The best ways to scale your online business
We all want to reach our true potential in business, don’t we? If it means being able to move quickly to the next level then the answer to this should be fairly obvious.
Gartner defines scalability as
“the measure of a system’s ability to increase or decrease in performance and cost in response to changes in application and system processing demands.”
Being flexible enough to grow when the time is right is probably something we’re all aiming for. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy.
There are different reasons why businesses might resist growth. These could include a tendency to stick to traditional processes, an unfamiliarity with what scaling involves, a lack of knowledge or expertise, or a fear of failure. These are common concerns raised in the face of modernizing approaches, but holding out against change could ultimately be more costly.
Let’s look at how scaling can take things forward.
Why scaling is important
Scalability is not the same as growth, but it is the readiness for growth that all businesses need before they can expand. Co-founder of YCoordinator, Paul Graham, says that for a startup, “the only essential thing is growth”. He argues in an essay on startup growth that all the other things a startup needs are secondary to growth.
But that capacity for growth is not the only way a business benefits from scalability. It will also make a business more efficient, consistent, and ready to survive in the long run. Scalability could also be that extra edge to beat the competition.
For modern online businesses that are looking to attain “hypergrowth”, a rate of annual growth above 40%, scalability is a crucial factor. This business type operates in a different world from the traditional business model of former decades.
Scaling up needs to be carefully managed in terms of resources, finances, and staffing, as failures here will result in bottlenecks and stressful situations for all involved. On the other hand, businesses that are unable to scale fast enough will not be able to meet demand, which will inevitably lead to closing down.
When is the right time to start scaling your business?
Knowing when to start scaling your business is not always easy to determine. While it may seem that things are going well for the moment, we can never know what the future might bring. The current high demand may not be the sustainable growth you had hoped for.
Scaling up is not usually in the cards until a startup has been firmly established, but even then your hopes for continued growth may be premature. The questions that you should be asking yourself may relate to your demand and growth as a business, but also about your cash flow, your business systems, and your employees.
If you are in a strong position in terms of your sales, infrastructure, cashflow, and risk, if you are surpassing your previous goals, and if you are ready for more, then maybe now is the time.
Do you already have in place the right team and processes that you will need to reach your goals? Do you know what your customer expectations are and how to meet them? Scaling is about being ready for your potential. Do you know what your real potential is?
Tactics for scaling your business
When you’ve decided it’s time to scale up then you will need some kind of roadmap to get the ball rolling. What will your business version 2.0 look like? What actions will you take in the scaling process? Here are some ideas.
1. Do your planning
It should go without saying, but before you can begin to scale you need to thoroughly evaluate your current status and strategize for future growth. This could involve forecasts on your new orders, sales growth, customer acquisition, revenues, and expenses.
You’ll likely want a detailed sales growth forecast which narrows down how many new customers you have, orders, and revenue you want to make. Being laser focused on the detail will likely result in a more realistic plan, so it’s worth spending the extra time to get things right.
Similarly, it’s a good idea to conduct an expense forecast. How much new technology will you be investing in? How many new employees will you be taking on? What will your business systems look like?
Inevitably, your expenses will increase, but you’ll need to have an idea when and how this will happen. Create a detailed spreadsheet that breaks down all of your expenses needed to achieve your sales forecast.
Again, it’s worth reiterating how important the planning stage is. The hard work you put in now will establish a comprehensive plan you can return to as you progress.
2. Find your business
When you are clear about your mission and concept, then you’re ready to do business. But if you want to scale up, then you need to make sure you have a flow of leads in place to generate sales, and have a marketing and order system to sustain this.
You’re more likely to succeed by appealing to one target market, rather than muddling too many different sectors. Once you’ve got to grips with your ideal customer, you can devise a selling strategy that can be repeated and scaled.
Ensure you promote the unique selling points of your business, or you’ll risk floating in a sea of similar brands and will be quickly forgotten.
3. Secure your funding
Scaling up might mean hiring extra staff, purchasing new equipment or technology, or other expenses, all of which come at a price. Making sure you have enough to fund your expansion comes back to planning, and finding the investment to make those plans work.
4. Get the tech in place
Digital transformation is central to scaling a business, and there are numerous ways in which processes can be automated and systems integrated to increase efficiency and cut costs. It may mean investing in a dedicated server to host your increasing dependency on web resources.
Online courses and resources on how to scale your business
A good way to start learning about the benefits of scaling up your business is with an online course that can explain the basics. The best thing about these courses is that many of them are completely free of charge. Take a look at the following:
- Start to Scale Up: A Growth Formula for Small Businesses (Udemy). 8 lectures in 31 minutes of video content for entrepreneurs looking to scale. Lectures include ‘Redefining Success’ and ‘Business Growth Calculator’.
- Scaling Your Small Business (LinkedIn Learning). A 35-minute course in five chapters from marketing specialist, John Jantsch, that looks at scaling essentials for small businesses. The course costs $29.99 or it’s free with a one-month LinkedIn Learning trial.
- Scale Up Your Startup Specialization (Coursera). This course takes around 4 months at 3 hours a week and enrollment is free, though additional costs will be incurred for things like certificates. Some experience in business is required, and the course includes both theory and hands-on projects.
These courses are a good place to start, but there are limitless online resources for learning about scaling and business growth, which may be specific to your field. Other places to look include Growth Institute, Oberlo, and Google Skillshop.
Scale for your potential
There’s no doubt that scaling your business can bring it the kind of flexibility and preparedness that is an important requirement in the digital age. But this needs to come at a time when you are ready for it, and not before. By evaluating your operations and processes and planning for all potential changes, you will be more ready to get started. There are plenty of online learning resources to help along the way, and new digital systems and tools are developed with a view to scaling businesses.
In closing, don’t be afraid to scale your business, but make sure you are ready for everything that scaling involves before you start to make transformations.
If you want to learn more about some online tools that can work wonders for your business, check out our article on leveling up your business.