In case you don’t hang out in corporate boardrooms or watch episodes of Shark Tank, ‘scaling’ in business is a trending topic!
Merriam Webster says: ’Scale’ is increasingly being used as shorthand for ‘scale up’ (“to grow or expand in a proportional and usually profitable way”) and as a noun that means “proportional growth especially of production or profit” and/or “a large market position.”
Confused? Read the entire page that explains how the word scaling is evolving and you’ll understand why it’s confusing (and why at least some of the hype can be attributed to business jargon).
So let’s just skip to the all-important implication…
Bigger is better, right?
If you have a business that is doing well, it’s only a matter of time before these types of questions start coming. “When are you expanding?” “Are you planning another location yet?”
Some folks skip the questions and just start making demands. “You need to open up one of these in (fill in the blank with a neighboring city). People just kind of expect you to grow or ‘scale’ if you will. Sort of like when you get married and after a while, everyone starts to ask “soooo, when are you having kids?” “I need some grandbabies!”
Why does one good thing never seem good enough?!?!
We always seem to want MORE.
But what if more and bigger isn’t always better? There are plenty of examples over the years of companies large and small that have crashed and burned in their attempts to “scale”. Matter of fact, an interesting piece in Forbes notes that the life expectancy of a Fortune 500 company is now 15 years or less! You know what they say: Grow or die! Or perhaps it should be ‘grow and die’.
The mistaken notion of ‘scaling’
Problem is, scaling in business is interpreted so many different ways but is often understood to mean that you should grow BIG. For retail concepts, this means Opening 👏🏼 More 👏🏼 Stores 👏🏼 because we are a nation of franchises and chains. The presumption is that in order to be successful, this is what you need to do.
What if that model doesn’t speak to your heart as a business owner?
Alternative paths to growth
If you ask me, there are saner ways to scale! Here are a few ideas for small business owners struggling with how to grow their businesses:
- Find ways to increase revenue and minimize costs. Brilliant! Check out this finance blog for a short snippet on growing versus scaling. Becoming more profitable and efficient is something we all can aspire to even if physical expansion is not in the cards. This relates back to my last post about making money so your business can sustain for the long haul. Increasing revenue is obvious, but it’s easy to overlook the power of greater efficiency. Both contribute to survival so you can continue to pursue your passion and purpose.
- Maintain a quality focus in everything you do. “Play offense” by adding value for customers as well as employees with the goal of keeping them engaged with your brand long-term. This is definitely not a way to get rich quick. However, it will appeal to business owners that understand what is “enough” for their personal needs and also wish to enrich lives by sharing benefits with others.
- Grow vertically instead of horizontally. At its simplest, this means going deep instead of wide. It may not be the easiest or the most efficient method of growth, but it will keep a versatile entrepreneur fascinated for years. By integrating aspects of a business that were previously awarded to suppliers, you gain control of your supply chain. Zingerman’s is one of my independent business heroes and the master of this strategy. You can read an excellent article about them and this approach in Conscious Company.
- Consider reverse scaling! I’ve been enjoying and following the delight that is Askinosie Chocolate for some time now, so when Shawn Askinosie wrote a blog post about reverse scaling, I was intrigued, to say the least. He summarizes the concept as “recognizing the value of not scaling” and “getting better at staying small”. SO beautiful! 💜 This philosophy encapsulates many of the other strategies listed above and most definitely hits the mark of a Heartstrong business.
I hope you go forth and scale from a place of intention and purpose! Quit deferring to popular growth models and expectations. Think about what lifestyle you’d like to have and how you picture your company in 5 or 10 years. Then plan carefully and pave your own trail to that vision.