How to prepare your startup to scale (even in uncertain times)

If you’re running a startup business, no one will blame you for feeling a little unsure about whether now is the right time to scale up your business. After all, without sounding too gloomy, we are in the middle of a global pandemic and the worst recession in decades, which doesn’t scream “it’s time to take some business risks”.

It takes a lot of time and effort to get your startup into a position where you can consider the possibility of growth and scaling locally and internationally. We completely sympathise. You’ve spent this long exploring your business’ true potential, discovering your ideal customers and have finally found the sweet spot, only to be hit with the craziest year any of us can remember and a lot of uncertainty.

However, if you’re willing to put in some hard work to prepare your startup to scale now, you may see some significant advantages. From a startups flexibility to large corporations damaged brands, not to mention our society’s newfound dependence on technology, there are hundreds of reasons why emerging from this pandemic could be the perfect time for your startup to accelerate and shine.

How do you know your startup is ready to scale?

It’s reported that 74% of startup failures can be explained by premature scaling and startups which scale too early grow 20 times slower than startups that scaled appropriately. So, how do you know if it’s time for you to scale?

Four deciding factors should tell you whether it’s time to accelerate your growth. Firstly, as a business leader, you must have set some goals for yourself. It doesn’t matter what these goals are or how many you have; but if you’ve hit your financial targets, achieved everything you’ve initially set out to and feel you have nothing left to accomplish in your current state that’s a sure-fire way to know it’s time to scale up.

Secondly, and this is even more crucial in the current climate, you need to make sure your business is financially stable. Provide investors with comfort that your business is low risk, even in a recession.

Then, you must have confidence in your technology. Your business cannot grow if your IT systems falter at the first hurdle. The best tech and software are something that should be in place before you consider expanding your business.

Finally, you’ll know you’re ready to scale your business if you have a good team around you that you can depend on. One of the critical aspects of scaling a company is hiring new team members, so your existing ones need to be able to act as leaders. You also need to be confident in their ability to do their jobs on a larger scale and be able to support and develop new staff; as they will be the people training up new team members.

Once you know it’s time to grow, how can a startup like yours take advantage of the current climate and prepare to scale?

Make sure your business fundamentals are in place

Who are you? What does your business stand for? Who are your ideal customers? These are all questions which must be answered before you can even consider scaling your startup. If your business doesn’t have a strong sense of identity when it’s small, how do you expect it to scale successfully? Make sure you have a clear idea of what makes you unique and why your business will help your target customer, or you’ll struggle to maintain your identity on a larger scale. To be successful in today’s climate, your business needs to remain authentic as it grows; so, make sure your fundamentals are engrained into your organisation before you let unrealistic ambitions take over.

Get talent mapping 

Your people are crucial to success when it comes to scaling your startup. Before you consider growth, you must analyse your people, their roles and also the talent currently on the jobs market. Talent mapping is a great way to ensure you’re ahead. Study your competition and similar startup businesses that have managed to scale successfully, even before the pandemic. Looking at their company structures will give you an idea of what will work for you and help you to identify skills gaps within your organisation. Talent mapping in this way will help when planning your scale-up recruitment strategy. 

Seek advice for your strategy

Your business strategy is about to change, as your company grows or enters new markets. You need to think about how you’re going to expand, where you’re going to expand to and so many other factors from finding investors to managing a larger workforce. There’s no harm in doing some in-depth market research into competitors and other startups to follow in their footsteps. However, the best way to adapt your strategy is to gain advice from people who have been in your shoes or are experts in their industry. You’re not in this alone; there are loads of startup networks and businesses willing to offer expert advice to you. For example, we offer recruitment advice, including how to make an irresistible employer brand, market research to help you find where talent is located and even the roles you may need to source for shortly. There will be specialists in every industry open to having a conversation and adapting their advice to your unique circumstances which will place you in a good position to scale.

Commit to the best technology

We may have said you need the best technology before you can consider scaling, however when you’re ready to scale, you may need smarter technology on your side. For scale-ups, it’s often a good idea to automate as many functions as possible to save people time. You also need to ensure that you’re using the best and right equipment and software for your business as it prepares to grow; what works for four people may not work for forty. You also need to ensure that you’re present on social media and are up to date with the latest marketing technologies; this will help raise awareness of your company, your mission, your employer brand and gives you a ready-made audience to talk to.

Invest in marketing

This may sound obvious, but it’s often overlooked when an entrepreneur is planning how to conquer the world; make sure people are aware of your business. If you’re about to scale, you need to ensure people know who you are, otherwise, how can you expect anyone to buy in, whether it’s investors or customers? With digital marketing methods combined with traditional advertising, the possibilities are endless, and it depends entirely on who you want to reach and the image you want to create for your brand.

Paid social media marketing and influencer marketing are great ways to raise your online presence and build an audience on a conservative budget. The detailed targeting capabilities of social media advertising or choosing the right person to advocate for your brand will help you create a relevant and engaged audience. Effective and useful content marketing will help you to educate audiences, and better inform them of your product, service or brand. Plus it will help Google to understand your offering on your website and improve your SEO. Hence, you show up in more relevant searches.

Create a strong employee value proposition

As a startup in this, dare we say, unprecedented time, your employee value proposition is more important than ever. You need to show that you’re a secure option for people that may be wary of joining a startup but also, show that your company culture is unique, exciting and exactly the career move a top candidate would love.

Startups currently have an advantage; the pandemic has given employees a taste for flexible working, which is something a newer business is more likely to offer going forward. Plus, many talented people are currently looking for work or are losing faith in their employees, with corporate organisations accused of being stuck in a pre-pandemic mindset. Take the time to consider what makes you a great career option and make those values clear, so that anyone considering working for you can instantly understand what you’re about.

Outsource your recruitment

If your business is about to scale, then you need to give it your undivided attention. Outsourcing your recruitment process and other tasks that experts can do for you will free up your time significantly. You’ll also benefit from expert advice from recruiters that understand your position, your industry and the talent market. With a flexible RPO you’ll be able to outsource your employer branding, recruitment marketing and even direct sourcing as and when it suits you. Plus, RPO recruiters become a part of your organisation and learn the ins and outs, so you can be sure they’re bringing you the people your business needs.

Hire the right kind of people

Discussing RPO leads us nicely onto our last point. For a startup business to scale successfully, you can’t just hire anyone. New companies need entrepreneurial thinkers and multi-talented individuals that can bring a lot more to the table than their ability to do one job well. You need ideas people, creative people and brave people that share the values of your organisation and have the determination to make it a success. Outsourcing your recruitment to industry experts will help with this; they know the characteristics and signs to look out for, as well as the kind of person that will thrive in a company culture like yours.

Talent Works International is committed to helping startups to scale and reach their true potential. To stay up to date with our startup content series, The Startup Lowdown, and receive guides and information curated by our experts sign up to our mailing list using the form on this page.