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How to make the move from startup to established business

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Will Rees, co-founder of Direct Online Services Ltd, a solid wood kitchen specialist, has taken his business from eBay trading start-up to £11.5m turnover business in five years, with a portfolio of eight online brands and two showrooms. He shares some of the lessons learned along the way.

Manage growth: 

One of the keys to successful growth is anticipating the tipping points where you need to move the business to the next level. It isn’t always possible to pre-empt growth so have a scalable business model in place to enable you to move quickly when the time is right.

Putting in place monitoring procedures to track the efficiency of processes and staff will identify areas holding you back or where changes are needed. And don’t be complacent, what worked well six months ago isn’t necessarily what’s best now – take a step back when you can, using quieter times to review and plan.

Prepare to let go:   

Entrepreneurs by nature find it difficult to delegate. But spotting the skill gaps within your business and the barriers that they pose to progress is a key part of any growth strategy. On the flip side there isn’t anyone who knows the business as well as you so it’s important to ensure knowledge isn’t lost.

Approach any handover methodically working closely with employees, drip feeding information until you are comfortable enough to hand over the reins. Before you know it you will be where you should be – leading the business rather than focusing on the day to day minutiae.

Recruit wisely: 

Of course once you’ve worked out what skills you need to grow the business you have to find the right people. Don’t just consider the skill set required but also the type of person that’s the best fit for the organisation taking into account the culture and ethos that drives it. In a rapidly growing business you’ll need people who are willing to be flexible, perhaps taking on a more fluid role than they would in a larger organisation. If that’s the case make it clear when advertising the role. Take time to prepare for interviews, draw up a list of questions and ask a colleague or trusted advisor to sit in so you can compare notes afterwards.

It’s not all about you:   

Once you have the right staff onboard, make sure you keep them! Good employees are invaluable and should be treated as such. One of the more rewarding aspects of working in a growing business is feeling that you are playing a part in its success. Keeping staff updated and thanking them when things go well will help build a committed and loyal workforce. Many of our staff have been with us since the launch and feel a sense of ownership in our success. We also give them the opportunity to progress and grow with the business, advertising any new roles internally first, and providing the necessary training and mentoring.

Improve internal communication: 

By their very nature start-ups are lean and efficient organisations where communication happens naturally and easily. As the company grows different departments and separate management tiers are formed and communication issues can arise. Putting in place a clear management structure will help as will ensuring that information is easily accessible.

We use project management software to co-ordinate communication in areas such as product and service development and put memos in our cloud server. eMail is far from the best method for internal company communication; a more efficient alternative is a specialist task management tool which can be accessed by appropriate staff. Agreeing an effective communication policy outlining reporting and approval processes ensures everyone is kept updated whilst avoiding information overload.

Will Rees is co-founder of Direct Online Services Ltd

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