Articles

Small Business Investments That Put Growth First

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

From the moment the doors open, every small business begins to move through a growth lifecycle. Each stage of this cycle presents different priorities and needs — and dictates where businesses should spend, and where they should save, their hard-earned cash.Below, we’ve outlined key investments that small business owners should make at every phase of their company’s lifecycle, to ensure their business is primed for long-term success.

1. Establishment Stage

You have a brand-new business on your hands. You can expect long workdays, tight cash flow, and a to-do list a mile long. Your main objective right now is securing customers and successfully delivering viable products or services. No matter how great your business idea — you won’t survive without clients. 

What should you invest in? Customer service.

When you treat early clients to an exceptional customer experience, they become ambassadors for your brand, turning into repeat patrons and helping attract more business. On the other hand, unsatisfied customers who share their experiences can cause terrible damage to a fledgling business.  

Investment suggestion: You need fast, reliable internet to help power your business and ensure you’re able to meet customer expectations. When you’re running a business, an outage is more than an inconvenience - Gartner estimates that the average cost of network downtime is a whopping $5,600 per minute. While the real number might be slightly lower for small businesses, there’s no doubt you need a network you can rely on. Windstream's, which guarantees 99% uptime, means you'll never worry about outages that could negatively impact your customers' experience - or your bottom line.

2. Survival Stage

You’ve now proven that you have a viable product and have established a solid customer base. At this stage, your business is stable but still vulnerable, and you have a handful of employees on the payroll. It’s time to pull away from the pack and focus on building your brand.

What should you invest in? Your professional image.  

With any size business, it's important to always project a professional company image. The right branding underscores the value of your services and expertise and promotes the notion that your business is credible and competent. A poorly maintained image undermines the value your business can provide, and hurts your chances of competing in a saturated landscape.

Amélie’s, a French bakery and café located in Charlotte, North Carolina, understands the power of perception. Not only does Amélie’s serve delicious coffee and pastries, they’ve also made their brand synonymous with community outreach. Their commitment to community has differentiated them and become part of their larger identity by way of messaging on their site, signs in their store, and their social media presence.

Investment suggestion: Invest in a professional and cohesive brand aesthetic. From your logo to your website to your marketing materials, your brand look is your first opportunity to attract and engage customers. You’d be surprised how far a strong design aesthetic can go, especially for a small company.

Be sure to keep track of how customers are responding to your brand. How has your web traffic changed? Are clients engaging with your social sites? Are customers taking advantage of the promotion you advertised in your newsletter? Was your logo recognized at the local craft fair? Are you attracting more customers via word-of-mouth? The more you invest in your brand, the more rewards you’ll see.

3. Success Stage

You’ve surpassed survival and have a healthy, profitable company. You have a solid staff built around you and are likely starting to think about how you can take your company to the next level. At this stage, it’s all about maintaining steady profitability and keeping an eye on how you can continue to grow the business.

What should you invest in? Developing quality talent.

You’re now beyond the stage where you can handle all the important jobs yourself, and your company will never grow if it’s dependent on you to make every strategic call. You need quality employees to whom you can delegate, who will grow with the business and help shepherd it towards even greater success.

Carey Smith, CEO of Big Ass Solutions (a maker of fans and ventilation equipment), believes you should always hire people for their next job. “The jumping-off point in our company is a receptionist. If you're the best receptionist, you won't stay a receptionist for long because you'll get a higher-level job."

One employee who came to Big Ass Solutions as an intern now leads a $70 million division and another who started as a temp in manufacturing is now in charge of quality control on a product line.

Investment suggestion: Time tracking software. This isn’t about making sure your employees log activity every minute of the day, but rather about creating a real-time window into the health and productivity of your company. Which employees are focused on projects that make a real difference for your company? Which are collaborating well with other teams? How is your overall resource flow? Make sure to take advantage of self-evaluation and goal-setting features, which give great insight about whether your staff is happy, and how best to help them reach their growth goals.

4. Takeoff Stage 

Your business has entered a phase of serious, rapid growth. It’s an exciting time, but one that will present new challenges. You’re likely to experience some growing pains and it will be challenging to scale your communication and your company culture. It's time to invest in internal operations and communications tools.  

What should you invest in? Operations and communications.

With a larger workforce and diversified products, your company has become more complex. Streamlined, established processes and communications have now become essential.

Investment suggestion: Consider a unified communications system such as Windstream's OfficeSuite. This cloud-based solution offers unified communication from anywhere, allowing for unparalleled collaboration and flexibility.

Mike Mann, the VP of IT services for a Philadelphia non-profit, saw a huge change when they incorporated streamlined communications. “Since using OfficeSuite®, I have been relieved of a lot of mundane, routine administrative chores...I can finally focus on moving the entire agency forward and tend to larger business challenges.”

The Bottom Line 

As your business moves through the growth cycle, make investment decisions that best position your company for growth, while keeping a watchful eye on your cash flow.