Ready to scale?
Chances are that if you run a business, you very much want the answer to this question to be a resounding yes.
Anyone who’s watched an episode of Shark Tank or picked up a business book in the past 10 years has been inundated with the idea that scaling up is the top priority of any successful business.
What they often fail to mention is that scaling too early can have devastating effects for your business.
How bad can it get?
Lost customers, a decimated brand reputation, and a shuttered business.
While a PR pro can help you work through a public crisis and help you build up a reputation, it’s better to avoid these pitfalls in the first place.
Here are 6 signs you’re not yet ready to scale, and some ideas on how to work through them.
1. You haven’t made a sale yet.
I work with a lot of digital business owners who are transitioning their business models. In other words, a lot of my clients are in the very early stages of their businesses, and they’re starting up with PR at the same time they’re refining their business model.
That’s okay — most businesses wait too long to start doing PR.
But it’s a big problem when you’re trying to scale up and you haven’t even made a sale yet.
Product bugs are inevitable. Online programs with have glitches. You’ll wish you’d added in (or cut!) some content and you’ll have improvements for the second round.
Physical products may have defects. Or maybe your shipping provided isn’t as cheap or reliable as you expected.
Consultants and service providers will refine their processes as they go.
This is all completely normal.
Being able to learn as you go is a key entrepreneurial skill.
What’s not normal or expected is to work these bugs out in real-time with thousands of users, customers or clients.
You should not attempt to scale a business model that hasn’t been tested with a core, dedicated set of users.
The risks are too great.
2. You don’t have any raving fans yet.
What do you need for those first product tests?
True fans. Also known as your tribe. Brand evangelists. Early adopters.
Whatever you call them, you know who they are when you have them
These are the customers that are the first to click “add to cart” — and to actually follow through.
They email you to check in.
They retweet or like all your social media content.
If you can’t name one, or two, or 10 true fans, you’re not ready to scale yet.
In the beginning, you should be nurturing your true fans. Giving them as much love and attention as you can stand — and then some more. Giving them reasons to rave about your business. Giving them opportunities to buy from you and engage with you.
This kind of love can’t be scaled, unfortunately.
And for a business whose long-term success relies on receiving real feedback from people who love your product, it can’t be skipped either.
3. You’re afraid to sell.
When I talk to small business owners about why they want to scale so soon, often I find out that they’re afraid to sell their products or services directly to customers.
They don’t want to go through the discomfort of having to talk up their offers face-to-face with another person, one who will maybe reject you or will make weird faces for unrelated reasons.
I hate to be the one to break it to you, but selling doesn’t get any easier when you’re doing it at a scale of 1 to 100, or 1 to 1,000 or 1 to 10,000.
The challenges just get bigger.
That’s because the key ingredient of sales is
Successful selling requires that you know your customers inside-and-out. You know what they want, and what they say they want. You know what keeps them up at night.
You understand exactly where your solution fits into this ecosystem.
And, most importantly, you know how to help them see the possibilities that you’re envisioning for them.
By the way, this applies just as much if you’re selling a dress as if you’re a business consultant or professional speaker.
There is a shop in my town that only sells high-end denim. The owner knows her product inside-and-out, but more importantly, she understands why I would rather go to her store than try to buy a discount brand at an outlet.
4. You don’t know your customers inside-and-out.
Speaking of which, do you know why your customers buy from you and not someone else?
If you can’t answer this question, you are going to waste so much money as you scale.
Mass market is expensive.
Unless your brand name starts with a C- and ends in -oke, you cannot afford it.
Which means that you have no choice but to identify exactly who you’re marketing to, and what it is about your brand that makes them want to buy from you and not some other business.
Scaling before you answer these questions is the online marketing equivalent of flushing your money down the toilet.
5. You don’t have a plan to build and protect your reputation.
As a PR pro, my first obligation to my clients is to build and protect their reputation.
Often when clients want to scale too fast, they’re still working out what they want their reputation to be.
Often I’m the first person to have even asked the question, “What do you want to be known for?”
But when you scale, not only do you need to have a plan to grow your reputation, but you also need to be prepared with a plan to respond when things go awry.
We already talked about the inevitable launch hiccups you’ll have when you first scale.
But what about negative customer reviews or blog posts written by an unsatisfied customer?
What about the true fan that has started to feel neglected and starts to warn people away from your business?
Or the fan that starts feeling a little too involved in your business for comfort.
I don’t mean to scare you away from scaling your business, but to share some of the challenges that can come up when you have a bigger platform.
Not all attention is positive attention.
There are ways to deal with mistakes (hint: the words “sincere” and “apology” have a role…).
There are ways to make your true fans feel cared for, even when you don’t have as much time to personally stay involved with them.
There are ways to create frameworks around how you engage with people that feel real and engaged without crossing boundaries.
Your reputation management plan will depend on the kind of reputation you’re hoping to nurture.
Just make sure you have one when you start to scale.
Is your business ready to scale?
Once you’ve tested your offers…
Identified the first of your 1,000 true fans…
Started feeling comfortable talking up your business…
Know your customers inside-and-out…
And have a plan to build and protect your reputation…
Now you’re ready to take on the challenge of scaling your business.
Ps…Having trouble identifying what customers love about your brand or business, and how you can intentionally build your reputation without the “ick” factor? It’s our specialty! Get in touch at brigittelyons.com/contact.