By David Falter, Entrepreneur
Ask an entrepreneur who also serves as a busy parent to compare the two roles and most will tell you they have a lot in common. Both demand hard work, long hours, constant attention and money, but provide fulfillment difficult to find elsewhere in life. It’s also fun to watch them grow, as they take on a personality all their own.
But just as a baby grows into an adult, a startup will mature to the point where it’s really no longer a “startup.” While some companies (and their owners) work hard to remain forever young, there comes a time when you should embrace the fact that your business is getting older. For those living in denial, this is when you’re no longer “experimenting” with your business model, no longer a “Series A” (or B), and when you’re no longer the freshest face in your industry.
The more quickly you recognize that your business has matured or that your industry has evolved, the sooner you can respond and adapt to these changes.
Below are five fundamental considerations you should address as your business becomes more established. Call it adolescence for small business.
1. Don’t be afraid to pivot.
As your business grows, dont’s stop seeking new applications for your product or service. It could lead to a lucrative new business model.
Take Yapta, an airfare price tracking service. The company launched as a service designed primarily for consumers, helping them save money on airline tickets when prices dropped. But the company soon realized that the real money was in tracking airfare prices for corporations that spent millions each year on airfare, and so it pivoted from a B2C to a B2B business model.
Remember that your customer base is one of your most valuable resources. By listening to your customers, you can discover new market opportunities, an enviable asset that less established competitors likely lack.
2. Work to get attention.
The kind of PR you enjoyed at launch is going to be harder to come by as your company matures, and your story is told over and over again. To get the spotlight back on your company, make sure you are experimenting with new things, innovating and continually tweaking your narrative.
In addition, recognize what your company has that less mature competitors may not: an established customer base. Put your customers in front of the press and let them explain how your product or service has changed their lives, industry or how they do business. Unlike your origin story, these stories likely haven’t been heard before.
3. Shake up your culture.
As a company grows older, its culture can quickly become stale and morale can fall off a cliff. Entrepreneurs that are willing to adjust their leadership style or add fresh voices or perspectives to their management team are more likely to find new success. Whenever possible consider hiring from within, which shows employees there is potential for upward movement as a reward for critical thinking, hard work and ingenuity.
On the flip side, part of growing up is learning to make intellectually easy, emotionally difficult decisions. Not everyone who began with you should stay with you. Culling the chaff allows you to make room for more experienced and sophisticated executives as the company matures.
4. Buddy up.
Forging a business partnership with other, perhaps more sexy startups, may invigorate your business and extend your perception as an innovator or influencer in the industry. It’s also the quickest way to expose your business to a new set of customers as history has shown that the cross-pollination of products or services can be extremely successful.
Take, for example, the partnership between HireAHelper and AnyPerk. HireAHelper, an online marketplace for moving labor that launched back in 2006, forged a partnership with AnyPerk, a startup that provides employee perks to more than 2,500 companies. Under the partnership, AnyPerk business customers received special discount pricing on HireAHelper’s service, and HireAHelper gained valuable exposure to both consumer and business customers.
A great approach here is the Sun Tzu way of thinking: “my enemy’s enemy is my friend.” With whom can you create a new alliance that disadvantages a competitor while helping you advance your interests?
5. Be the giant.
As an older company presumably rich with experience, data and lessons learned, never be afraid to share what you’ve learned. Use your company’s history to your advantage by strengthening your leadership position in the industry. Find opportunities to write and to speak about the challenges your company has faced along the way, as well as its successes. Become an established leader. In other words, embrace your newfound maturity and use it to boost your company’s perception and influence.
Growing old is never easy. And yet, it happens to every company. Embracing and capitalizing on change instead of running from it can mean the difference between continuous growth and extermination.
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