How to scale your small businesses

You turned an idea into a startup business and it’s grown into a going concern. The bootstrapping and hard work has paid off but now it’s time to take things to the next level.

If this sounds like your small business, you need to prepare for growth before it happens. Especially if resources are tight and you’ve got a shoestring operations budget. So whether you want to expand locations, product lines, or get on track to becoming a national brand, these tips can help you chart your course with mindful deliberation:

Refine your existing business.

Being consistently great at what you offer customers creates stable, controlled growth. When you take a systematic approach to how you deliver goods and services, customers know what to expect. Providing an almost identical experience means that people will never be disappointed. With product consistency as your foundation, brand loyalty grows naturally as you expand your business because your reputation leads the way.

Test before you launch.

Before you invest in inventory for a new product line or category, try it out in small batches. Offer it on special at your busiest times and your slowest times or, if you have multiple locations, test it in your busiest and slowest stores—then use the sales data to support your decision. Survey your customers to get their feedback and offer them bonus Vicinity points for sharing their opinions. Focus on the products they like best and axe the losers. This way you can avoid betting the farm on an unproven product.

See the big picture early.

Ideally, scalability is part of your business plan before your customer base starts to expand. You want to start out anticipating demand rather than reacting to it. This means thinking beyond a lifestyle business that you alone control to one with a product or service that can be replicated easily and run at a very large scale—without you having to be there. Even if you don’t have high demand for what you’re selling today, you need to structure your small business in a systematic way so it’s independent of particular individuals.

Seek out growth capital.

Brick-and-mortar small businesses tend to focus on organic growth rather than pursuing venture capital (unlike technology startups, which are known for depending on angel investor relationships and VC). Traditional lenders like banks are not always forthcoming with small business growth financing. But to rapidly scale month over month, year over year you need funding to buy or lease equipment, pay for marketing, hire talent, and do product research. So take a page from the tech startup playbook and make growth capital a priority.

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