This article is the second in a three-part series on how to overcome a period of stagnation, or “plateau” that businesses often hit somewhere between 20 and 50 employees.  The first article, Process and the Importance of Consistency, was posted previously.

Most successful business owners have a pretty good idea of their business strategy before they take the leap. In some cases, the business may have even started as a side-job before developing into a full time job.  And although the roadblocks can be relentless during the first months of a business, with enough hard work you can discover a way around them.

As a company expands to a few dozen employees, however, business owners often begin facing roadblocks without shortcuts.  The company is on the verge of outgrowing its office and needs to lease enough space to support three years of planned heavy growth.  Your local market is saturated, and research supports a second office hundreds of miles away.  You can’t handle all of the tasks that require the knowledge of sensitive financial information, and you need to build processes based on trusting a finance team.

These aren’t decisions you can work your way out of.  They are major, bank account-draining decisions that are required for your company to escape its current plateau and continue its growth.  How do you know when these decisions are worth making?

The first thing to know is that you can’t escape the decision.  If you don’t confront the decision, you’re deciding to live in the plateau.  Living in the plateau isn’t necessarily a bad thing – there are plenty of 20 to 50 person companies that support fantastic work and family lives for employees and business owners alike.  What is a bad thing is staying in the plateau without making a business plan around that decision.  And if you avoid making the decision about how to move forward, that’s exactly what you’ll do.

Companies pursuing continued growth attract employees that value career trajectory.  They’re driven to succeed, and they will drive your growth along the way.  But they expect the resources to pursue growth, and as soon as they decide there’s no room for their professional growth at your company, they’ll go work for a business in a taller building.

There are also plenty of employees who do great work at companies that aren’t pursuing rapid growth.  They aren’t necessarily interested in managing an ever-growing team, but they often are interested in consistency and stability.  Through their years or decades of service to your company, their growing job knowledge and efficiency can bolster your bottom line without the need for more employees.  If they are faced with a constantly changing work environment, however, they may quit in frustration.

Hiring focus is just one example out of dozens where it helps to know when and how much you plan to grow.  It affects how money is raised, how it is allocated, and how much return to expect on it.    It affects your customer goals – are you focused on customer retention or referrals?  It also affects your own personal plans, such as how often you can be home to see your family.

Deciding to Take the Leap

Whatever giant decision is standing between you and sustained growth, there are a few things that can help you make it.

  •    ●  Seek the counsel of people you can trust to provide valuable, confidential feedback and input on the challenging decision you face. Work with them to define your options.
  •    ●  State the question as clearly as possible, and define your options (there may be more than two).
  •    ●  Detail the long-term benefits and drawbacks of each option if you pursue it successfully (and yes, there are plenty of drawbacks to becoming a substantially larger company).
  •    ●  Write down the investments you’ll need to make in order to give each decision a chance to be successful, in terms of time, money, and personnel.
  •    ●  Write down the changes you’ll need to make to your current business strategy in order to pursue each decision. Consider all of your stakeholders – your employees, customers, investors and your own lifestyle.

Most importantly, once you decide to pursue a strategy, don’t attempt a U-turn without considering all of the ways that course correction will impact your business.  Major changes to corporate strategy can cascade through a company, and you want to consider those shock waves before you encounter their consequences.

Further Reading on Making Strategic Business Decisions: Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works

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