Knowing what to focus on at each growth stage is essential when you’re a small business owner. You have limited resources, a big vision and a lot of pressure. Because of this, small business owners sometimes follow the “Hit and Hope” approach – the way a beginner pool player strikes the cue ball without actually aiming for anything, but hoping something sinks. I’ve found myself doing this a number of times, and it’s always helpful to use metrics and business growth stages to regain my focus.
A good way to get perspective on what needs to be done is to first imagine how your business will grow over time. Next, focus on where you are now and what is most important for your current stage of growth. This will help you prioritise what’s most important.
What one focuses on now could be very different to what one focused on in the beginning. Our mission to empower entrepreneurs remains a constant guide, our immediate focus and key metrics continue to evolve.
After analysing our own growth we’ve identified with these four business growth stages
Knowing your business growth stage and focus is a great start, but it’s critical to implement metrics. Having focus without tracking metrics is a bit like trying to win a sports match without keeping score. You can’t align your team, measure your success or know how to improve.
Let’s take a look at what business owners should focus on at each growth stage and how they can align their metrics
The ‘Start’ Stage: Product – Market Fit
It’s important to understand and monitor your sales from the very beginning. Even if sales are so low you can recite them in your sleep, you should still track and record them. It’s a good habit to get into and you’ll thank yourself later.
Along with sales figures, keep track of who is using your product and what they like or what could be improved. Make experimenting part of your daily tasks.
Maintaining a record of these learnings should help to improve your product [to get ‘product-market fit‘] including what your customers want, what they are willing to pay, and how much you should/could charge. If you start worrying about how to scale and how much profit you can make, stop yourself and refocus. The most important thing right now is how to improve your product or service, and make your first customers so happy that they’ll come back for more.
Your first customer could be your friends and friends of friends. Do personal deliveries, track how they like /dislike your product and record every complaint, compliment and suggestion. One of the key metrics is the transaction error rate and how likely customers were to refer others to you (net promoter score).
The ‘Build’ Stage: Streamline your processes
By now, you should have a product or service that your existing customers love and a market that wants what you have to offer. If you feel like there is too much demand and you don’t know how to keep up, then it’s definitely time to refocus.
Your focus needs to shift from improving your product to formalising your business. Meet the increased demand by getting the right tools, people and structures in place. For example, a simple customer engagement and back-office system will help you deal with additional customers and suppliers.
This growth stage will require you to go beyond just tracking your sales, but now to include the tracking of ‘jobs to be done’ by you and your team. Your starting point should be to think about these metrics from your customer’s perspective – what do you want your customer to experience when dealing with your business, and then work back to what has to be done internally to make that experience possible.
Your metrics are a way to keep track of whether you are meeting your customer’s expectations, and quickly identifying if you have missed something so that you can proactively resolve the issue with the customer. These are the processes that will allow you to optimise your product or deliver your service at scale.
The ‘Grow’ Stage: Optimise sales and marketing
Once you have a stable operation and are consistently meeting customer demands [without impacting the customer’s experience], you’re at the beginning of the ‘Grow’ phase and ready to focus on exponentially increasing demand.
During this stage, you want to be able to focus on one or two metrics that are clear indicators of growth for your business. The number of new customers or the amount of revenue per month is a good example, but remember each business is different. The metric should be straightforward and something that is relevant to everyone in your team.
Tracking these metrics every week or month allows you and your team to have regular, focused conversations about what is holding you back from growing the business and suggesting ways to improve in order to achieve your targets. The goal is to learn how to control key metrics and know what factors will (and won’t) influence them. For example, having a 20% off sale will result in approximately X new customers and Y revenue. Hiring an additional sales person will lead to X more phone calls and Y more customers.
Toward the end of this phase, you want to focus on how much it costs you to acquire a new customer and the profits you’re making per customer. It is important that before you start scaling, you’ve made your operations so efficient that you’re able to gain more profits from your customers than what you’re spending to acquire them.
When one crosses the 1000 customer mark one will be in a position where one is confident in ones product and the quality of service offered. One can switch focus to testing new growth channels, partnerships and sales processes. Focus metrics should be now on conversion rates, daily sales and cost to acquire a customer.
The ‘Take-off’ Stage: New opportunities
Having built an organisation that can find new customers, make the necessary changes to keep delivering on its commitments to customers AND being profitable – you’re now ready to take things to the next level.
During the ‘Take-off’ phase, your team can manage the day-to-day operations, and you and your leadership team can focus on making some bold changes to scale up the business. This is a time to open another outlet or office, launch a new product or enter a new city or market.
During this phase, balancing your focus between ensuring your business continues to operate at full capacity, and developing new projects, can be challenging. It’s important to have all your metrics from the first three stages consolidated into a dashboard that gives you a quick overview of your business, as you may not be involved in the day-to-day operations anymore.
When launching new products and entering new markets, your metrics should go back to the beginning.
Of course, life seldom lets you follow perfect frameworks. But, if you have the right metrics and an idea of your growth stage it becomes a lot easier to stay on top of what needs your attention the most.