How to Plan for Smart Business Growth

Have you ever heard the phrase “Crawl, walk, run” applied to growing a business? For some eager entrepreneurs and business leaders, this conservative advice flies in the face of a natural tendency to grow the business as fast as you can in spite of the risks.

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“Damn the Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead!”

Slow and steady growth was furthermost from the minds of Verizon executives in 2007 when the company suddenly found itself in a deep competitive hole when Apple launched the first iPhone exclusively with AT&T. Verizon knew it had to scramble to get its smartphone to market. You could say that Verizon leaders adopted the Adm. David Farragut line, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead," as their mantra when it bypassed the company practice of creating a business strategy.

“Instead of do-it-ourselves, they worked with Google and Motorola. Instead of we-know-better, Verizon used their partners’ capabilities and shared data. Instead of waiting for every step to be finished before proceeding to the next, they worked on many fronts simultaneously. They created an excellent product in record time, in time for launch in the 2009 holiday season,” says Harvard professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter.

Prof. Moss Kanter suggests smart leaders should focus on execution first and strategy second. “Verizon would not have been able to so quickly and successfully change its strategy without being willing to question and overhaul traditional organizational structures.”

Sure, organizational structures are essential for ensuring discipline and repeatable processes. But you also need to recognize when it's appropriate to take a different path. Sometimes leaders are so eager to grow the business they'll say yes to just about every customer. That's what happened to Steve Cody when he was building his marketing agency startup (Peppercomm), accepting work from companies in industries where they had zero experience. His firm lost those customers but prospered in spite of the early setbacks.

“Going after every client or customer” is just one classic mistake when you’re planning for smart business growth, says entrepreneur Joseph Olewitz, CEO of Virtual Chief Revenue Officer. Other common mistakes include:

  • Either thinking too big or too small when creating a plan
  • Not asking the right questions of themselves and the client
  • Making a decision solely based on what is in front of them at the moment (Not doing the proper due diligence)

Looking beyond the mistakes, Mr. Olewitz has five growth tips or guidelines for any business:

5 Smart Business Growth Tips

1. Be specific

Instead of vaguely stating "I want to grow or get bigger,” be specific. Say you want to add this customer or product, which will add an X in revenue. In the example above, Verizon was intentional about its goal of introducing a smartphone

2. Stay the course

It's easy to get off track when you need to make payroll or pay the rent. But don't take your eye off your bigger goals and continually review your plan each time you make a decision.

3. Take advantage of the right opportunities

An unexpected opportunity may help you gain a new experience or credentials in an adjacent industry. Pass it up, however, if it distracts you from your core business.

4. Small changes can lead to a significant impact

Small changes, such as marketing an established product to a new industry can add to topline growth.

5. Think in quarters:

The ideal business plan length is 12 months—gone are the days of five-year plans. The world and your competition are moving too fast. However, break down and measure your plan in quarters, while understanding you could discard it if a new threat suddenly emerges (see Verizon).

As Prof. Moss Canter observes, your company may have to begin with "execution, and name the strategy later."

Want to learn how to plan smart business growth for your company? Maybe it's time to test out a Vistage peer group meeting.

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About the author

Frank Solomon
Vistage Minnesota

For almost 30 years, Frank has founded and grown startups and Fortune 200 companies, where he has served exclusively as CEO or other C-level positions. As a Vistage Chair, Frank gains a great degree of personal satisfaction leveraging his experiences to assist fellow CEOs and business owners in navigating the issues they face as they grow their companies. His personal mission is to help business leaders achieve the success they envision and grow professionally and personally.

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