How to Continue your Small Business Growth beyond its Startup Years

Business founders struggle mightily the first couple of years in their business pitching their vision to potential investors, to new team members and to customers whose business they hope to win. They test and refine their story over and over again until it’s perfect, where within an elevator ride they can create an emotional connection between their service and the listener. Then they get to work implementing their vision, winning those first few customers crucial to proving their product/market fit.

Fast forward a few years and those business founders are heads down, working day to day to deliver that vision to their customers. No longer do they have to pitch their business; their service sells itself and business hums along. Or does it? Five years is an inflection point for small businesses, a point when a few bumps start to appear in the road such as:

• Customers are not as enamored of the service because …
• New employees don’t understand how to deliver the branded service experience and …
• New competitors and technologies are making the service look old and stale.

The Small Business Association reports that businesses site a lack of cash flow as the point of failure, but it’s the lack of customers and inefficient operational processes that lead up to that point. This is when many business owners, faced with the choice of scaling or folding, often have to close up shop.

Even big companies grapple with how to grow. Starbucks announced in June 2016 that their founder, Howard Schultz, would be stepping back from day-to-day operations to build a growth strategy for the company. This shift was precipitated by Schultz visiting one of their coffee shops where he saw a lot of merchandise on the shelves that had nothing to do with coffee and the “Italian coffeehouse tradition” the company was built upon. The company had lost their way, and their customers felt it as they interacted with the brand on their morning coffee runs.

Scale Challenges

If the founder is not there, touching every aspect of the business on a day-to-day basis, the company comes to a screeching halt.

If the business needs to shift to meet new customer needs or to expand into new markets, there is no one that can lead that shift besides the founder, who is heads-down working in the business (see number one).

The business needs to innovate to grow. It needs to capture its current systems to be the foundation for that innovation, lest it loses its way (like Starbucks)… and its customers. This foundation will articulate the customer value proposition along with how that value proposition is delivered by every person and technology the business employs.

The good news is that this exercise doesn’t need to take a great deal of the founder’s time. As we wrote in “How 1 Simple Innovation Tool Will Grow Your Small Business,” owners should work with their team to build customer journey maps, tools that capture their unique service offering and make it possible to replicate. Once this system is in place, the founder can turn their attention to designing the business’s future.

Path Forward

When I co-founded a video collaboration service at HP, I was challenged to ensure that the daily operational systems for our product delivered the seamless service experience we were promising. Even at the beginning of building our service, before all the components were in place, I wanted the team to clearly envision where we were going. Instead of starting to build from our current state of highly manual processes and piecemeal solutions, it was better to start with our future state and reverse engineer the complete service experience.

One tool for documenting your complete vision is to write a press release that articulates your future value proposition for your customers and for the market. Taking the time to write forces you to articulate clearly, and the press release keeps you concise. And since the press release is a familiar format, this is a great way to ensure everyone on your team understands the vision.

Here’s a template that you can use to announce your business’s future success:

  1. Heading — <your company> announces new <service name> service that delivers <customer benefits>
  2. Summary — describe the customer you are serving and how this new offering will grow your business, building off your current brand
  3. Problem — describe the customer pain point including why this is a problem for this customer
  4. Solution — describe your service offering and why it solves this pain point.
  5. Unique features — using terms “unlike other offerings”, describe how this service is different from others
  6. Customer Quote — describe how you want your customers to talk about your service offering
  7. Call-to-action — describe how you envision your customer finding and buying your service

Your press release puts a stake in the ground, telling your employees, “This is where I want to be a year from now.” It gives them a feel for what it means to be one of your business’s customers in the future. It engages them in the creative process, and adds their ideas to yours. Which means the right things will be built — those that contribute to your service experience — and you won’t have to sell your employees on your new growth strategy as they will have been a part of it from the start.

So, we know that you’ve created a great company based on your knowledge, business intuition and ability to deliver delight to customers. How will you grow past that five year point? Give our suggestions a try and let us know what you think.

Want to scale your small business? Check out our Agile Operating Model at

Chief Innovation Accelerator at Inceodia, a boutique strategy consulting firm helping clients discover their unique sweet spot for innovation.