10 top tips on scaling your business

A manager briefs her growing team

Award-winning business mentor, Martin Norbury - aka "The Scalability Coach" - has advised many companies on how to boost their performance and grow their business. So, what key advice does he offer on how to scale up your business?

Many businesses come to us because they're stuck. Some have achieved reasonable growth, but hit a glass ceiling. Others lack knowledge of scaling up and growing their business. Some even feel slightly scared by the prospect of scaling up. Here are my top tips:

1. Focus on what you want to be - not what you are

Don't base decisions on where you are - base them on what you want to become. One of the first things I ask clients is what type of company they want to become - £1m a year turnover? £2m? £5m? £10m? You must have definite objectives. The decisions you make as a £200k-a-year business are very different to one that turns over £10m. If you want to become a £10m business - you have to start thinking like one.

2. Make sure you're ready and prepared for growth

When your business starts to scale up, things can begin to creak. Weaknesses can be exposed, and you can't always fix them once the journey's started. You could be held back by your IT system, processes, cash flow, team, weaknesses in your supply chain or all of the above. Think very carefully about how scaling up and growing your business will affect your company - you must be ready and your processes must be robust.

If you will need finance in the form of bank loans or other external investment, check your credit rating before applying. Make sure you can prove how you will repay the loan or how investors can can realise their investment. If you already have a business bank account and you have a good relationship with your bank, it will be easier to secure a loan if you can present a convincing case.

3. Learn from competitors who've successfully grown

Think about how they've done it. How have they succeeded? Have they tapped into a new market, launched new products or changed how they interact with customers. Look at what changes they have made to facilitate their growth. For example, finding out how many staff they now have could give you a rough idea how many you might need. Where are they selling and how? Understand their business model and learn lessons.

4. Protect your business values

Things can change massively when your business is growing and scaling up and many things will compete for your time and attention. Be prepared for that. Also realise the importance of safeguarding your business values - which must not be allowed to suffer. They've helped you to be successful up to that point.

5. Build a great team of employees

As you scale and grow your business, you're likely to need to more staff. Your relationship with them might not be as close as with previous team members, but everyone must realise the importance of your business values. Consistency and quality are paramount. Create the right culture and an environment where people want to be and want to excel - then get out of the way and let them get on with it. All team members must be properly engaged, motivated, recognised and rewarded.

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6. Have rules for your staff to follow

I'm not talking about a strict regime, just something that guides them. My business has a manifesto detailing 20 things we believe. It's up on the wall, should anyone ever need reminding. Having objectives and a strategy enables you to work out what talent you need. Recruiting the right people at all levels is essential to scaling up, and attitude is just as important as skills and experience. People should be hardworking and ambitious. Everyone must pull in the same direction. Your employees should feel able to suggest improvements where possible. This can help your business continue to get better, stay current and grow.

7. Access outside expertise when required

Recruiting might not always be the answer. Often it can be better to outsource tasks and functions to ensure the best outcomes. Also realise when you need to delegate responsibility. Free up your time so you don't get caught up in day-to-day matters, when your time could be devoted to growing your business. Stay focussed on the ‘big picture'. Operate at your pay grade and ask yourself truthfully if you have what it takes to grow the business as a leader.

8. Never compromise on quality or consistency

They both enable growth. There's no point growing your business if your products or customer service deteriorates, because customers will go elsewhere. Having the right processes, culture and staff is key to maintaining quality throughout. You'll still make some mistakes when scaling, but understand why they happen, learn from them, get better and don't repeat them.

9. Identify your barriers to growth

Once you have set your objectives, part of developing a strategy for growth involves thinking about possible barriers to scaling up. Be honest and pragmatic. There are several factors which could thwart your ambitions to grow, such as lack of leadership skills, lack of funding, weak cash flow and even being in the wrong premises. Identifying the potential barriers can help you address your weaknesses and the threats they could pose.

10. Try to predict the future

Setting your business up to grow, having the right products, processes and people, doesn't always guarantee a smooth ride. You can still experience difficulties on your journey, which you need to spot well in advance, before they damage your business. Having alerts provides a solution - simple numbers that help you to spot that something isn't quite working. Then you can fix things or take evasive action. When things go wrong, often it's because people haven't recognised the signs, which can be evident months in advance. Stay particularly close to your finances, monitor your cash flow and measure your performance daily, because that will give you hundreds of opportunities a year to put things right, not just 12 times because you're only measuring performance every month.

Martin Norbury set up his Surrey-based consultancy Advocate to "to help business owners choose their tomorrow". His passion to help business owners to achieve significant growth led him to write #1 Amazon Bestselling book, I Don't Work Fridays: Proven strategies to scale your business and not be a slave to it. As well as successfully starting, growing and selling his own small business, he held senior corporate positions before starting Advocate in 2010.

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