scheduling, says Judi Hughes, president of Toronto-based Your Planning Partners Ltd.

There is only so much time in a day and if financial advisors refuse to let go of these kinds of “administrivia,” they won’t have time to do what they do best – help their clients, says Hughes.

Add to this the psychological component of letting go and the fact that most solepreneurs have not budgeted for administrative support as part of their start-up plans.

And as they get busier, they need to take time out to hire someone and delegate jobs, says Hughes. “They get so busy that they end up running on a ‘fragmented focus treadmill’ and they haven’t got the time, let alone the skills, to hire someone to take over the back-stage things.”

Getting out of this rut can be difficult, especially if the advisor has never worked in a corporation or in a senior job that required that kind of skill.

Learn to delegate

“Often people think ‘I have nothing I can delegate’. So one of the things we do is go step-by-step through how to delegate. We have a delegation handbook and worksheet and we walk through it,” says Hughes. “We are really conscious about what they feel they will be most comfortable delegating.”

Some jobs, like bookkeeping and answering phones, can be outsourced, so new business owners don’t have to hire a dedicated staff person to fill the position, she says.

Even those who aren’t keen on delegating have to confess – at least to themselves – that if they want to increase their revenue they have to scale back on the activities that interfere with that, says Hughes.

“We tell our clients: You cannot grow your business without the help of other people who can do some of your work better, faster and more efficiently than you.”

Shiny Object Syndrome (SOS): All business owners get excited about new ideas – whether it’s a new way to market a product, a new way to sell a product or a new way to meet new clients. Unfortunately, all these great ideas can divert them from achieving their original goals, says Hughes. Nine times out of 10 most of her clients haven’t given existing ideas long enough to take root and bring results. As a result, they are constantly only getting 20%-30% of the results they want because they’re moving on to the next big idea.

“They will start a newsletter and be really excited about it and it will be great for three months. Then, all of a sudden, they go out and do public speaking. But meanwhile the newsletter piece is not getting the attention it did, so it’s not maximizing the opportunities it could,” says Hughes. “Not every new idea is the one you should be taking now. You can put it in the parking lot and it may be a great idea in six months or a year but finish what you’re doing now.”

Business plans: One of the reasons some business owners fail in their expansion plans is because they haven’t taken the time to create a proper business plan, says Vancouver-based international business coach Rosemary Smyth. She suggests every business owner create a one-, five- and 10-year business plan, complete with budgets and business plans.

Define clear goals: Smyth says these can range from how much commission you want to make to professional development or licensing goals for both yourself and your staff. Once you have the goal, add the strategy and timeline to accomplish it.

Clear roles and responsibilities: All new people coming on board need to have defined roles and responsibilities with exact details on what “other duties as required” entail, says Smith. It should also make clear whether these staff members may have to work certain evenings or weekends. When you hire new people, also set up quarterly performance reports and set milestones.

Training for new hires: When you are expanding your business, some of your staff may require additional training. Give them the opportunity and the time to learn the new skills and give feedback and constructive criticism to them as they are learning, suggests Smyth.

Hiring family: While some parents may want their children to follow in their footsteps, a problem may arise if the children don’t have the same kind of taste for the business as their parents, says Smyth. “When you are given something rather than earning it, it doesn’t have the same enthusiasm and the same entrepreneurial spirit as people who really want it and work for it,” says Smyth. “It’s not the same as someone who is really hungry for business.”

Stay positive: Hughes says while many issues can stifle expansion plans of some business owners, the best thing is to stay away from those who help you bemoan where you are now. “After a bit, the excitement of starting a new business has worn off,” says Hughes. “We always say: get out there and hang out with people who are successful and positive and will keep you in that frame of mind.”