Most entrepreneurs don’t start a business with the intention for it to last only a few years. Instead, they want to see it grow and last for years—even if they plan to sell it eventually. Entrepreneurs are inspired to create a legacy that leaves an impact on many.
Yet, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that nearly one in five small businesses fails in the first year, and the percentages only rise as time goes on. The same data shows that a mere 25 percent of companies make it to the 15-year mark (BLS).
If you’re committed to the long haul, you have to think about business differently from others. So what does that look like? It starts and ends with your operational foundation.
Your business’s backend is the difference between building a seven or eight-figure success with a growing team or struggling with low sales, burnout, and a bank account that barely breaks even. When your operations are streamlined, they operate like a well-oiled machine. It frees your mind up to continue creating and strategizing rather than constantly taping up leaks in your workflows.
To grow a business that is here to stay, you must establish a solid operational foundation. Everything else—your website, social media, or sales approach—can wait, as there’s no use building on top of an unstable base. So before getting ahead of yourself, focus on these three fundamental areas to lay the groundwork for a sustainable business.
Build scalable systems.
Most new business owners begin with a “figure it out along the way” approach, which is perfectly fine to get you off the ground and start earning a profit. Maybe you’re tracking monthly revenue in a spreadsheet or manually responding to every inquiry directly from your inbox. But, as your business grows, you must implement systems that will evolve with you and allow you to expand.
For example, if you start offering multiple products or services, you may want to dig into the revenue data in ways a simple spreadsheet won’t permit. Instead, you’ll need to invest in accounting software and possibly hire a bookkeeper. Likewise, responding to inquiries directly may work when you’re only receiving a few each week, but it will quickly become too much to manage when your marketing takes off and pulls in tens or hundreds of leads at a time. Thus, you’ll need a customer relationship management platform to stay organized, and you may consider hiring a VA to oversee it.
Implementing such systems before you desperately need them is wise, as you won’t have time to properly set up and fine-tune them when you need them most.
Every business has recurring tasks that are essential to keeping the ship on course but don’t need your full attention. As you grow, you will need to hire support to take over these responsibilities, but before you can do that, you must get a handle on your standard operating procedures (SOPs).
SOPs are detailed outlines of the ongoing processes within your business, making it easier to hand off and delegate the work to someone else. Without SOPs, you will ultimately waste time and resources training new hires from your muscle memory. Instead, prepare for your future growth proactively by creating a folder of SOPs you can share with contractors or employees.
There’s no need to dedicate a whole day to getting your SOPs in order. Instead, wait until you have to do a task and record the process as you go along. A smart way to do this is by recording yourself while performing the task with software like Loom. Then, pay a nominal fee to have it transcribed on Fiverr or through an automated transcription app. From there, it’s as simple as condensing, organizing, and putting it into a doc! You can also include the original recording for screen-share purposes.
Hire with purpose.
Expanding your team is a big step, especially for solopreneurs. Hire too soon and you’re liable for paying someone before you’re ready to properly delegate. Hire too late and you’ll struggle to balance the onboarding process with an already-overflowing schedule. The sweet spot of hiring is just when your business starts to take off and you’re feeling a little stretched but before the point you have no bandwidth. Think 75-80% capacity.
When it comes to hiring, the most important factor is that you hire the right person for the right role. For instance, you may meet an excellent social media manager at a conference. But if your project management is lacking and you know your ideal clients aren’t hanging out on social media, you’re better off hiring a virtual assistant or an online business manager.
If you’re feeling stretched but not quite ready to manage a team, consider contracting other companies to take off the extraneous areas of your business. For example, an accountant requires minimal oversight but can save you a ton of time (and money) when tax season rolls around.
Likewise, you may find more value in hiring a coach or consultant to help you streamline your operations, improve your sales strategy, or clean up your systems. Think about the areas of your business that give you the biggest headaches and start there.
With a solid operational foundation in place, you'll feel well equipped to scale your business and take action toward your goals. And knowing your systems and team will grow with you, there’s no reason not to reach for the stars—you have everything you need to build a long-lasting business!
Jennifer Taylor is the principal of Jen Taylor Consulting, working as a coach with creative businesses of all sizes to implement streamlined workflows and organized systems to find more time and space for business growth and personal development.