How to sustainably grow from SME to enterprise

Almost all SME’s have their sights set on growth. But, without careful planning, that growth can be stifled by a lack of process. Thinc Managing Director, Dominic Ball, considers the potential pitfalls when going from SME to enterprise.

The business world is littered with articles, books, and guides on how to achieve growth. But, we seldom see literature that highlights the need to focus on internal resources and capabilities to achieve sustainable growth.

Growing a business is inherently risky. While there is the attraction of increased value, greater capabilities, and financial freedom; getting it wrong could send your business free falling into extinction.

This article discusses how SME’s can achieve sustainable growth, ensuring that your business is equipped to manage the increase in demand without succumbing to burnout.

The SME stumbling blocks

By their very nature, SME’s are unique enterprises. Whether the differences arise in management style, organisational structure, or operational outlook, every company is unlike any that has been before.

However, research has shown they all share common challenges when transitioning from SME to enterprise.

All too often, businesses go on tremendous growth trajectories only for it to come crashing down months later.

In the majority of cases, this crash comes not because they were bad businesses. Instead, it is simply due to the founder, management team, or entire staff succumbing to burnout—that chronic condition whereby the increase in business activity becomes too much. The roots of this issue often centre around a failure to evolve internal operations in sync with business growth.

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Making the transition

In the early stages of a business’s life, the focus is inevitably on survival—cash flow is limited, and customers are not guaranteed. Operationally, things will be kept as basic as possible, with enthusiasm and hard graft papering over the cracks of inefficiencies.

These methods might prove to be successful in quickly moving the business beyond survival mode.

But there is a danger that, as the company transitions from a survival phase to a growth phase, the house of cards built on cumbersome processes and instinctual decision-making could tumble at any time. And, when that happens, it could derail any growth aspirations the business may have.

As such, it pays to have knowledge of these pitfalls before they happen. Here are three challenges any fast-growing business should consider whilst planning for continued growth.

1. Low-value activities can suffocate your business

All businesses exist to provide value to their customers, which then translates into value for the company. So, it stands to reason that the more time you spend on high-value activity, the greater the value creation will be.

Unfortunately, the exact opposite often happens as businesses begin to grow. They have a tendency to focus on top-line revenue growth, without considering how their internal operations will cope with the increase in demand.

As a result, as sales grow the administrative overhead of keeping the internal operations working becomes increasingly time-consuming. Before long, the weight of this low-value administration (filling in archaic spreadsheets; chasing down stock inventory figures) hinders the workforce’s ability to concentrate on high-value activities.

This misaligned focus not only constrains the business’s ability to achieve breakthrough growth—but it also erodes the value created as a small business. On top of all this, staff morale will begin to suffer as people tire of laborious tasks and increasing busyness.

As a response, businesses must continually assess their internal operations, ensuring that they are taking full advantage of digital technologies to unshackle people from needless administration, so they can focus on creating real value.

2. Errors lead to reactive management

A consequence of inefficient business operations is often an increased reliance on reactive management.

As the senior team focuses on fighting fires across the business, forward planning and strategic efficiency take a back seat. Then, as volume increases and the workforce faces growing time pressures, the cracks begin to show.

Orders are missed; service quality suffers; customers begin to complain. The management team is then focused on resolving issues, taking time away from being able to focus on growing the business. Before long, growth has stalled, and the leadership team are faced with a stagnant proposition.

This situation can be guarded against by implementing scalable internal operations that expand and grow as the business grows. This helps to reduce processes becoming overwhelmed and errors arising.

In addition, as your business moves into growth, look at what processes could be automated to reduce errors and improve productivity.

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In the coming weeks, we’ll be releasing a free in-depth guide looking at how businesses can chart their growth with absolute confidence. If you’d like to be one of the first to receive this guide, please fill in our form.

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3. Relying on gut instinct is a dangerous tactic

SME business owners are invariably involved with the day-to-day operations of their business. They’re engaged with their customers, suppliers, and prospects, often with an understanding of the business beyond anyone else in the company. As part of this, reliance on instinctual decision-making becomes ingrained in the process of growth. After all, if the business owner can make positive decisions quickly, why question the system?

Unfortunately, with growth comes the inevitable change of focus for owners from doing to managing and, eventually, leading.

In each of these steps, the owner becomes more removed from the frontline of the business. Gradually, that crucial first-hand understanding of customers, prospects, and the market slips—the owner simply isn’t close enough to the day-to-day to make the right decision instinctively.

Continuing to make decisions based on this instinct becomes potentially damaging. The answer lies in data. With access to relevant, accurate insight, business owners can prove or disprove their instincts before committing to any major decision.

Over time, using insight (as opposed to just the instinctual, gut-driven style of management discussed above) will lead to a more robust, sustainable growth trajectory.

Take an in-depth look at how to move from instinct to insight

In summary

Navigating growth from SME to enterprise isn’t easy. But, as the above discussion shows, focusing your attention on evolving your internal systems at the earliest possible opportunity will stand you (and your team) in good stead.

With a deliberate, stepped approach to building growth directly alongside internal capabilities, your business will be able to unleash the full potential of its people—it is here that the true nucleus of an intelligent company exists.

At Thinc, we’re specialists in helping businesses navigate through that growth curve, working with businesses to formulate, build, and implement IT roadmaps that offer a rock-solid foundation for growth.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be releasing a free in-depth guide looking at how businesses can chart their growth with absolute confidence. If you’d like to be one of the first to receive this guide, please fill in the form below.

Register your interest in our guide

If you’d like to be one of the first to receive this guide, please fill in our form.

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