How to achieve fast growth and avoid the pitfalls

Fast growth is the holy grail of businesses – it builds your brand, tempts investors and attracts top employees. But how do you achieve growth? And once you have, how do you maintain a healthy trajectory?

Start-up business owners set themselves ambitious growth targets for the first few years. Some fail to meet them, some achieve them, and a rare few achieve a rate of growth that would make Mark Zuckerberg blush.
Many successful fast-growth stories take place in the technology sector – think Facebook, YouTube and Skype – but it could happen to any business that achieves the perfect balance of product quality, marketing and business development.
How good is your product?
The first and most important factor for quick success in business is the brand itself. Does your product meet a demand in the market or create a demand that no one knew was there in the first place? 
For example, Facebook tapped into a subconscious need for people to keep in touch with friends online and gain recognition from peer groups. Beats by Dre headphones looked at the existing audio market and gave it a much-needed revamp. Both products are now part of billion-dollar enterprises. So, how can your business replicate these mega success stories?
1. Find your niche

Jackie Fast founded Slingshot Sponsorship four years ago. Today, the business is a global consultancy with offices in four countries and a client list that includes Redbull and Toshiba. Jackie believes the business’ impressive growth is directly related to its ‘difference’.
“From very early on it became apparent that we were offering something different and, importantly, something that clients really wanted,” Jackie says. “We avoided opportunities for quick wins and instead focused on building a sustainable client base. As a result, clients have continued to invest in building platforms with us that have grown year-on-year.”
2. Build your brand

Once you have captured demand, you need to consider your brand. This is effectively a composite of everything you do and is not just a marketing exercise.
“Customers must trust your company, your products, your service and your people,” says Kurt Won, a Director of SalesPartners UK, which has helped clients to grow by up to 200% in a year. “A consistent, reliable experience over time is what draws customers back to you for repeat business and referrals.”
3. Hire talented people
Another obvious area for growth is your staff. Lewis Sellers of digital agency Pinpoint Designs, a company that experienced 1,300% growth in a year, says businesses should ignore the expense and hire the best people, as the return on investment is so much better.
“Don't spend time hiring staff who will 'just do'. Hire the best you can find, as they'll ultimately provide a better service for your customers,” says Lewis. “Pay them a good salary, make sure they're happy in their workplace and keep them motivated. If you have staff on board who love what they do, they'll help your business grow.”
4. Stay focused

“Customers must trust your company, your products, your service and your people. A consistent, reliable experience over time is what draws customers back to you for repeat business and referrals.” Kurt Won, SalesPartners UK

Small firms need to focus on profit engines within the business and avoid distractions. “Many companies – ours included – spend a lot of time looking for new ideas and focusing on small projects that they know realistically are not going to come to fruition,” says Lewis. “Instead of wasting time on these, focus on the parts of your business that are generating good amounts of revenue and that you can see are consistently growing.”
5. Prepare early and be confident

Assuming you have achieved fast growth, what do you target next? Do you focus on business development while waiting for the orders to arrive, or do you become proactive?
John Styring, Chief Executive of IglooBooks, quadrupled his business’ turnover from £5 million in 2008 to £20 million this year. He believes that businesses should be confident and strategize for fast growth so it doesn’t catch them unawares.
“There is no reason why fast growth can’t be managed growth,” John says. “You should find that research and information gathering provide a strong foundation on which to build your business venture, and that it’s less a leap in the dark than you might have thought. 
IglooBooks thought ahead right from the beginning. The company leased extra office space in the early days so the business wouldn’t have to uproot if sales increased. The business also bought a lot of essential equipment as a start-up, and kitted out the office for the extra people it envisioned employing.
“Fast growth can only happen if you have a very clear objective or target in mind,” says John. “I find it easiest to set a financial objective, and work back from that point. Work out your growth in your head and implement plans to make it a reality and to safeguard quality.” 
Over to you
Fast, sustainable growth is achievable but it takes vision, focus and market appeal. If you create a desirable product, market it effectively, hire great people to deliver it and maintain a relentless focus on your strengths, you will give your business the best chance of achieving its ambitions. Finally, before sales take off, create an environment that allows your business to scale in line with your balance sheet.

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In Brief

  • Fast growth can be a problem, even for successful businesses
  • To achieve growth you must establish demand and develop a strong brand identity
  • It is worth paying more for top staff, as the return on investment will be much higher
  • Don’t get distracted by projects that don’t directly improve the business
  • Prepare for growth by factoring some breathing space into your building and operations
  • Consider buying in bulk and preparing desks for future staff members to avoid upheaval when growth kicks in.

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Making it in china

John Carroll - Helping businesses achieve International success. Head of Product Management & International Business, Santander UK